Addis Ababa no longer a 'backward' city

Friday January 29 2016

Passengers queue to ride Ethiopia's new tramway

Passengers queue to ride Ethiopia's new tramway in Addis Ababa on September 20, 2015, the first such modern train system in sub-Saharan Africa. The Chinese-funded infrastructure project was hailed as a major step in the country's economic development. AFP PHOTO 

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Previously dismissed as a backward city with slums right next to the former emperor's palace, Addis Ababa, a city of six million, can now stake claim as one of the most modern urban centres in Africa.

The main flagship is its brand-new train system that runs across the city on two lines that cover 32 kilometres.

One advantage Addis has over Nairobi is that its city centre is not limited by two strict boundaries of Uhuru Park and the Nairobi River leaving very little space for expansion.

In Addis, all sorts or buildings are coming up. Among the most changed areas is the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) neighbourhood and the new Chinese-built African Union complex.


A few years ago, right outside the doors of the UNECA complex, water flowed in open sewers, an eyesore that no longer exists.

This area now has cobblestone and is neatly planned, with new office blocks that complement the UNECA operations.

Also gone are the hordes of street people that plied their various trades near the UN office. The only small-trade people still operating in Addis are the shoe-shiners and their number is dwindling.

Save for the drought that is now ravaging the Addis area, the city can can surely stake its claim as the most modern in east and Central Africa, and not even Nairobi can come close to what has been done in Addis Ababa.

As host of the continent's biggest body, the African Union that boasts 54 members, Addis is assured of an unending demand for high-class housing.

It is time that other African cities woke up to the transformation taking place in Addis Ababa.


The new African Union building, at 22 floors, is the largest and tallest office block in Addis Ababa. This building was a grant from the Chinese government to the African people to the tune of $200 million (Sh20 billion) at today's exchange rates.

Opened in 2012, the complex has as its flagship the Nelson Mandela Plenary Hall that hosts representatives from the 54 states during summits.

Along the corridors of the AU building, a few Chinese can be seen checking operations, and at the media centre, the TV screen is permanently set on China's CCTV network.

One of the shortcomings in the AU complex is the poor Internet connection, especially Wi-Fi, which comes on and off amid many apologies from senior AU staff.