Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia and the diplomatic center of Africa, embodies a 130 years of development history that contributes to its current socio-spatial features. Its status as a primate city located at the heart of the nation has made Addis Ababa a melting pot of people with diverse background and geographic origins. Most of Addis Ababa’s development challenges can be attributed to its unplanned origin and growth, infeasible development strategies, lack of implementation capacity, and widespread poverty that has resulted in chronic problems in almost every aspect of the urban life. The reaction of the present government to these challenges is expressed in its growth and transformation program that embrace the urban development agenda. The program, and other planning related policies and prospects are reviewed in this profile. It also discusses the historical, demographic, socioeconomic and spatial aspects of Addis Ababa including the situation of informal settlements.

Addis Ababa, the political capital and the most important commercial and cultural center of Ethiopia, is geographically located at the heart of the nation, 9o2’N latitude and 38o45’E longitude. Its average altitude is 2,400 meter above sea level, with the highest elevations at Entoto Hill to the north reaching 3,200 meters. This makes Addis Ababa one of the high-altitude capital cities of the world. Addis Ababa occupies a total of 540 sq. km land area surrounded by mountainous landscape. Although there is no large river passing within or close to Addis Ababa, the city’s small rivers and streams played an important role in structuring its form.

Addis Ababa has sub-tropical highland climate with a constant moderate temperature of roughly 23oC average high and 11oC average low throughout the year. The main rainy season, Kiremt, is from June to early October, and between early March and mid-April, there is short period of rainfall called Belg. The average annual rainfall is about 1,200 mm, out of which close to 80% falls during the main rainy season (NMA 2017). Addis Ababa is one of the two self-governing chartered cities in Ethiopia with the status of a special autonomous region within the national federal government system. Its Council is accountable both to the city voters and the federal government.

The city is divided into 10 sub-cities called kifle-ketemas and 116 woredas, which are the lowest administrative units. Addis Ababa is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa and a primate city in Ethiopia with an estimated population of around four million, which is roughly 25% of the total urban population of the country and more than ten times the population size of Adama, the second largest urban center (MoUDHC 2015). As the diplomatic center of Africa, Addis Ababa hosts a number of international organizations, such as the headquarters of African Union (AU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Due to its location and status several people come to the city in search of employment opportunities and services. Its annual growth rate ranges between two to four percent, out of which roughly forty percent is attributed to rural-urban migration. Life expectancy at birth is 65.7 years and infant mortality rate is 50.3 per 1000 live births (CSA 2013). The social and physical infrastructure of Addis Ababa has increased quantitatively in the past few decades but they are still in need of significant improvement in terms of quality and distribution.
The government’s strategies behind its extensive urban investments that integrate improvement of the urban environment with creation of economic opportunities, especially for the urban youth, has shown some promising results. However, the policies and strategies need to be evaluated, modified or replaced based on their contribution to alleviating the chronic problems of the city. Some of Addis Ababa’s primary socio-spatial features and challenges have derived from its origin as indigenous and pre-industrial city without a colonial model. This and subsequent historical developments of Addis Ababa are elaborated in the next section followed by discussions on the issues of economy, demo – graphics, planning and informal settlements. Future development plans including housing, environment and infrastructure are presented at the end.

The establishment of Addis Ababa as a permanent capital city of Ethiopia in 1886 was associated with the consolidation of new territories by Emperor Menelik II (1844–1913). Prior to that, Menelik II and his predecessor emperors of Ethiopia changed their political centres as they moved from place to place for expansion, and subjugation of local warlords and kings (Mesfin 1976). For example, Ankober (1868-1876), Liche (1876-1882), Ankober and DebreBerhan (1882-1884, used alternatively before his conquest of the south), and Entoto (1984-1987) were used by Emperor Menilik II as garrison towns and political capitals before settling in Addis Ababa (Wolde-Michael 1973). The selection of Entoto by Emperor Menilik II in 1884 for his residence was crucial for the establishment of Addis Ababa. According to Giorghis and Gerard (2007), the ancient structures in Entoto were believed to be built by Showan kings of the 16th century; therefore, Menilik’s move to Entoto was partly an act of re-establishing the old empire. While at Entoto, the emperor and his wife, Empress Taitu, frequented the hot springs of Filwoha, which was located on a lower altitude south of Entoto. Later on, they moved their permanent residence to Filwoha area where some of the first buildings of Addis Ababa were constructed. Like most of the other urban centers in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa’s early development was spontaneous and without formal planning. The early houses were circular huts constructed using chika walls (mud and straw plastered on wooden frame) and thatched roofs.

The palace, the churches, and the compounds of the noblemen and military leaders were important nodes around which their followers clustered in a concentric settlement pattern (Johnson 1974). Each neighborhood (sefer) was commonly located on higher ground with large open spaces separating it from adjacent settlements. This early social and spatial pattern has contributed to today’s mixed-income characteristics of the old neighborhoods of Addis Ababa. Before the Italian invasion, traditional mode of spatial and social organization shaped Addis Ababa’s structure. According to Pankhurst (1968), the city’s population grew rapidly due to the presence of provisional governors and their soldiers, the 1892 famine, and the 1896 Battle of Adwa. Other important events such as the 1907 land act, the establishment of municipal administration in 1909, and the introduction of railway transportation and motor vehicles at the beginning of the 20th Century influenced the formative stage of the city and its subsequent growth. Influenced by the location of the Ethio-Djibouti railway station and other factors such as topography, the city expanded towards the south.

Furthermore, wider roads were provided to accommodate the vehicular traffic. Despite such changes and advancements, the process of the city’s expansion and densification of that time largely remained spontaneous and unplanned. The five-year occupation that followed the 1936 fascist Italian invasion of Ethiopia had some lasting effects on the socio-spatial pattern of Addis Ababa. Their vision was to make Addis Ababa the capital of the occupied and annexed Italian territories in East Africa. As part of this vision, the first master plan of the city was prepared based on a dual city approach. To realize this plan of racial segregation, roughly one hundred thousand “native” people were displaced from their homes (Punkrust 1986). The construction of new buildings and the creation of new public spaces were also part of the implementation of their vision to make Addis Ababa similar to other colonial cities. However, the majority of their plan did not succeed because of time and financial constraints. Following the restoration of independence, British and French consultants2 were involved in the preparation of master plans for Addis Ababa. Despite the pro-modernization efforts in urban development planning, traditional administration and land distribution system hindered the plans’ implementation. In this period, the city continued to expand along major transportation routes and around existing and new nodes. The 1960’s construction boom helped in the implementation of Luis De Marien’s plan and formed some of the well-known axes and landmarks of the city. The major developments realized in this period include the headquarters of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the first airport, and some industrial establishments.

According to Wubshet (2002), in mid-1970s roughly two third of the housing in Addis Ababa was developed informally without proper design, construction, infrastructure provision, or construction permit. After the 1974 revolution that overthrow the imperial regime, the new Marxist government3 nationalized all land and rental structures (‘extra’ houses) built by private owners in addition to their own dwellings (Proclamation No. 47/1975). The appropriated buildings with small livable space and low-quality construction were put under the administration of kebele4 , while other rental structures of larger sizes and better quality fell under the authority of the Agency for Rental Housing Administration (ARHA). By the mid-1990s, more than forty percent of Addis Ababa’s housing stock was administered by kebele or ARHA (CSA 1995). In order to fulfill its new role, the government became the main actor in urban development and provider of free land for housing and other building types.

However, it was unable to satisfy the demand for land, infrastructure or housing finance. This leads to the informal construction of new houses mainly in the expansion areas of the city, and informal transformation and expansion of existing houses and neighborhoods especially in the inner-city areas (Bainesagn 2001; Soressa 2003). Furthermore, the nationalized houses deteriorated due to poor management and the extremely low rent that made their maintenance practically impossible. Part of the 1986 master plan envisaged a complete urban renewal for most part of the inner-city that contained much of the kebele dwellings. However, it was never implemented. Contrary to its intentions the plan actually provided a rationale for tolerating the deterioration of especially the chika houses, and it discouraged possible upgrading efforts. Following the fall of the Marxist government in 1991, land ownership and the majority of the nationalized buildings remained in the hands of the government. Within this framework, urban land lease legislation was issued in 1993 (Proclamation No. 80/1993), which was one of the major changes in this period5 . Consequently, new housing and other developments have been underway by real-estate developers and other private owners. Although a proclamation to privatize the government owned houses was issued (Proclamation No. 112/1995), except few, the tenure status of the majority of kebele houses remained the same. Consequently, the informally developed kebele dwellings and their largely unplanned urban setting continued to characterize the core areas of Addis Ababa. However, there were initiatives by the government to upgrade the basic infrastructure of the neighborhoods without improving the existing condition the dwellings.

In the post 2004 national election, the government shifted its policy to an urban focused one. Th e 2005–2010 Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP) and the 2005 Urban Development Policy of Ethiopia explicitly recognized urban development as a major driving force of national development. The five-year Growth and Transformation Plans (GTP – I and II), which started in 2010 and 2016 respectively, have also emphasized the urban agenda. The policy shift has been expressed by massive public investments such as, large-scale government-sponsored housing, provision of public services, and extensive infrastructure development to improve the conditions of urban dwellers and their built environment. The Integrated Housing Development Program (IHDP), launched in 2005, is one of the investments that aimed at addressing the chronic unemployment, housing shortage and lack of infrastructure in urban areas. It has been also instrumental for implementing the ongoing large-scale urban redevelopment in Addis Ababa by providing relocation dwelling units (apartments) for residents displaced from the inner-city areas due to urban renewal or infrastructure projects. These ongoing interventions by the government and other actors of the urban development are transforming the spatial as well as social fabrics of the contemporary Addis Ababa.

The last census in Ethiopia was carried out in 2007, thus current population of the city is based on estimates. There are many estimates some of which put the population close to 5 million. However, the national central statistical agency that carries out national census projections put the population of Addis Ababa to be 3,273, 000 (CSA, 2015) based on this figure, the population of Addis Ababa accounts for 3.6% of the national population and 18% of the urban population in Ethiopia. It has shown an annual rate of population growth of 2.1%.

According to CSA (2015), 24% of the residents of Addis Ababa are below the poverty line. On the other hand, 26.1% of the residents were under food poverty (AABoFED, 2015). Here too women were more affected by poverty than men. On the other hand if we apply a broader measure, of poverty, the level of poverty in the city is much higher. According to the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative’s Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), 48.7% of the residents of Addis Ababa are poor or vulnerable to poverty (OPHI, 2015). The trend here also shows a consistent decrease from previous years. Inequality is also another feature of the social condition in the city. According to IDPR (2015) the income inequality measured by Gini coefficient of real consumption per capita for the year 2015 is estimated to be 0.32. This is quite a low figure compared to many other cities in the world. It is also worth noting that the trend in Gini coefficient showed gradual decrease for the past 10 years.

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