Urban investments across the African continent are at an all-time high. Yet the nature of these investments differs starkly across cities. Many of them are driven by political considerations. For example, in Addis Ababa, a city that has made enormous strides in the past two decades, a new urban aesthetic is emerging. It targets urban elites, the Ethiopian diaspora and international tourists.
Since coming to power in 2018, prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration has initiated several urban mega-projects. These include LaGare, a 36-hectare real estate project, and a 56km riverside renewal scheme dubbed Beautifying Sheger.
Both projects are intended to give Africa’s political capital a facelift, and generate revenue through higher land values and urban tourism. They are the latest additions to a skyline that has undergone dramatic changes in the past 20 years.
The projects are new but their delivery remains the same. The manner in which they are being implemented is reminiscent of previous Ethiopian regimes. This includes the side-lining of local stakeholders and the lack of coordination with the relevant bureaucracies. Decision-making continues to be highly centralized.
In new research, I use these urban mega-projects to analyze this period of political change. Urban spaces are sites of “continuous renewal”. New administrations use them to stamp their mark on cities. My research aims to identify how this is playing out in Ethiopia’s capital city.
Addis Ababa’s latest urban endeavors
A unique characteristic