Tuesday, April 3, 2012

We Are All From Addis Ababa Ethiopia ... and Other Amazing Facts

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is a destination that many would flock to if they only knew how much of a pearl of a city it is.

Faces of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

To look at it today, one can’t help but imagine how people even survived just as recently as ten years ago. Roads that were just patches of asphalt every few meters have become 8 –lane highways (Bole to Megenagna is a good example. Anyone that can remember that thin, puny asphalt road will know what I am talking about. Another example is the 22 Mazoria to Bole Holy Savior of the World Church where cars passed one another so closely one could actually hear, and partake in, conversations in the other car.) Today, the great Bole Road, Addis Ababa’s equivalent to the “Main Street” of many metropolitan cities around the world, is being plowed again to make more room for more traffic, to embrace a new flyover and to even be the launching ground for Ethiopia’s first ever metro service.
Bole Road under construction

One other thing about Addis Ababa that is changing rapidly is the skyline. I personally remember when we used to make appointments to meet friends near some “addisu hintsa” or “new building”. Today, it would make no sense as there is a new building going up at almost every 300 meter intervals.

But, as this city slowly wakes up from a slumber of a hundred years, there are some amazing facts about Addis that few people realize. Below are just a handful that I have been able to find out doing some basic research, and hope that others will add to it too.

·         We are all from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: While most people might have read about Lucy and Selam (mentioned below), a little known fact is that Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the capital city itself, could actually be the point of origin of the human species. The whole world was convinced that since most of the fossils and skeletons were found in the Afar region the origin of mankind too was somewhere in the northeast of Ethiopia.

But, recent studies in DNA1 have actually shown that mankind in fact came from somewhere a little more southern than there, somewhere around Addis Ababa2. In one study DNA taken from approximately 1,000 people showed that as one went further away from the city, the genetic variety declined rapidly and thus also enabled a drawing of the map that shows how man migrated out of Africa.

·         Home to Lucy and Selam and MORE: Everyone knows or has heard about the fact that Ethiopia is the birthplace of mankind. Skeletons have been, and continue to be, found in the Afar region of Ethiopia and all the way south of the country along the East African Rift Valley. The skeletons of Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) discovered in 1974 and estimated to have lived 3.2 million years ago and her “daughter” Selam (also Australopithecus afarensis) who had died at just three years old, but also lived 3.3 million years ago (approximately 500,000 years before Lucy) were discovered in Ethiopia and can be seen on display at the National Museum in Addis Ababa.

A reconstruction of Selam (an Australopithecus afarensis child)

·         The highest city in Africa: Addis Ababa Ethiopia, lies at a height of 2,300 meters above sea level. Although the city has now spread vastly, its lowest point, around Bole International Airport is at 2326 meters above sea level while its highest point is the Entoto Mountain, at 3,000 meters the birthplace of the city when Empress Etegue Taitu Bitul chose the spot for her husband Emperor Menilik II in 1886.

·         The First Royal Hotel: As mentioned above, Empress Taitu was the main reason that Addis Ababa was able to become the capital city of Ethiopia. Before 1906 there was no such thing as a hotel in Ethiopia. It was considered a shameful act to accept money from a person that had dined at ones table, let alone to make a business of it.
Itegue Taitu Hotel, Addis Ababa

But that didn’t stop the Empress from going ahead, sharing her husband’s love for modernization, and opening the first hotel owned by an African empress, “The Etegue Taitu Hotel” in 1906. When she couldn’t find any clients to come and dine at her hotel, the wise Empress convinced the emperor to make it a point to bring back his ministers for refreshing meals and drinks after meetings and pay their tab. In Ethiopian custom, when one has settled a tab inviting someone else, the invitee will take offence if he doesn’t take care of the bill the next time round. Thus, the business took off when the ministers started bending backwards to have the honor of paying for the emperor and then for their peers. Once the general population saw that going into hotels was “ok-ed”  by the royals and the ministers the custom of going into hotels became more acceptable.

The hotel is still open to customers today and is doing a thriving business.

·         The Capital of Africa: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is known as the capital of Africa. This is due to the large number of embassies and global delegations that are present in the city. It is also home to Africa’s largest governing body the African Union (AU) and the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). This has made the city a place where people from different races, religions and backgrounds rub shoulders without an eyebrow being raised.
African Union HQ Addis Ababa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

·         Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital: This hospital is the only one in the world that is dedicated to the care of women that are affected by this illness. Established in 1974, by a New Zealand and Australian obstetrician/gynecologist couple Drs. Reginald and Catherine Hamlin, the hospital still saves women from the pain, shame and ostracization and has an impressive 90% success rate.  

Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, Ethiopia

·         Home to the Federation of African Societies of Chemistry (FASC): This federation was established and is headquartered, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2006 to enable the concentration of all the African knowledge and talent in the field of chemistry and finding a way to use it to help in the development of continent.

·         Home to the Largest Open Air Market: They say that no one will come back empty-handed from Merkato, the largest open air market in Africa. Everything from secondhand nails and bolts to spare parts for the largest machineries can be found there. I am yet to find a person who knows more than just a few pockets of this huge maze in the capital city.
Girls in a typical Merkato spices shop, Addis Ababa Ethiopia

As the city continues I’m sure there will be more “firsts” and other amazing facts to add to this list. Any new comments or recommendations are very welcome.


1 - Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/21/AR2008022102739.html?hpid=moreheadlines

2 - Star Tribune: http://www.startribune.com/world/15860017.html

Pictures courtesy of:

Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital: http://hamlinfistula.org

Addis Ababa Online: http://addisababaonline.com

Wikipedia: http://www.wikipedia.com


  1. I saw pictures of workers from the public roads and highways laying down asphalt for roads. It is a sign of progress as it will sustain commercial development.

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