I’ve found in the November edition of the Addis Standard an article I had long been waiting for. The piece thrived to analyse a major and quite recent Ethiopian urban addition: the condominiums. Those buildings were skilfully imagined to offer more and better living conditions to the ever expanding Ethiopian population. The title of the Addis Standard article is negative and threatening, as it should be, but its content unfortunately lacks focus, and in-depth interviews. I would, for instance, have made a difference between condominiums situated inside and outside the capital city—which is where the journalist investigated. I would have also brought up the quality of the buildings themselves.
Condominiums (roughly 4 to 5-floor residential blocks set in large clusters) have started flourishing full speed in many Ethiopian cities some 5 or 6 years ago. This project was initiated by the Ethiopian authorities, who built the houses and then set a system of lottery through which people could become owners in exchange of about 50% of the total production cost of the flat spread out in loans. It is unclear to me whether this system will perpetuate the relative diversity of coexisting classes and populations, but it has the advantage of being one initiative to modernise living conditions. In the case of Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city, condominiums have come to mushroom (72,000 flats transferred since 2005) firstly in various locations of the city centre where neighbourhoods (mud-made houses and stylish old houses) have been torn down for that very purpose, but also secondly, and in larger proportion, in the mostly isolated outskirts of Addis. Although they are both built with similar structures and concepts, they are not to be strictly compared when assessing their success in constituting new communities.
A well-integrated centre versus a struggling periphery
The clusters situated within the city perimeter are overall better trimmed and served in terms of shops, infrastructures and public transportation. They also logically come in higher rents, as after becoming owners, quite a handful of these lottery-winners put their property for rent. Better inserted in the urban landscape, they are usually in smaller numbers and benefit from better overall organisation. With relatively high prices for the Ethiopian market, they are not accessible to all anymore.
Their suburban counterparts, however, share a number of dysfunctions that could be attributed to a miscalculation of global urban strategic planning, or at least delays in implementation. Many of these very large clusters of buildings were erected before the streets meant to serve them, and before shops or transportation means have been dealt with. It results in insecurity and exclusion for a significant proportion of the population, which, having relocated out of the city centre, becomes tributary of an unfamiliar and inhospitable environment.
Blaming the architect
Beyond differences it appears, however, that all condominiums suffer from a common harm that does not seem to be much acknowledged at this time: they are made of poor quality materials and have a tendency to deteriorate very rapidly. It is then likely that, if not well-maintained, they will too soon (in the decades to come) become either insalubrious or downright dangerous to live in. One may wonder if all flats of the project will be delivered before such an issue materialises.
Those residential blocks come from a real need and are a fine way of assessing the issue of overcrowding in underprivileged households, but they require further research and better implementation as they embody real societal modifications to traditional Ethiopian life. These aspects are irrelevant, however, if the issue of “durability” is not soon taken into consideration.