Day 10: Addis Ababa – The City of Contrasts

Living in Addis Ababa is a challenge. Every day. It’s a city full of contrasts that you realize and get to know better every day. On the one side, Addis is the most developed city in Ethiopia and has very modern city-aspects like malls, cinemas, a diverse restaurant scene and gaming centers. On the other hand, however, most of the parts of Addis look more like rural areas with local markets, shanties and no water or energy supply. The population living in Addis is also much divided: into a wealthy, good-educated upper-class and a very poor majority. Something in between – like a wealthy middle class – is hardly existing.

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Modern malls & gaming centers

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Typical market sites at the streets

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Poor areas is Addis Ababa

With an official population of 3,3 million people Addis is the largest city in Ethiopia. Talking to people though, the unofficial number of inhabitants is over 5 million. The site of Addis Ababa was chosen by Empress Taytu Betul whose husband, Emperor Menelik II, founded the city in 1886. Since then Addis has grown rapidly with a huge territorial expansion. How great the demand for housing space is, can be seen from the many many construction sites all over the city with adventurous scaffolds made of nothing else but wooden sticks.


view on Addis Streets


Addis Ababa, which means “new flower” in Amharic, is not what you call a beautiful city. The streets are in a very bad shape, large parts of the city are covered with slum-like houses and the traffic is just crazy. Nevertheless, Addis has its own energy and liveliness, with people on the streets at all times, speaking over 80 different dialects. One aspect of the city, which is always been emphasized, is that it is actually one of the safest cities in Africa with very few crimes. One reason for that could be the presence of many continental & international political organizations like the African Union or the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).


The African Union Headquarters Building

As said before, living in Addis is definitely a challenge but it is also a big adventure. Seeing more from the city gives us a deeper understanding of the culture and way of living of Ethiopian people and just increases my appreciation of making the best of their opportunities every day.


3 thoughts on “Day 10: Addis Ababa – The City of Contrasts

  1. Thanks for sharing your impressions, Isa! What you describe is the reality in a lot of African cities across the continent. There are highly modern facilities of a well-educated upper class and slum-like endless settlements of the poor majorities. City centers like in Europe don’t exist, but malls and markets, or sometimes areas with restaurants. In general, there is a high service mentality because people need to be creative around how to make money. They will go out of their way for a relatively small fee, whatever it is that you need. The middle-class is emerging, but there is still a long way to go. I hope during your stay you will get an opportunity to meet people from the “shanties” in their homes. This usually takes a bit of time and experience, as well as a local person to facilitate. But it is worth the experience, you will be warmly welcomed. And never be scared to try home-cooked food! I have done this in many places with no regrets. Keep on experiencing and enjoying!


  2. … one more interesting fact: The African Union building in Addis has been funded by the Chinese, who are investing heavily on the African continent. Actually a bit scary as the generosity surely does not come without an agenda.


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