Unlike Addis Ababa’s numerous predecessors as capital, the locations of which were chosen according to the political, economic and strategic demands of the day's rulers, Addis Ababa was chosen for its beauty, hot springs and agreeable climate.

Emperor Menelik’s previous capital, Entoto, was in the mountains just north of present-day Addis Ababa and held strategic importance as it was easily defended. However, it was unattractive and sterile, leading Taitu, the consort of Menelik II, to request a house be built for her in the beautiful foothills below, in an area she named Addis Ababa (New Flower). In the following decade, after Menelik’s power increased and his need for defence waned, he moved his court down to Taitu and Addis Ababa.

A lack of firewood for the rapidly growing population threatened Addis' future in 1896 and Menelik even started construction of a new capital, Addis Alem (New World), 50km to the west. In the end, it was the suggestion of a foreigner (thought to be French) to introduce the rapidly growing eucalyptus tree that saved Addis Ababa's fuel needs.

Menelik Buys a New Chair

If Emperor Menelik II (r 1889–1913), the founder of Addis Ababa, was alive today he’d have been the first in the queue for the latest mobile phone or technological gadget. If it was new and flashy he just had to have one. So, when he first heard about a new invention in America called the electric chair, he decided that Ethiopia just had to have a couple of these ingenious death machines. After months of waiting, the new contraptions arrived in Addis. When he first saw them the emperor was delighted with the craftsmanship that had gone into them and asked for a demonstration. It was only then, and no doubt to the great relief of the chosen ‘demonstrator’, that Menelik’s technicians suddenly realised that electricity hadn’t yet been turned on in Ethiopia…

Addis Ababa: Capital of Africa

In 1963 Addis Ababa became the headquarters for the secretariat of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). When the OAU became the African Union (AU) in 2002, the mandate for Addis was simply carried over. As a result, many regard the city as ‘Africa’s diplomatic capital’. But why Addis?

Well, for a start, the meeting at which the OAU was founded in 1963 was held in Addis so it seemed like an obvious choice. Ethiopia's ruler at the time, Emperor Haile Selassie, had been instrumental in bringing the delegates together and Ethiopia's foreign minister, Kitema Yifru, had worked tirelessly to promote the idea of a united African body.

There were other reasons. At the time, just 32 African countries had won their independence (there are now 54 member states of the AU), so the field was limited. As the only African country never to have been colonised, Ethiopia was also something of a natural choice for an organisation looking to assert its independence on the global stage. Addis had already shown its ability to handle large-scale bodies with an African focus – Addis Ababa has been the headquarters of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) since 1958. And it is also often said in whispered diplomatic conversations that the post-colonial rivalry between Francophone and Anglophone African countries made it unwise to choose any country from within the ranks of either, leaving Addis an uncontroversial candidate acceptable to both camps.