How to Survive Driving in Addis Ababa


You are an adventurous traveler. You go to places people don’t dare to go. You eat delicacies that many loathe to taste. And you drive in places no one dares. Now, you are in Addis Ababa, just like I, exploring the City…the adventurous in you is wondering if you should get behind the wheels. Of course, you should do it. But I want you to remember the following tips, among many others, while you are on the road in Addis.

Follow the traffic, not the lanes

You respect the rules of the road, as you should. You follow lanes and expect fellow drivers to do the same. If you adhere to the same expectation in Addis, I suspect you will find yourself pulling your hair. Even in roads with wide, clearly marked lanes, Addis Drivers zigzag the lanes like they are in the ‘Harlem Shake’. While I don’t recommend you do the same, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the dance. It is normal here.

If you get honked at while perfectly following your lane, it is likely that a restless “zigzager” wants to dance past through your lane.

No one cares about your turn signals

Remember you are still keeping your lane and trying to give way to that restless driver. You turn on your signal. You are waiting for people to give you way. From my experience driving here, your signal will be on for a long time, as if it is a disco light to the “Harlem Shaker” behind you. Every driver on the lane you want to get on will simply ignore you. You have that restless driver honking at you constantly; as a responsible driver, you don’t want to speed up just for the sake of it. What do you do?

I suggest you get out of the situation the Addis way: slowly slide your car into your desired lane. It requires courage, but that is almost the only way to switch lanes in Addis.

Don’t look for parking signs

Now, you are glad the restless driver is gone and you have arrived at your destination. You are looking for a parking space. You look around for parking signs. You see none. Thinking like it is in your home country, you assume if there are no parking signs, it means free to park.

So you park your car in the best space around. You consider yourself so lucky. After all the pain on the road, you deserve it.

After a while, you come back to your car. Your front or back plate is gone. You can’t believe it?! Why would a thieve take car plates? Isn’t Addis the safest city in Africa? Nodding your head, you get into your car. You see what looks like a parking ticket. It is a small piece of paper with an illegible handwriting. You can’t read it. You ask the passerbys to help. They read it out to you that the police took away the plate because you parked in a “no-park” zone. The note contains the address of where you to pay your fines and collect your plate.

You are pulling your hair, again. You thought rightly that there was no parking sign and therefore it was okay to park. Welcome to Addis Ababa. The sign is probably erected hundreds of meters behind you, which is impossible to see from where you are parked.

Next time you are driving, keep in mind to ask people around if you are not sure of whether you can park in a certain area. Ask not only one but a few people to be sure.

Assess the damage and move on if you can

I don’t want to put you as a character in an accident, so I will humbly switch the character to myself. This is a real character.

Two weeks ago, I parked my car parallel to the street of my office building. After checking my mirrors and complimenting myself on my parking skill, I pushed my door open. Bang! Accident. A car, which was parked right behind me, suddenly decided to jump out so quickly and hit my door. I was okay. The impact was medium.

I am raging inside at how unskillful the driver was. I wanted to wait for the police just to prove a point. It was the other driver’s fault. Simultaneously, my mind is doing some calculation. The opportunity cost of time lost waiting for the police and dealing with insurance claims. I quickly realize that it is not worth waiting for the police.

I ask the crowd, who were so curiously gathered around my car, their guesstimate of the damage. They tell me it will not be more than 5,000 birr (~$220). Hurrying to move on, I shook hands with the driver at fault and advised him to be careful next time. My door wouldn’t shut, so I used my mobile charger cable to tie the door with my seat. I sprint it to my next meeting, the Addis way!

If you ever get into a car accident and you assess the damage is manageable, don’t let your ego have you waiting for the police. Cut your loss and sprint away. Afterall, you are in Addis: you have deals to close and adventurous to experience.

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