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Cobblestone construction in Ethiopia

Cobblestone construction in Ethiopia

The concept of using cobblestones for road and pavement construction was introduced early in 2005, first implemented in Dire Dawa. It all started when officials from the Dire Dawa City administration and General Manager of the Dire Dawa Road Authority traveled to Holland to conduct research in collaboration with HIS Erasmus University in Rotterdam. There they witnessed an unfamiliar road construction, the cobble stone.

The Dutch metropolis like the many ancient cities and villages you find in Europe are paved with cobblestones (dark rounded pieces of stones smoothed out with water). Noticed by the Visiting General Manager of the Dire Dawa Road Authority, this curious construction paving the city was, as he did his research, a much cheaper means that was conveniently also attractive allowing many patterns that could be implemented decorating pavements and streets.

"Cobble", is from the ancient English term "cob", meaning "rounded lump", originally referring to any small stone rounded by the flow of water; essentially, a large pebble. It was these smooth "cobbles", gathered from stream beds that paved the first "cobblestone" streets mostly seen in Europe.

Now “Setts”, often referred to as "cobbles", are distinct from a cobblestone by being shaped to a regular form usually rectangular or square, whereas cobblestone is generally of a naturally occurring form (like large dark smooth rounded pebbles).

We in actual case have adopted the “Setts” for street paving although it is officially referred to as “cobblestone” construction. It has the environmental advantage of being permeable paving, and of moving rather than cracking with movements in the ground. The use of cobblestones/setts is also considered to be a more "up market" roadway solution these days, having been described as "unique and artistic" compared to the normal asphalt road. Thus this was an exciting find indeed.

Raw materials for the construction of cobblestone roads are basalt, granite and trachyte. These three are high density stones are of extremely high quality and durability. Ethiopia is full of basalt stone, which is formed in volcanic areas, particularly in the Rift Valley. But, for efficiency, and time management, those resources have not been tapped to build cobblestone streets in urban areas.

The lack of quality stone supply in Addis Abeba and environs is forcing the Authorities to shift to other types of stones like limestone and sandstone.

Such types of stone are very common in architecture, especially in Europe and North America. Many landmarks across the world, including the Great Pyramid and its associated complex in Giza, Egypt, are made of limestone.


Upon their return, the City Officials had begun to work on adopting the Cobblestone paving technique taking the leap towards what has now become the remedy for transportation issues as cities were growing, and the asphalt construction was expensive and time consuming thus slowing down the infrastructural development. More so, the cobblestone paving process is labor intensive therefore contributing immensely to job creation for the large youth population in need of employment. This innovative solution is now in operation driven by community participation and use of local materials.
The pilot project was implemented in Dire Dawa laying down some 200m of cobblestone with very promising result. This later on gave way to finance the maintenance of roads giving priority to the implementation of cobblestone paving with
instructions for the allocation of 30-50 percent of each towns’ resources to the construction of cobblestones throughout the country sending out experts from the DDRCA to train officials and experts about the use and implementation of “ cobblestone” paving construction.

Mekelle, Adama, Hawassa and Bahirdar followed the implementation of the “cobblestone” construction projects. The World Bank and the Urban Local Development Project (ULDP) supported the project allocating a 300 million dollar performance based matching grant.

By the time the “Cobblestone” project reached Addis Ababa, there were 69 cobblestone enterprises with 910 workers established. Later the Government took over organizing 2,000 small micro-enterprises creating employment for 84,000 stone cutters and 4,700 pavers who laid 1.2 million square meters of “Cobblestone” across the country by the end of 2009.

At the end of 2011/12, the programme stretched out to 120 towns and cities across the country; around 2.2 million square metres have been finished; and an estimated 130,000 people (45pc of them women) are employed in the sector. Awassa, Bahir Dar, Mekelle, Dire Dawa, Harar and Addis Ababa have now established their own training schools.

Investments in “cobblestone” roads have attracted international attention when in 2013, UN-Habitat awarded the Ethiopian Ministry of Urban Development, Housing and Construction (MUDHCo) with a prestigious Scroll of Honor Award for the initiative.

The initiative was supported jointly by the German Development Cooperation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is funding cobblestone road production in eight secondary cities throughout the country. The project is being implemented by MUDHCo in partnership with the German Organization for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the German Development Bank KFW.

Cobblestone paving makes perfect sense …

1. It is labor-intensive thus creating jobs as well as opportunities for construction entrepreneurs.
2. It uses natural and local materials that are plentiful,
3. It is also cost-effective compared to concrete and asphalt roads,
4. Easy to maintain
5. Has a much longer lifespan
6. It is easy to replicate elsewhere, because the investment needed is relatively small and production skills are easy to learn.
7. Helps through empowering women and youth through jobs

Community ownership & initiative

The cobblestone project is implemented by local communities themselves assigning their representative to work alongside the city administration offices practicing the job tender procedures and overlooking and supervising the construction quality. This is made possible through the LUSUP initiative (Leveraging Urban Spending to Maximize Benefits of the Urban Poor) initiated and coordinated by the Federal Government.

With training centers established to ensure that micro and small enterprises involved acquire the skills needed for chiseling, paving, and project management and citizens first hand involvement in the process within their community, this may after all give way to transformation of the temporary job to full time.