Condominiums in Addis Ababa: Slums in the making?

Mercifully, Addis Ababa has avoided having slums in many of its neighbourhoods; but that may be only so far

 Rose Mestika


In 2004-5, residents of Addis Ababa city woke up to a pleasing news when they were asked to register in their respective Kebeles for a new housing scheme that since then has come to be popularly known as condominium housing projects. For a city, which, by some conservative estimates, has 80% of its residents living under housing conditions that are not considered decent, the news that the government plans to build thousands of condominium houses for low income families was indeed a big one. Some people had their doubts about and voiced their concerns on whether such initiatives were not meant to win voters’ favour for an upcoming national election scheduled to take place in less than one year after the announcement of the program.  Others dubbed it too ambitions.

Be that as it may, the government had stuck to its plan and had so far spent more than 15.4 billion birr in building 207, 000 housing units nationwide of which 140, 000 are located in Addis Ababa and built  at a cost of 7.8 billion birr.

The government has plans to build additional 35,000 condominium houses in the next fiscal year, and a further 170,000 within the coming three years. And a few weeks ago, the government has announced another massive housing construction project called 40/60, in which housing beneficiaries will be asked to deposit 40% the value of the house in advance with the remaining 60% expected to be covered by the government as a long term loan to be paid by the beneficiaries at later stage.  

No slum, yet

Urban planners dismiss the prospect of a slum in the city of Addis Ababa, and they are right. Slums in major cities such as the Nairobi’s Kibera, which is the second largest urban slum in Africa next to Nigeria, and is, according to the 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census, home to more than 170, 000 destitute Kenyans, and the Favelas in Brazil are notoriously known for failing to avert a rapid expansion of deteriorating social conditions. Today both places are known for their irrepressible crime rates and other social disasters.

Before the current condominium sites came to picture the city of Addis Ababa had thousands of shanty houses humorously referred by its residents as ‘chocolate rooftops’ because of the old brown rooftops they were covered with.  There were shanty houses in areas such as Kirkos, Lideta, Arat Kilo and Kazanchis, which have slowly started to give way to new high rising buildings as residents were evicted (often controversially) and were given housing units inside the newly built condominium sites located in various parts of the town. Fortunately, this was done way before any potential for slum condition came to exist.

 Not for so long, may be

Addis Ababa may be lucky to avoid having slum areas, but a few developments inside the newly built condominium sites reveal disturbing prospects of a future no less than slum conditions that are potentially threatening the social fabric and stability of the residents.

The biggest of all problems facing almost all of the existing condominium sites is a chronic lack of infrastructure. No one seemed to have thought of installing functioning sewerage systems; water pipes are rusting as they usually go on idle for weeks; green areas are considered luxuries and although a few sites have incorporated them in their plans from the start, most of them have ended up serving as parking lots – none of the sites this magazine has visited in the last month have trees planted around them; and most of the sites particularly in the outskirts of the town  lack roads connecting them to main stations – at least for the time being.

So far, the issue of lack, or in some cases absence, of a functioning infrastructure has been widely discussed as a national agenda. In the past the government has admitted, more than once, that a few essential things have gone terribly wrong while planning for the massive construction of the houses. It claims it has taken valuable lessons from the past and that the ongoing projects and the future ones will be a lot more different. We can only hope for that.

Unfortunately, however, the already existing problem of infrastructure in some sites such as Jemo, the biggest condominium site hosting 10, 000 houses, is not an end in itself; it became a means for new and neglected social problems that are spreading at a speed faster than either the authorities or the people living in the condominiums would like to admit.

As majority of the residents found themselves struggling to adapt to a new life style in a four story condominium complexes, abuse of the insufficient sewerage system have become widespread; a few open areas that were meant to be used as green areas or parking lots are shamelessly being used as garbage disposal lots; houses found in the first floors of each of the four story building are rented out as bars, nightclubs (both for straight and gay people), Chat (Qat) houses (also selling drugs) and kiosks. As time goes by the residents are waking up to unexpected nightmare – these places are serving as breeding grounds for criminals and security has become one of the most threatening factors. Rapes, killings, robberies and petty thefts are now day-to-day activities in most sites that recently a state TV police program has publicly advised the residents of Jemo site to be “extra careful at all times.”

 Chasing out decent income families

Although originally built for low income families, most of the housing units in many condominium sites are occupied by middle to upper middle income families with an average income of 5000 – 7000 birr a month. Still a considerable amount of houses are given to poor families who are evicted from inner city areas cleared for high-rising buildings.

The trend is now more and more residents with decent incomes are already moving out of these sites. Mushrooming Real Estate companies are offering lucrative deals designed for middle to upper middle income families and many are taking chances with them. With decent income families slowly moving out of these condominium sites, their successors are in to inherit housing units on their last legs.

According to the Nairobi based UN-Habitat, Africa’s population, standing at one billion by many estimates, is expected to double its numbers by 2050, which means there will be “three times” as many people living in big African cities.

Big population of urban dwellers is not a problem in itself, but UN-Habitat warned that African countries must plan better their big cities to avoid the potential of expanding urban slums. “Conditions in African cities are now the most unequal in the world. They are already inundated with slums and a tripling of urban populations could spell disaster,” a recent statement by the UN-Habitat reads. Within the coming 17 years, close to 60% of African population, which will have grown by additional 500 million by then, will be living in major cities, the report added. Although many countries in Africa have reversed a disastrous tide of slum growth, quite a number of them will have huge problems due to the sheer fact of a fast growing population and deteriorating infrastructure conditions. Addis Ababa has both.

Residents of a few condominium sites are trying to organize committees to deal with the issues including social behavioural problems by penalizing those who use green areas or parking lots as garbage disposal places. ‘Israel one’ site in Semein Mezegaga, in Northern Addis Ababa, and the Mekanisa site in Western Addis Ababa are two sites to reckon.

But they are few, and far apart.

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