Made by China: the transformation of an African city a visual exploration of the Light Rail Transit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Over the past two decades China has become increasingly involved in Africa. From rising trade and investment capital to a rapid climb in industrial and construction activity, a new foundation has been laid for Africa’s development. While Africa’s economy is growing and its cities urbanizing rapidly, many African leaders follow the Chinese Model in order to modernize and develop its cities. This thesis studies the continent’s diplomatic capital, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where China plays a significant role in construction and development, notably in the much-needed transportation sector. China is involved in numerous road and rail projects and now Addis Ababa is equipped with the first modern Light Rail Transit (LRT) network in Sub-Saharan Africa. An urban superstructure such as this not only changes the city’s primary mode of transportation, but also affects Addis Ababa’s urban fabrication. Perhaps most importantly, however, the LRT serves as an icon of Africa’s rapid modernization and development. Addis Ababa is transforming rapidly. The government introduces modern master plans for its large-scale urban renewal approach and tackles the challenges of transportation through top-down planning and the implementation of new transportation systems. This construction leads to a fundamental transformation of Addis Ababa’s public spaces, which impacts the accessibility of its users as well as physical changes within the built environment. On a secondary level, this thesis explores China’s financial and technological assistance to Ethiopia and questions in what manner Addis Ababa may develop into a city “made by China.” Only little existing literature concerns China’s impact on architecture, urban, and social spaces in Africa’s transformation. Inspired by the Grounded Theory Methodology, this research accumulates empirical data gathered in Addis Ababa by using photographic studies throughout the LRT construction phase. This visual exploration method occurs along the North-South and East-West corridors of the Addis Ababa LRT and is strengthened by a detailed study of five selected public spaces, which showcase a historic, cultural and political importance to the city. These studies reveal the LRT impact onto Addis Ababa’s urban as well as social transformation. The first evidence – spatiality - shows that the two LRT lines create a physical barrier and consequently fragments the city. This spatial transformation leads to the transformation of urban movement, thus mobility. By introducing a modern transport technology, existing movement patterns change in both spatial as well as temporal means. In addition, the LRT furthers the hierarchization of transportation and favors the country’s rapid development and modernization. But this growth also leads to a disproportionate development. Referred to as an emerging global city, Addis Ababa’s path to modernization is successively neglecting its long and omnipresent history, its locality. The phenomenon of radical transformation, rapid urbanization, development, economic growth and industrialization, has more prominently been observed in China after the post-Mao market reform. Since China’s presence in Africa is increasing substantially, this thesis proposes a theoretical concept described as the “Chinaization” of urban Africa, which indicates fundamental dynamics and tendencies of China’s recent development and questions the extent to which this impacts Africa’s current urbanization.

Pedrazzini, Yves
Vincent, Stéphanie
Lausanne, EPFL
Other identifiers:
urn: urn:nbn:ch:bel-epfl-thesis6836-0

Note: The status of this file is: EPFL only

 Record created 2015-12-16, last modified 2019-05-09

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