Infrastructure Projects in Addis Ababa: Between Self-Government of the Capital City and Federal Intervention

Zemelak A Ayele, CFGS – Centre for Federalism and Governance Studies, Addis Ababa University

Relevance of the Practice

Addis Ababa had a controversial and unsettled position and status in the Ethiopian federal matrix. As per Article 49(2) of the 1995 Constitution, it is the seat of the federal government and the capital of the Ethiopian federation. The Constitution further provides that the residents of the city have the right to a ‘a full measure of self-government’ (Art 49(2). Yet, Article 49(5) of the Constitution also recognizes ‘the special interest’ of the Oromia state in the city since the city is located as an enclave at the heart of the Oromia state. Over 25 years after the promulgation of the Federal Constitution, ‘the special interest’ of the Oromia state in Addis Ababa remains undefined. As far as some politicians of Oromia, the special interest is nothing less than full ownership of the Oromia state over the city which should be translated into complete political and economic control of Oromia over Addis Ababa. For others the special interest of Oromia in Addis is limited to those interests, as explicitly provided in the Constitution, pertaining to ‘the provision of social services or the utilization of natural resources and other similar matters, as well as joint administrative matters’ (Art 49(5)). These interests emanate from the geographical position of the city and can easily be handled through intergovernmental forums. As a federal city, Addis Ababa cannot escape the regulatory and other influence of the federal government. The issue is whether that power of the federal government also includes the power to determine specific infrastructural projects to be implemented in the city. This issue is relevant here since there are several infrastructural projects that are initiated and implemented by the federal government raising jurisdictional issues. The question here is not whether the projects are relevant or useful. It is rather whether the federal government has the competence to plan and implement these projects.

Description of the Practice

There are several projects which are being implemented in Addis Ababa, in the words of Adanech Abiebie, the Deputy Mayor of Addis Ababa, ‘with the initiation and close supervision’ of Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister. The projects are undertaken within the framework of ‘beautifying sheger’ (also called Sheger River side projects) which is the brainchild of the Prime Minister. The first project is the ‘Grand Meskel Square-Addis Ababa City Hall project’. This ETB 2.6 billion (EUR 47 million) project covers the area from Addis Ababa City Hall to Meskel Square, the largest public square which lies in the heart of Addis Ababa and where various religious, cultural, and political festivities are conducted. The project involves refurbishing the square, building an underground parking lot, and building roadside greenery works and sidewalks along the Churchill Avenue which runs from the Addis Ababa City Hall down to Meskel Square. Various parks and green areas are also built in different parts of the city, including the Wodajinet Square (friendship square), the Andinet Park (unity park), and the Entoto Natural Park. These projects involved building different structures including ‘various indoor and outdoor facilities, including sport centers, library, restaurants and coffee shops’. The other project is the so-called Abrhot Library, which is expected to be the largest library in the city, if not in Ethiopia. The Adwa Centre is another project being implemented in the city. This project is named after and built as a commemoration of the Adwa Victory in which the Ethiopian forces defeated the Italian invading forces in 1896. The Adwa Centre ‘will have a museum, a meeting hall with a capacity of over 2000 people, three smaller auditoriums with a capacity of 400 people, Cinema Theatre, Library, Gym, and Childcare center, among other things’.[1]

As indicated above, the projects were initiated by the Prime Minister and implemented under his close supervision. He has also produced several documentaries in which he narrates the progress of these projects. The city government had barely any involvement in the planning and implementation of these projects even though the parks will be administered by the city government. Moreover, the costs of the projects are covered by the federal government. In its 2021-22 budget, the federal government has set aside ETB 3.3 billion for Addis Ababa clearly to cover the costs of the project. Addis Ababa never previously received a subsidy from the federal government since it is financially self-sufficient. 

It should be stressed here that these projects are long overdue. Moreover, in addition to creating economic opportunities for the city’s residents, the projects have transformed the face of the city. It is much more beautiful, clean and there are now several more public spaces in the city which were previously lacking. Thus, there is no disagreement on the importance of the projects. The issue rather is whether the federal government has not encroached into the competences of the Addis Ababa city government by planning, financing, and implementing the above projects in the city. As mentioned, the residents of the city have ‘full measure of self-government’ (Article 49 of the Constitution) which clearly implies that such kind of projects should be initiated and implemented by duly elected officials of the city. Moreover, as per Proclamation no 361/2003, which defines the powers of the Addis Ababa city government, the initiation and implementation of the kind of projects described above fall within the functional competences of the city. Article 2(4) of the proclamation provides that ‘land development and management, city sanitation and beautification’ and the like fall within municipal functions of the city government. The city has also the power to adopt its own master plan. In any case building cultural centers, recreational centers, youth centers, museums, parks, libraries, parking lots, public squares and the like fall within general local government functions and the federal government is not expected to be directly involved in such projects.

Assessment of the Practice

It is true that Addis Ababa is the capital of the federation. It is not a state. Yet, unlike it is the case for other cities which lie within one of the ten states, there is no state above Addis Ababa to which the city is accountable. It is rather an autonomous city, its direct accountability being to the federal government. The federal government had indeed interest in ensuring that the city is properly managed. It is also within the power of the federal government to legislatively define the functional competences of the city which the former has done with the Proclamation no 361/2003. The federal government does not seem to have the power to dictate specific projects that have to be implemented in the city. This undermines the city’s right to ‘full measure of self-government’. While the projects are indeed commendable, there is no constitutional and legal basis for the federal government, especially the Prime Minister, to be as involved as it is in relation to these projects.

References to Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications

Legal Documents:

Addis Ababa City Government Revised Charter Proclamation no 361/2003

The 2014 Fiscal Year Federal Government Budget Proclamation 2021

Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications:

— — ‘Grand Meskel Square-City Hall Project Inaugurated’ (Ethiopia Monitor, 13 June 2020) <>

— — ‘Adwa Center Construction in the Capital Addis Ababa Kicks off’ (Borkena, 17 July 2019) <>

Abdu B, ‘City to Administer Sheger, Entoto Parks’ (The Reporter, 26 October 2021) <>

Ayele Z, Local Government in Ethiopia: Advancing Development and Accommodating Ethnic Minorities (Nomos 2014)

The Ethiopian Herald, ‘Ethiopia: PM Inaugurates Entoto Natural Park’ (All Africa, 14 October 2020) <>

[1] ‘Adwa Center Construction in the Capital Addis Ababa Kicks off’ (Borkena, 17 July 2019)                 <> accessed 18 September 2021.