Popularly known as “The Railway Town”, Dire Dawa is one of the two chartered cities in Ethiopia, alongside Addis Ababa. The city which was founded in 1902 is the fourth-most populous city in Ethiopia, with the 2008 National Census estimating its population to be 607,321.
The city is known as “The Railway Town” because it is almost entirely the creation of a railway company’s builders who were advancing inland from the coast. Settlement was helped by the fact that the railway company ran into financial and other difficulties which resulted into halting construction works and using the town as the railway’s terminal for over a decade.
Historically, the town was named after the region where the Northern Dir Tribes of the Issa, Gugura, and Gadabuursi merged. In recent times, these tribes have been joined by the Oromo tribes.
Dire Dawa is divided made up of two distinct settlements, which are separated by the Dechatu stream (a seasonal river). The settlement to north of the stream is called “Kezira”, while the other side of the stream lies a settlement called “Megala”.
Kezira is the modern part of Dire Dawa, characterized by proper planning, presence of the railway station and its installations, as well as asphalt roads, well-aligned buildings, stores, workshops, numerous modern houses, shops and offices. Another special feature of Kezira is presence of modern drainage system and piped water, which comes from two nearby natural springs.
Kezira is believed to be erected by the railway’s engineers. On its part, Megala is the site of Dire Dawa’s very substantial Kefira market, which handles a variety of goods. The market serves as the meeting point for people from the surrounding region. Megala consists of an agglomeration of local Arab-style houses, which are painted in various hues and are set in a maze of winding, unplanned streets.
Some of the strengths of Dire Dawa as a town include its colourful storefront, tree-lined streets, neat squares and foreign influence (such as Arab, French, Italian and Greek architectural styles and designs). The city which is located in the Eastern part of Ethiopia also boasts of the Aba Tenna Dejazmach Yilma International Airport and 40km away from Haramaya University.
Dire Dawa also has a considerable commercial presence, notable of which are cement and textile factories, well-stocked shops and two hospitals. Tourists to the town can visit the nearby caves which are characterized by stalactite and stalagmite formations and their prehistoric paintings which prove presence of human beings for more than 20,000 years in Eastern Africa.