After my preliminary trip here, I remarked to several people on the quality of the public infrastructure, in particular the pavements, which are in a dreadful state, making any journey on foot a perilous proposition (I was reading in the local paper a complaint about open manholes in the middle of the pavement, and very nearly came a cropper myself, paying too much attention to the navigation app on my phone (and there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.)
But actually, being here a little longer makes me temper those remarks, for it very much depends where you are. There are parts of Addis which are as modern and well-maintained as any city. And it is evident that there are ongoing projects to re-pave areas mutilated by building works, infrastructure improvements, tree roots and sheer neglect. Ambitious projects too, including grassy strips, flower beds and the like.
But the vast majority of these improvements that I have encountered in the two areas I have lived in have simply stalled, virtually mid-dig, Marie Celeste-style. A concrete dividing wall has been started, but the wooden framework then lies empty. A start has been made in many cases, but then abandoned, the major problem being, so far as I understand, the lack of money – in particular foreign currency.
This seems to be having a huge effect on private construction too. In the area where I live – Arat (or four) Kilo – there is a massive explosion of construction, with the erection of hundreds of apartment blocks. Some of them look very fancy indeed… but all of them, so far as I can tell, are abandoned. Well, not abandoned – they are surrounded by fences, razor-wire and the like – but I cannot see a scrap of work going on in any of them. It has to be the case that the builders have run out of money, or the basic materials cannot be imported.
And I cannot believe it is because of a lack of labour, as it is quite clear that there are far too many people with nothing to do. And as the work is very largely manual, there would be plenty of jobs, not all of them skilled. On one building site that I did see in operation, on my last visit, guys were throwing gravel at a standing-up bed-frame, acting as a sort of sieve, while on the other side of the frame, another guy was shovelling the resultant sand into barrows, with a guy at each end, like a sedan chair, who would carry the stuff over a precarious route to where it was required (presumably to make mortar.)
And, much like the country itself, there is a curious mix of old and new. The scaffolding on many of the construction sites is made of wood, with just one steel tower to house a rickety lift… not that I would want to get into it!