Addis Ababa, which means "New Flower" in Amharic, is an intriguingly indigenous African city. Its founding, growth and development are not rooted in colonization. It is the capital city of Ethiopia and is located about 2,500 m above sea level at 9.03° N 38.74° E. It is Ethiopia's largest city and its administrative and communications center. It is the main trade center for coffee, the country's chief export, and for tobacco, grains, and hides. The major industries produce food, beverages, processed tobacco, plastics, chemical products, textiles, and shoes. The city is also the center of the nation's service and finance sectors. Addis Ababa has a large tourist industry. It is the hub of a highway network and a terminus of a railroad that runs to Djibouti, making Addis Ababa an important distribution center. The city lies at the foot of Mount Entoto.
Before moving to the present site, Menelik II had established temporary capitals at six different locations. The primary reason for the continuing relocation of capitals was exhaustion of wood resources for fuel and construction. New capitals were prosperous for several decades until the sparse forests around the city became depleted. Each capital went through a stage of decline and was finally abandoned in favor of a new site.
In 1881, the powerful Emperor Menelik II and his followers moved to the foothills of the Entotto mountains near present day Addis Ababa. This temporary encampment in central Ethiopia had several advantages for Menelik II: its location further south than any previous capital allowed him to unite the southern reaches of the empire with the more populated north under his rule; and, the site had historical significance as a legendary camp of medieval kings.
More important than the comforts of the Addis Ababa site, was its potential for expansion. The Entotto site was perched on a ridge and offered little room for development of the grand city Menelik envisioned. The hills were also limited in proximity to water and commerce routes.
In November 1886, while Menelik was off in a distant corner of the empire, his wife Taytu moved the encampment from the hills down onto the current site of Addis Ababa. Upon his return, Menelik apparently became fond of the new location and in 1892 named the settlement, Addis Ababa, proclaiming it the new and permanent capital of the Ethiopian Empire.
Addis Ababa became Ethiopia's capital when Menelik II became Emperor of Ethiopia. The town grew by leaps and bounds. One of Emperor Menelik's contributions to the city is the planting of numerous eucalyptus trees along the city streets which is still visible today.
After Menelik IIs death in 1913, his grandson, Lij Iyassu, inherited throne but lost support because of his Muslim ties. He was deposed in 1916 by the Christian nobility, and Menelik's daughter, Zauditu, was made empress. Her cousin, Ras Tafari Makonnen, was made regent and successor to the throne. Upon Zauditus death, Ras Tafari Makonnen, adopting the throne name Haile Selassie, was crowned emperor. His reign was interrupted in 1936 when Italian forces invaded and occupied Addis Ababa during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, making it the capital of Italian East Africa. Addis Ababa was governed by the Italian Governors of Addis Ababa from 1936 to 1939. After the Italian army in Ethiopia was frustrated by Ethiopian patriots, and hugely defeated with British help during the Liberation of Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selassie returned to Addis Ababa on May 5, 1941 and immediately began the work of re-establishing his capital.
Emperor Haile Selassie helped form the Organization of African Unity in 1963, and invited the new organization to maintain its headquarters in the city. The OAU was dissolved in 2002 and replaced by the African Union (AU), also headquartered in Addis Ababa. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa also has its headquarters in Addis Ababa.
The city is home to the Ethiopian National Library, the Ethiopian Ethnological Museum (and former palace), the Addis Ababa Museum, the Ethiopian Natural History Museum, the Ethiopian Railway Museum and the National Postal Museum.
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
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