Ethiopia: Addis Ababa, the New York of Africa?

By IndepthAfrica
In Analysis
Nov 18th, 2012
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Addis Ababa — ADDIS Ababa loosely translated means a ‘new flower’. The capital city of Ethiopia is indeed blooming and very fast, Addis is also known as the home to the African Union, formerly the Organization of African Union (OAU).

According to Wikipedia, Addis Ababa is the largest city in Ethiopia with a population of over 2.5 million people quoting the 2007 census. As a chartered city it has the status of both a city and a state, is often called the capital of Africa because of its historical diplomatic and political significance to the continent.

Founded in 1887, this sprawling, hospitable city is situated at the foothills of the Entoto Mountains. Being my third visit to Addis Ababa I was determined to try and see as much as I could, despite the tight schedule I had. There is much to do and lots to see if one is visiting for pleasure and or business plus lots of souvenirs from the signature white Ethiopian dresses with intricate trimmings to fashionable outfits mostly from Italy.

The city has a flourishing cultural life, and Ethiopians are proud of their music. Not forgetting Injera, a large, soft, pancake like, which forms the basis of most Ethiopian meals, served with a communal tray with accompanying array of spicy sauces. What amazed me most as I was being driven to the hotel from the airport is the construction boom going on. There is lots of construction from skyscrapers to condors and roads.

I couldn’t help being fascinated at the speed at which the city is growing in modernity compared to other African cities. I mean, really I am used to seeing a building or two going up here and there in Dar es Salaam but this is different, construction is everywhere around the Ethiopian capital.

No wonder some people speculate that in several years to come, Addis will be the New York of Africa, with eye catching architectural buildings. The structural transformation of the city, the skyscrapers going up; each with unique architectural designs left me awe struck and it’s not just real estate that’s booming, but there is also the construction of a light rail around the city being carried out by a Chinese railway company, the likes of those found in European countries.

It is no wonder that Addis Ababa has made it to the top ten as one of the best cities to visit in 2013, published by the Lonely Planet, a global travel guidebook. The Ethiopian capital is number nine on the list with Puerto Iguazu of Argentina coming number 10, while San Francisco, California and Amsterdam in the Netherlands came first and second respectively.

Although Addis Ababa is growing at a fast rate economically, like in many other cities in African countries, Dar es Salaam included, it still faces a number of problems including that of sewage. Dirty and smelly water can be seen flowing freely in open ditches. This is of course with exception of some areas such as the Bole area.

Public facilities and open fields are on the verge of extinction, just like in Dar es Salaam. I did not see any open space and this was confirmed when I looked it up in the Internet. It is a good thing then that the government is repossessing open spaces that have been grabbed by greedy investors.

Mixing business with pleasure my colleagues and I decided to have dinner outside the hotel I was staying just so I could have a glimpse of Addis Ababa by night. After asking around for a place where we could have beer and some food, we were directed to the Beer Garden.

Apparently the Beer Garden is very popular amongst foreigners and the beer is served in five litre towers at the German bar. The beer which is brewed by the establishment is served in either really tall glasses or the five litre towers with a tap at the bottom.

There is the deep reddish coloured brew which has a higher alcohol content compared to the coloured brew. Another interesting aspect of Addis Ababa was the posters of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenewi who passed away in August this year, are still lined up on billboards along the streets and avenues, buildings, shops and in different postures, with messages proclaiming their love for him and how they will carry his mantle ahead to achieve his vision.

Its seems that despite having little tolerance for oppositions with claims of having a poor human rights record, his people still adore him and do not seem to be able to let go. Much as Ethiopians show respect for their leader, I realised one morning on our way to the conference centre that Ethiopians are rather religious.

I was amazed at how they profess their faith by touching holy buildings or grounds and praying reverently with their heads covered. Ethiopians would not pass a holy place, without touching, kissing or kneeling down and saying a little prayer silently.

Addis Ababa, like in many African cities, has its share of beggars, with children running along side you begging for money in their mother tongues pointing at their mouths, meaning they want money to buy food or something like that…and if you give one of them money, he or she goes and calls others, who swarm around you almost tripping you as they all beg for money.

Waiting in traffic women with babies clamped on their sides tap on the windows of vehicles, smiling beautifully at you while begging for money. The babies too smile up at you with big beautiful innocent eyes, if you have a small heart, you might end up emptying your purse.

By Rose Athumani

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