Violent crime is a rarity in Addis Ababa, but the city does have a bad reputation among travellers for pickpocketing, casual theft and con tricks. These activities are most prevalent in the Mercato and the city centre around Churchill Avenue, but incidents sometimes occur along Bole Road and around Piazza. A common trick is for one person to distract you on one side – bumping into you “accidentally”, trying to sell you cigarettes or other goods or sometimes grabbing your arms or legs – leaving the way open for an accomplice to dip into the opposite pocket or snatch your bag. The fewer valuables you carry, the less this is a cause for concern.
More insidious are the con men who make a living by manipulating the sympathies of freshly arrived tourists and overnight transit passengers given a hotel room in town. Often these guys will pretend to work at the hotel where you’re staying, claim to be a student or guide, or approach you like a long lost friend and ask whether you remember them. Approaches of this sort almost invariably lead to a request for money or a costly invitation to a traditional coffee ceremony or tej bar – the trick here is that after a couple of drinks, you’ll be presented with an outrageous bill and embarrassed or intimidated into paying up.