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The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Collective reflections about development practice and cities


Reflections from Ethiopia

By Henry W Mathes, on 21 June 2012

Post written in collaboration with Stephanie Butcher

From April 29th – May 14th, eighty-five students from the Urban Economic Development (UED) and Development Administration and Planning (DAP) programmes conducted a series of research projects centred on poverty reduction strategies within the burgeoning Ethiopian city of Mekele and its environs.

Mekele, located in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia, is a mid-sized but rapidly expanding city home to some 200,000 residents. Ethiopia as a whole remains largely rural , and has somewhat  lagged behind in the rapid-fire urbanization occurring within the rest of the world – with its GDP still nearly 85% reliant on agriculture.  Mekele, however, stands out as a major urban centre in the country’s north, and is home to one of the country’s most prestigious universities. A recent grant from the World Bank has funded an urban beautification project, creating wide cobbled avenues populated by pedestrians, mototaxis, and the occasional donkey or camel. On the whole, we found the city to be safe, friendly, and patiently receptive to the student inquiries.

The following series of photographs illustrates our experiences in the city and surrounding countryside:

Although technically a city, Mekele retains a quiet, laid-back atmosphere, unlike the capital, Addis Ababa. The cobblestone streets shown here were recently paved as part of a beautification project funded partially by World Bank.

Monday is market day in Mekele. Women and men from the surrounding rural areas flood into the city to sell their produce and wares. Seen here: guava and cabbage.

This woman was kind enough to allow us to photograph her after she sold us a curiously large citrus fruit of some sort.

Part of the permanent market, on the outskirts of the city centre, where everyday household products are bought and sold. As sites of income generation, markets featured prominently in our students’ research.

A colourful market stall specialising in baskets of all shapes and sizes. In Ethiopia, basket weaving is traditionally women’s work.

A market of a different sort: Hawzien is small town 2 hour’s drive from Mekele, and very much within the city’s sphere of influence. Hawzien is also the site of a midweek market, seen here.

Many women travel to the Hawzien market from rural areas, some walking more than 4 hours, their young children often in toe.

The rural areas outside of Hawzien. This photo was taken from a village where the students were interviewing cooperative members.

We encountered this man in a village outside of Hawzien, he had just purchased colourful yarn for his wife.

Mekele is blessed with amazing produce, particularly fruit. Fruit salads of mango, guava, papaya, avocado and banana were a popular treat for students and staff.

All photos in this blog were taken by Henry Maths