Under charismatic prime minister Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s capital is undergoing its most radical facelift in a generation

[In]  February, the prime minister’s office unveiled futuristic plans to turn 31 hectares of filthy, litter-strewn river banks into public parks, bicycle paths and waterside terraces complete with outdoor cafes and restaurants. Though a more modest rehabilitation scheme had been in the pipeline for several years, this turbocharged version, known as Beautifying Sheger after the city’s nickname, was billed as Abiy’s personal initiative. It is projected to cost $1bn over three years, and work on the first 12km by a Chinese firm has already begun.


In the case of Beautifying Sheger, China pledged to foot a quarter of the bill. Some of the rest will be paid for by Abiy’s “Dine for Sheger” campaign, a lavish fundraising dinner held in May at Menelik Palace for which guests paid $175,000 each to attend.

As for other projects, Takele says the costs will be covered by the city budget, and points out that his administration is also working on a Rapid Bus Transit system as well as ambitious plans to overhaul the capital’s water supply by building two dams outside the city, to be funded by the World Bank and China’s Exim Bank. The private sector will be harnessed to build a new overpass system, helping ease traffic, and also to deliver low-cost housing on 1,000 hectares of land in the inner city, [former deputy mayor Takele Uma] says.

He also claims that, unlike under his predecessors, nobody will be left homeless or even relocated to social housing on the edge of the city. “Now the plan is to build housing in the centre of the city, so they have access to everything.” He says the first phase of development at La Gare will be new homes for those, like Woinshet, whose old neighbourhood is being demolished.