Riverside: green redevelopment for Addis Ababa
19 March 2019

Parks, cycling and walking paths: Addis Ababa is about to begin a green, urban redevelopment plan that could also have real estate and commercial development. The project called “Riverside” will extend along the river banks of the Ethiopian capital for 56 kilometers, from the Entoto mountains to the Akaki river. The announcement was made at the end of February by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who presented the Addis Ababa Riverside Project as his initiative. The total cost of the project, which will first have a pilot phase, is 29 billion birr (about a billion dollars).

Riverside aims to build a new image for the capital, which reflects the meaning of its names in Aramaic: “New Flower”. Addis Ababa will be made more livable, not only because the river banks will be secured to prevent flooding, but also because public green spaces will be created. Along the river bank cafes and restaurants will attract future real estate development and promote international and domestic tourism in Addis Ababa.
The first phase, which will cost 2.5 billion birr (nearly 87 billion dollars) covers an area covering 50 hectares north of the capital, towards Entoto, and should be completed within a year. A second phase of the project will follow, which should be completed in three years. Riverside merges and integrates all the urban initiatives that the city administration has planned so far along the river. The government also expects that the project will lead to the creation of many jobs.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has launched a fundraiser to finance the project. It has been nicknamed “Dine for Sheger”, as “Sheger” is the nickname of Addis Ababa and the campaign is aimed at individuals, local and global companies, international organizations and diplomats. To kick off the campaign a dinner was organized for 5 million birr a person (175 thousand dollars). Anyone who donated will have a plaque in their name along the river banks.

Taxpayers, however, in the meantime complain about the scarcity of services, as Addis Ababa continues to increase local taxes. In the first six months of the fiscal year that began July 8, 2018, the city’s administration raised 18 billion birr (about 663 million dollars), equal to 95% of the expected target. These are mainly direct taxes (13.5 billion birr), while a smart part comes from indirect taxes (5.09 billion birr) and the rest from municipal tariffs.

While currently only a conceptual plan, the initiative will most likely be implemented by the Italian construction company “Varnero” that has a large presence in Ethiopia. This is the last of a series of redevelopment projects in the city, which for decades had remained the same but now is in full swing.
Located at 2,355 meters above sea level, Addis Ababa is one of the highest capitals in the world. Official figures say that 2.7 million people live there, but the number is based on the last census from 2007, while the current population is estimated at around 4 million people.
In recent years, the government has launched a plan to dismantle popular neighborhoods that have given way to modern buildings, shopping centers, office buildings and homes. The city today is a gigantic construction site where hundreds of people already work. Addis Ababa aims to exploit its potential as the country’s capital with the highest growth in Africa and the headquarters of numerous international institutions and organizations, including the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca).

As the diplomatic capital of Africa and symbol of its renaissance, Addis Ababa is experiencing an unprecedented transformation and has been listed by the New York Times and the Lonely Planet as one of the most interesting cities to visit in the world for its cultural landscape making it already a tourist destination. In 2016-2017, more than 886 thousand tourists visited Ethiopia, with a turnover of 3.32 billion dollars (more than Kenya and Tanzania combined) and with 287 thousands jobs created, the sector contributes to 4.5% of GDP.