The final phase of fieldwork is taking place in Addis Ababa. It was chosen for this project, both because of its own interesting internal dynamics, and because it provides a fruitful comparator to South Africa. The original call for proposals for the ESRC Newton NRF funding focused on South Africa, but allowed for a comparative study with a city elsewhere in Africa. This became an important part of the project proposal, speaking to the usefulness of comparative work; the need for comparative research across Africa; and the ability of Addis Ababa, specifically, to enliven the understanding of the South African cases and vice versa.
Addis is a city of increasing significance on the African continent; experiencing significant economic growth – concomitant with Ethiopia’s rapidly growing economy (at a rate of over 8% in recent years) – and accommodating vast urbanisation underway in the country. The official population of Addis is 3.385 million, similar to Ethekwini, although this 2008 measure is widely considered to be an underestimation.
Dr Tom Goodfellow reflects on the real estate market in Addis Ababa and Kigali.
In stark contrast to Kigali, those involved in real estate in Addis Ababa believe that there is an enormous amount of unmet demand for residential housing even at the high end […] All of the real estate companies together only build an estimated 1,000–1,500 units per year, so this demand is nowhere near being met (construction ﬁrm representative, interviewed 29 September 2014). Unlike in Kigali, Ethiopia’s (much larger) diaspora undoubtedly play a critical role here. One source affirmed that ‘75% of our buyers are Ethiopians living in foreign countries, usually the US’ (property developer, interviewed 30 September 2014). The ongoing demand for high-end residential property is thus much higher in Addis Ababa, both because there is a much larger wealthy diaspora looking to own homes in the city and because the squeeze on developers means that supply is more constrained. All of this means that, relative to other sectors, real estate is extremely proﬁtable for those who have the ﬁnances to engage in development.
Another striking feature of Addis Ababa’s emerging landscape, which dwarfs that occurring in Kigali, is the extent of commercial real estate development and in particular the mushrooming of high-rise towers. The fact that the construction sector is second only to the government as an employer in Addis Ababa (civil engineer, interviewed 29 September 2014) cannot be adequately grasped without considering the scale of commercial real estate development being undertaken in the city. Opinions differ regarding the actual extent of demand for commercial property. The presence of a large number of international organizations in a city that fulﬁls the role of diplomatic ‘capital of Africa’ is clearly signiﬁcant in accounting for the explosion of commercial development. - Goodfellow (2017, pp. 797 - 798)
The prevalence of condo housing in Addis aligns closely with RDP housing in South Africa. Chinese investment in light rail and the ongoing infrastructural transformation of the city (often driven by investment in housing) has had important implications for those living in Addis Ababa’s peripheries. It has enhanced mobility for some improving connections and access to employment, it has also fostered new experiences of displacement and loss of livelihoods. Interestingly, while major efforts are being made to desegregate South African cities, Addis – a city with little historical segregation – is witnessing increasing segregatory patterns along class lines.