Riding a Lada in Addis Ababa

Picture by Edwin Mbulo in Addis Ababa

(postzambia)ARMED with the beauty of its people, national heritage both cultural
and natural, I was tempted to walk the streets of Addis Ababa to get a further glimpse of the city’s lifestyle and was struck by one thing:
‘the Fiat taxis’ whose blue and white colours reminded me of Zambia’s transport industry.

As I took a walk near Ghion Hotel located behind the National Palace across from Meskel Square with a journalist colleague from Zimbabwe, I remarked how stunning the streets of Addis Ababa were and he quickly asked me if I was referring to the women.

“If you are talking about the beautiful women who seem to be all twins, I’m as well fascinated,” my Zimbabwean friend answered.

I quickly sensed an air of disappointment in him when I responded that I was more fascinated with the Fiat cars on the streets.

Despite the blue and white left-handed Fiat taxis that traverse the roads of Addis Ababa, I was also struck by the fact that their official year, according to the Julian calendar of the over 78 million people of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, was 2006 and not 2013.

The Fiat (or Lada as they affectionately call the taxis) is the main mode of transport among the taxis which I later was to learn number over 70,000. The majority of the models are the Fiat 124 and the Fiat 131.
Unlike Zambia which probably does not spot a single Fiat car on its roads despite once having a Fiat motor assembling plant in Livingstone, Addis Ababa is still awash with the Fiat 131 which has also been assembled in Ethiopia by Holland Car since 2006 (or 1999 according to the Julian calendar).

According to Wikipedia, Fiat or Fabbrica Italiana Automobilil Torino automobile company was founded in Turin, Italy by Giovanni Agnelli in 1899.

“The Fiat 131, additionally called ‘Mirafiori’, is a small to medium family car produced by Fiat from 1974 to 1984. It was exhibited at the 1974 Turin Motor Show and was a replacement of the successful Fiat 124 and available as a two-door and four-door saloon,” the site stated.
Wikipedia added that the Fiat 131 was given the Mirafiori name after the Turin suburb where the cars were produced.

“Naming the car in this way marked a break with the former Fiat convention (Fiat 124), established in the 1960s, of naming their mainstream models only with a three digit number, and it set the pattern for Fiat to adopt a new naming practice, with carefully chosen names for subsequent new models. Initially, the 131 was offered with 1.3 L and 1.6 L overhead valve engines. Revisions were made in 1978 and 1981, and all models were produced until production ceased in 1984. In total, 1,513,800 units were produced in Italy,” states Wikipedia.

Zambia’s last version of the Fiat was the ‘Regatta’ version in the late 1990s before the assembly plant closed.

As I traversed Addis Ababa to and from Addis Regency Hotel to the African Union Conference Centre where the largest ever attended third International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP 2013) officially opened by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, many of
the delegates who either missed the conference shuttles or opted to attend to personal errands had no option but to take a Lada.
In Zambia the Fiat made its indelible mark in 1974 when motor rally ‘guru’ Satwant Singh surprised many by competing in the Fiat 131 on a partial sponsorship of the Livingstone Motor Assembly.

His performance in the Fiat 131 impressed the motor assemblers who offered him a full sponsorship to compete in the Fiat 131 two years later.
The Fiat 131 broke the Datsun 1600 dominance and also the most reliable Colt Gallant, Peugeot 504 and the Mini-Cooper in the country then.
In 1976, the LMA allowed ‘the Flying Sikh’ to re-design the Fiat 131 to strengthen the weak points and modify it to the specification set by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).

The Wikipedia adds that Fiat 131 Abarth was a very successful rally car, winning the World Rally Championships in 1977, 1978 and 1980 with Markku Alen, Timo Salonen and Walter Röhrl.
“The Fiat 131 was also produced at Helwan in Egypt by El Nasr since at least 1982, on the basis of complete knockdown (CKD) kits. This was followed by CKD assembly of the Fiat Tofas 131 since 1991,” the site stated.

It adds that other CKD production of the Fiat 131 has taken place in the following countries, Córdoba; Argentina, FIAT Córdoba, Bogotá, Colombia; (Compañía Colombiana Automotriz) and San José, Costa Rica (S.A.V.A.).

Wikipedia adds that other countries are Jakarta, Indonesia (P.T. Daha
Motor, Saloon and Station Wagon), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Casablanca, Morocco (SOMACA), Lisbon, Portugal (Fiat Portuguesa SARL, Somave Sarl), Singapore (Sharikat Fiat Distributors), Bangkok, Thailand (Karnasuta General Assembly Co), Caracas, Venezuela (FIAT de Venezuela C.A) and Livingstone, Zambia (Livingstone Motor Assemblers Ltd).

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