You think Los Angeles has traffic? A sigalert on the 405 is a first world problem. Here in the capital of Ethiopia, the sigalert on weekdays never ends. Getting anywhere involves inching through traffic in a wheezing Soviet-era Lada taxi.
The congestion is widely blamed on construction of a light rail system that was supposed to be finished in less than two years. At the time of my visit, workers were still chipping away at the project with hand tools and the occasional earth mover. Trains began operating in 2016 but the problem-plagued system is running at a 70 million dollar deficit. The cost of Ethiopia’s participation in the Belt and Road Initiative is a crushing debt to China, with little improvement in traffic congestion to show for it.
Except for the main arteries, few roads are paved. When we stopped at a light, our car was surrounded by young men selling a variety of wares. Cars and trucks compete for space with herds of sheep and goats, and donkeys hauling cement to endless blocks of half-finished apartment buildings. In the downtown area, the unfinished buildings are taller. People cram into buses or line up to fill private vans that ply the main routes. It’s the commute from hell.
Vintage cars from the Soviet Union
Fortunately, when you have to get somewhere, Addis Ababa’s taxi drivers are fearless. The young man who picked up my group outside the African Union Conference Center proudly announced that he learned English from listening to American rap lyrics. Don’t be surprised if the taxi is an aging Lada — one the sturdy automobiles that once were mass-produced in the Soviet Union — still chugging along on the streets of Addis.
Terry’s Travel Tips
While participating in an international journalism exchange to Ethiopia, I stayed at the Ambassador Hotel. Sorry, but I have to recommend that you stay elsewhere. Click here to read reviews of the top hotels in Addis Ababa and book your reservation. Read more about the food in this post on Ethiopia’s unique coffee ceremony, a must-do experience in the land that claims to have invented the beverage!
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