The Blue and The Pink

Gotera Grain Silos“Confusion Junction” was one of the highlights of our first foray into Addis Ababa in 2007. An area the size of a football pitch covered in rubble, craters and an old railway line and fed by half a dozen major roads, you and hundreds of others simply had to drive into the middle and try to work out which exit you needed. Fortunately the line of 43 huge grain silos built in 1954 (but out of use for the last 23 years) form a notable local landmark, and, as confusing as it was, getting lost was a rarity. It changed constantly, as major construction was underway.

On our return in 2013 the construction was complete, so “Confusion Junction” had (slightly disappointingly) been transformed into a major modern intersection with flyovers, slip roads, road signs and lots of tarmac. Allowing for the pedestrians wandering over flyovers with “no pedestrians” signs at the beginning, it works quite well.

Major changes like this aren’t always successful though. When the traffic flow at the airport car park was changed a couple of years ago, a good friend sat there in a stationary queue for a long time trying to get in. He wiled away the time mulling on possible ways to make the traffic flow worse, and couldn’t come up with anything. They had put the entrance and exit close together and at right angles to each other in a corner of the car park, so all traffic trying to get out had to cross with all traffic trying to get in. The result? A mini “Confusion Junction”.

Now take a major crossroads just south of the main bus station. The east-west road takes people into and out of “Merkato” – reputedly the biggest market in Africa. North-south takes people to and from the bus station. It is therefore extremely busy with vehicles but especially foot traffic and donkeys. Driving Tigist back to the HQ clinic one day last year we passed 27 (yes, that would be twenty-seven) “Sheger” buses queuing to fill up with fuel at a public petrol station just south of the crossroads. It took a while. To make this junction vastly worse, put a railway line through the middle of it. Oh, and a station just to the south. Now you have trains going north and south and stopping at a station disgorging people into the traffic, as the railway line is now effectively the central reservation of a dual carriageway. The road into Merkato is now a level crossing, with some modern-looking but completely non-functioning barriers, alarms and warning lights. Here’s an aerial photo from Google Earth:

North is up. the railway goes through the junction

The chaos in this junction has to be experienced to be believed, and since the bus station became effectively impassable on my morning commute (because of pot holes), I go through it every day. Then they tried to make it worse.

One morning Haile and I arrived at the southbound road beside the railway line to find it backed up much more than usual. He slid and shimmied his way into the mostly stationary traffic, and we wondered what had happened. When we arrived at the junction we were overwhelmed with the smell of gloss paint, and it all became clear. Lane discipline on Addis roads is non-existent - if there’s a gap, put your car in it. If the other side is clear, drive down it. Not so now at this junction. In an attempt to encourage just two lanes of traffic crossing the junction in all directions, large areas of the road surface had been painted blue with thick white borders, and just to make sure no vehicles drove anywhere except in the two lanes, the blue areas had been lined with huge pink buckets. Here’s the Google earth photo marked with blue and pink to show what I mean:


It was chaos. Not only because Addis drivers are universally incapable of using traffic lanes (the two lanes rapidly became three), but mainly because the filtering of vehicles to turn right around the curved edges of the junction was no longer possible – because of blue paint and huge pink buckets. Here they are:

Cars and mainly taxis used to drive over there to turn right

Haile and I were in a state of speechless amazement, and immediately agreed it would never last.

A couple of days later all the buckets had tree saplings in them. Within a few days most of the blue paint had been walked off by the huge pedestrian load:

Paint gone,buckets on the move...

Then, bit by bit, the pink buckets blocking traffic flow began to move. I think a few actually disappeared. The ones funnelling traffic into two lanes moved back – of course you can get three abreast here! The buckets blocking the filtering of traffic to the right moved to the edge of the road – within a week traffic was happily flowing over the remnants of blue paint past the buckets.

Turning right again as before

Going through here is now pretty much back to what it was a few months ago – except there are saplings growing out of the remaining forty or so pink buckets, mostly moved to stop being such an inconvenience to random traffic flow. I wonder who waters them?


EthiopianWeddingCarPS: Today, while I was in a business meeting at Church, Chris was over the other side of the dual carriageway that goes past the church compound in a café with a friend. In the space of an hour she saw a dozen weddings* go by. Horns blaring, bridesmaids sitting up out of car windows ululating and waving flowers, cars covered in balloons, flowers all over the bonnets of Mercedes saloons, videographers capturing every precious moment of the special day dangling dangerously out of the back of vans, motorbike outriders covered in balloons clearing the traffic, that sort of thing. There was one funeral as well. Oh, and a herd of sharply horned bulls. They were driven down the middle of the road, straddling the central reservation and weaving in and out of the cars. Whatever life here is, it’s never dull.

* It’s wedding season. There are always loads of weddings between “Genna” (Christmas, 7th January) and “Fasika” (Ethiopian Easter – 6th April this year). This is because there’s a 55 day fast before Easter, so you want to get your wedding in before that. Which also explains the huge numbers of sheep, goats and bulls being traded on the streets right now. After all, you want to eat meat at your wedding reception, don’t you?


I know I should never ask why. But I do wonder about the significance of pink plastic in Ethiopia. They have lots of pink plastic bags and those buckets are pink. Is it a particularly cheap or readily available plastic?

I initially thought they were metal, but close inspection revealed they are actually fibreglass. A few years ago here was a sudden influx of pink plastic bags - they may have been around when you were here?

Ah. Just the same colour pink. Yes there were many pink bags.xx

You know, somehow I warm to a little bit of anarchy. The idea of people just ignoring (and also positively rejecting)  bureaucratic stupidity is really very beguiling. I could think of e few acts of disobedience that would be to the benefit of the people here - in fact I'm thinking of moving a few municipal plant pots myself! Keep smiling!

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