Addis Ababa Today

The Guardian in a feature-length article by Jason Burke in its “Cities” series describes the growing unrest in Ethiopia. This has its roots in the country’s land ownership policies under which the government owns all the land and allows development only at its sufferance, retaining the right to seize the land at any time to be put to a different use by new occupants. This has resulted in a growing chaos as people protest the government’s summary actions to seize land needed, for example, to support its planned expansion and modernization of Addis Ababa. In response, government security forces crack down. The article cites two western writers for background information: Evelyn Waugh and Ryszard Kapuscinski:

That Addis Ababa is in dire need of planning is not in doubt. It was founded in 1886, by the emperor Menelik II, who is widely seen as the architect of modern Ethiopia and whose statue now towers over a busy roundabout in the capital’s scruffy, lively neighbourhood of Arada. In the 1930s, just before Italy’s short-lived occupation of Ethiopia, the British writer Evelyn Waugh described the city as being “in a rudimentary state of construction” with “half-finished buildings at every corner”. Just over 30 years later, the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski told his readers of “the wooden scaffoldings scattered” about a city that resembled “a large village of a few hundred thousand, situated on hills amid eucalyptus groves”. The hills are still there, as is the wooden scaffolding, which is more practical in the heat and sun than its steel counterpart. The trees are gone.

The Waugh quotation comes from Remote People (1931, p. 34). In his later book Waugh in Abyssinia (1936, p. 61) Waugh embellished and updated this description: the “ambitious buildings” were “still in the same rudimentary stage of construction; tufted now with vegetation like ruins in a drawing of Piranesi, they stood at every corner, reminders of an abortive modernism…”




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