ELEVEN years ago Elsa, a middle-aged widow, won the lottery. The prize was not cash, but the deed to a spacious, three-bedroom flat in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Today she lives there with her four adult children. The deed, now laminated, hangs proudly on her wall.
Elsa is a beneficiary of Ethiopia’s public-housing scheme, one of the most ambitious in Africa. Since it began in 2006, some 250,000 flats have been built and transferred to people in Addis Ababa and other towns. Like Elsa, they are nearly all winners of a computerised lottery, which allocates flats as they become available. The government aims to build 50,000 a year in the capital over the next decade.
In theory, the programme should just about pay for itself. All land in Ethiopia is state-owned, which reduces upfront costs. Beneficiaries make a down payment to the government ranging from 10% to 40% of the price of the flat, which is set by the state. They then pay off the rest over…