Ethiopia Road Network

By | October 31, 2022

The main roads of Ethiopia.

In 2018, Ethiopia had a network of 126,773 kilometers. In 2017, 72 percent of the roads were in good condition.

Due to the mountainous nature of Ethiopia, the country was isolated for a long time. Transport is a time-consuming business due to the many winding roads with a low design standard. Since the late 1990s, a lot of money has been invested in the road network, which is being renovated at a rapid pace. The road network grew from 26,550 kilometers in 1997 to 126,773 kilometers in 2018. From around 2007, a second investment round in the road network followed. In the period 2009-2013, 100,000 kilometers of road were built in Ethiopia at a cost of 120 billion birr (€ 4.5 billion). In 2019, Ethiopia had 138,127 kilometers of all-weather roads, this size is much larger than the neighboring countries.

The main road network is centered on the capital Addis Ababa, most main roads start in this city and run in all directions. The route to Djibouti has become the main trade route since the country is no longer by the sea. The road network with Eritrea is relatively integrated, partly because it was one country before 1993. Other main roads lead to Kenya and Sudan, but a paved road network is virtually non-existent in the border regions with Sudan and Somalia. The paved road to Somalia ends at Jijiga, 660 kilometers before the Somali border.

According to wholevehicles, Ethiopia has two highways, the 80 kilometer Addis Ababa – Nazret Expressway, a 2×3 lane toll road, and the Mojo – Hawassa Expressway. Around the capital Addis Ababa is a partially completed ring road, the Ring Addis Ababa with a parallel system, where pedestrians do not have access to the road. This is largely grade separated, and is sometimes regarded as a motorway. In the center of Addis Ababa, a large grade-separated junction has been constructed by the Chinese.

Major Roads in Ethiopia
• • • • • • • • •Addis Ababa – Adama Expressway • Adama – Awash Expressway • Mojo – Hawassa Expressway • Addis Ababa Ring

Road management

The federal road authority is the Ethiopian Roads Authority (ERA). ERA managed 28,032 kilometers of road in 2016, of which 14,632 kilometers were paved and 13,400 kilometers unpaved.

History

The first road construction in Ethiopia was carried out in the late 19th century and early 20th century during Emperor Menelik II. At that time, Addis Ababa was founded and became the capital of Ethiopia in 1889. Between 1936 and 1941 Ethiopia was under Italian administration, during which time significant investments were made in Ethiopia’s road infrastructure. Characteristic of road construction in that period was the construction of roads from Addis Ababa to port cities such as Massawa, Assab and Mogadishu. The Italians laid the foundation for the road network that was Ethiopia’s main road network until the 21st century.

From the beginning of modern road construction, Addis Ababa was the center of the Ethiopian road network, with improved roads in five directions. However, the road network was not integrated with neighboring countries under Italian administration, but there was a road close to the border with Sudan. The road link to Mogadishu later became an international link to Somalia, which was already a crucial route under Italian rule. Three routes from Addis Ababa to Mogadishu were developed at that time, a northern route via Dire Dawa (today’s A10), a southern route via Sodo and Negele (today’s B51) and a third road connection was also planned between both routes in, via Imi (today’s B90).

The development of road construction came to a halt after the British conquered Ethiopia in 1941. The road network was only developed to a limited extent after the Second World War. The country was unstable and isolated, with a long period of military rule, the Derg. In 1977, Somalia conquered eastern Ethiopia in the Ogaden War, which Ethiopia won thanks to massive support from the Soviet Union and Cuba. In the 1990s, Ethiopia theoretically had a road network of more than 25,000 kilometers, of which only a small part was paved.

A problem in the prioritization of Ethiopia’s road construction was the lack of cities and industrial assets. The roads were mainly to open up regions and less to accommodate transport between cities and industries. The only substantial cargo flow during that period was from Addis Ababa to the ports on the Red Sea. After the border with Eritrea closed in 1998, this became the port of Djibouti. Elsewhere in Ethiopia, however, there was little motorized traffic.

After 2000 a lot of money was invested in developing the road network, especially to make the parts of the country more accessible. The road network theoretically grew enormously, by more than 100,000 kilometers, but this was probably mainly a reclassification of what a road is. In 2016, the federal road network consisted of 28,032 kilometers, about half of which was paved. The total road network covered more than 126,000 kilometers, but the approximately 100,000 kilometers of road in Ethiopia that is not under federal management is largely unpaved and a large part probably no longer exceeds the level of a mountain path.

China is investing substantially in Ethiopia’s infrastructure. One of the first projects was the construction of the Addis Ababa Ring from 1998, which was opened in the period 2002-2003 as one of the first modern roads in Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s first proper motorway, the Addis Ababa – Adama Expressway, was built between 2010 and 2014. The second highway, the first section of the Mojo – Hawassa Expressway, opened in 2021.

Export ports

One of the most important geopolitical issues in the Horn of Africa was the export and import port for Ethiopia. Globally there were four seaports namely Massawa and Assab in Eritrea, Djibouti and Mogadishu in Somalia. Eritrea was an Italian colony at the time. In 1917 a railway from Addis Ababa to Djibouti was completed, from that moment most exports went through Djibouti. The port city of Massawa was important for Eritrea itself, the eccentric port city of Assab from Eritrean point of view, developed into Ethiopia’s main trade route after World War II, because this route was flatter and Eritrea and Ethiopia were in a union from 1952. From 1952, Assab therefore took over the role of Djibouti as Ethiopia’s main export port.

Until the 1990s, two-thirds of the trade went through Assab and a third through Massawa. The disadvantage of the port of Massawa is the great distance from Central Ethiopia and the long distances over poorly developed roads through the Ethiopian Highlands. When the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia closed in 1998, all freight traffic immediately went to the port of Djibouti. Later, a second freight railway to Djibouti was built, making Djibouti definitively the most important port in the region. The port city of Assab, in particular, fell into disrepair due to the loss of its trade. Massawa still retained some value for trade to and from Eritrea itself. Since 2018, both ports of Assab and Massawa can be used again for Ethiopian exports,

Road numbering

Around 2013, road numbering was introduced in five classes (A, B, C, D and E-Roads). Before that there was a road numbering system that was still integrated with Eritrea. For example, the A1 originally ran from Addis Ababa to the port city of Assab in Eritrea. The road numbering is not signposted and is locally virtually unknown. There is no road numbering for motorways.

Trunk Roads

The trunk roads form a radial system from the A1 to A10. These start in Addis Ababa or on radial roads from Addis Ababa. It is striking within this system that only one route actually reaches a national border (the A1). All other radial roads terminate at a considerable distance from neighboring countries. As a result, Ethiopia does not have a well-integrated numbering system with neighboring countries. However, the A1a runs as a branch to the border with Djibouti.

# No. Route Length
A1 Addis Ababa – Modjo – Nazret – Awash – Mile – Serdo – Bure (gr. Eritrea) 802 km
A2 Addis Ababa – Aleltu – Debre Birhan – Dessie – Mersa – Adigrat – Axum 1,013 km
A3 Addis Ababa – Chancho – Debre Markos – Bure – Bahir Dar – Gondar 726 km
A4 Addis Ababa – Ginchi – Nekemte – Gedi Adis 444 km
A5 Addis Ababa – Welkite – Jimma – Bedele – Metu 608 km
A6 Jimma – Mizan Teferic 219 km
A7 Modjo – Batu – Shashamene Zuria – Sodo – Arba Minch 425 km
A8 Shashamene Zuria – Bule Hora 217 km
A9 Nazret – Asela 76 km
A10 Awash – Keykey – Jijiga – Degeh Bur 560 km

Historical numbering

The single-digit roads originally ran from the Addis Ababa region to all sides of the country, in no particular order. Two-digit roads were usually branches or connecting roads. The country had a joint numbering system with Eritrea, on some roads in Eritrea these numbers are still indicated. The numbering runs up to 40.

  • Route 1 Addis Ababa – Dese – Adigrat (gr. Eritrea): 870 km
  • Route 2 Dese – (gr. Eritrea): 390 km
  • Route 3 Addis Ababa – Gonder – Aksum (gr. Eritrea): 1,190 km
  • Route 4 Addis Ababa – Nazret – Dire Dawa – Jijiga: 640 km
  • Route 5 Addis Ababa – Asosa: 560 km
  • Route 6 Nazret – Dila – Moyale (gr. Kenya): 720 km
  • Route 7 Addis Ababa – Jima – Mizan Teferi: 530 km
  • Route 8 Nazret – Dodola – Goba – Gode – Ferfer: 940 km
  • Route 9 Addis Ababa – Arba Minch – Konso: 520 km

Signage

Signage on the Addis Ababa – Nazret Expressway.

Little is known about signage in Ethiopia, if any. Signage seems to consist of blue signs in both English and Ethiopian. There are also green signs at Addis Ababa airport. Green signposts are also used on the Addis Ababa – Nazret Expressway. The signage there is bilingual English and Amharic.

Toll roads

Ethiopia ‘s first toll road was the 85-kilometer Addis Ababa – Adama Expressway that opened in 2014. In 2018, the country’s second toll road opened, an upgrade of the 220-kilometer Dire Dawa to Dewele road as the second route to Djibouti.

Ethiopia Road Network