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Addis Ababa Leaves Ethiopia's Weak And Poor Behind But Shows Its Impressive Growth Trend

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City set to become one of Africa's largest, but like many development stories before it, there will be winners...and big losers.

EVEN as the plane comes in to land, you can see that Addis Ababa is a city in flux. Dotted across the landscape, brightly coloured new roofs, adorning high-rise buildings, stare up at the sky in a sea of brick and shanty housing. 

When you get to the ground level the story is similar. Big new roads lead you into the city and underneath impressive, newly constructed fly-overs only to then end up in a haze of orderly confusion as cars weave in all directions.

This is the real-time experience of the “Africa rising” narrative. An African city, and the people who live within it, demonstrating the actual consequences of booming growth and the face-paced development that comes along with it. 

Ethiopia is ranked by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as among the five fastest growing economies in the world. This after a decade of continuous expansion, during which real GDP growth averaged 10.8% per annum.

As a result Addis is showing the big changes associated with this. This includes the city’s first light rail network that is part of a plan to make the Ethiopian capital city’s public transport system more sustainable, by shifting it away from the current dependence on an informal network of minivan taxis and buses.

However, more recently, there were further calls that the government was perpetuating inequality along ethnic lines when it announced a master plan titled “the Addis Ababa and the Surrounding Oromia Integrated Development Plan”. This area structure plan was intended to create special zones surrounding Addis that were divided into industry, service and settlement zones, based on their existing potential, economic base and geography. 

But it has become a contentious issue, met with opposition by Oromo residents who would lose an additional 36 towns and cities to Addis Ababa. According to researchers, the city’s expansion in the past has led to forced evictions and displacement of local Oromo residents and protesters of this new master plan fear that ceding Oromo lands to Addis Ababa would lead to more losses in Oromo identity and culture.

The fast rate of urbanisation has also perpetuated levels of inequality and fragility which are highly visible on some of the streets and areas of Addis and, intentionally or not, this seems to have been moved to specific areas.

One example is in the neighbourhood of Mercato – named so because it is home to the largest market areas in the city. 

Everything can be found here from steel pipes to spices and kitchenware. It is also where the hidden face of poverty of the city becomes most apparent. Here people are struggling to survive, making a living by whatever means possible – as this is the time of year when the rains come heavy and fast almost every afternoon, there are countless young men taking advantage of it. They will clean shoes, the bottoms of trousers or sit on old buckets fixing broken umbrellas.