Addis Ababa’s homeless of the night

Wrapped in plastic covering, a homeless person spends the night sleeping on the street of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

In Ethiopia’s capital (and elsewhere in Ethiopia), homeless people are plentiful. Nobody really knows just how many Ethiopians spend most of their time on the streets, though the number of street children alone is well over 100,000. Wherever you go in Addis Ababa or in other towns in Ethiopia, you will never have any trouble at all finding an abundance of beggars, street children, even whole families, many spending their days and nights trying survive on the streets, and some begging or selling pitiful amounts of items by day and sleeping in what you can barely called homes at night.

I lived in Ethiopia for four years, from 2012 to 2017. The brutal and oppressive regime shot thousands of peaceful protesters, and escalated control of it citizens by killing more protesters, torturing, jailing them, creating a state-of-emergency designed to stifle human rights more strictly, and sending tens of thousands of them to “education camps.”

I left Ethiopia, reluctantly because I loved my job as a professor there, after I saw federal soldiers brutally beating unarmed peaceful students, and was almost shot myself by an out-of-control soldier who screamed at me as he was shaking and pointing his kalashnikov at me. When I criticized the brutality of the regime to my colleagues at Addis Ababa University, I was harassed and forced to resign. But that’s another story.

Prior to that, every Sunday for many months in 2015 and 2016, I would get up early morning and deliver bread and candy to street-bound people in various areas of Addis Ababa. I got to know some of these homeless people almost as friends. Each one has a terribly tragic story to tell, often of neglect of their human rights. I will share some of these stories in future posts.

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Left, a homeless lady rummages through trash bins at about 4 am. Right, outside a closed-up shop, a homeless person lies beneath a blanket.

Several people told me that many people seen on the streets during the daytime actually had homes to go to at night. So, to see for myself, on several occasions I decided to get up during the night and walk to various areas of Addis to see just how many people there are sleeping on the streets during the night.

I was neither surprised nor shocked to see homeless people in abundance- it was to be expected in a country with a government won all 547/547 parliamentary seats in the most recent (2015) election, by harassing, banning, torturing and murdering opposition members. A ruthless government that silences civil rights and kills, tortures and jails thousands upon thousands of its civilians, with no consideration for human dignity, and no compassion.

The streets were eerie. With little traffic and none of the hustle and bustle of the daytime, silence was the rule. I passed bundle after bundle, each one hiding a well wrapped individual, hopefully kept warm by their plastic wrapping. There were people huddled together and others lying isolated. These were Addis Ababa’s homeless of the night.

I was reluctant to take photos. I felt as if I were an intruder. Normally when I took photos of the poor and homeless, I asked for their permission. But in this case their anonymity was assured by the complete wrapping in which they were enclosed.

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Eerie bundles of homeless people are to be seen on the streets of Addis.



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