Reality-check: Meskel Sqaure, the ‘million people’ myth

(Daniel Berhane)

It is not clear who started it. But it has long been assumed that Meskel Square can accommodate about a million people. At-least that was what the media estimated in their reports of two political rallies in the run up to election 2005.

But is it so?

The issue popped up recently after in a discussion on my facebook timeline, after I questioned a claim that two million people attended the Eid al-Fitr mass prayers in the Square, the Stadium and adjacent roads. My basis was the population size and religious composition of the city, but the capacity of the Square was relevant since the Stadium’s capacity is estimate at about 30,000.

Figuring out Meskel Sqaure’s capacity became even more compelling after several people asked me on twitter to estimate the turn-out in the anti-extremism rally last Sunday. I made qualified remarks – saying “the traditional estimate is one million” – while working on the numbers privately.

So, how many people can Meskel Square accommodate?

First, what is the size of Meskel Square?

After toiling to get the size of the area for more than 24 hours, a Mathematician old friend of mine from United State provided me a handy tool – – a website that calculates an area based on google map.

The result shows Meskel Square is about 63 thousand square meters wide. (see the image below)

Ethiopia - Meskel Square size
Ethiopia – Meskel Square size

Second question: How many people can stand in one meter square area?

I looked for estimates around the web and the most common ones range between 4-5 people per square meter. (If you measure your chest and foot, you will notice that is a reasonable figure).

Thus, with 4-5 people per square meter, the carrying capacity of Meskel Square should be between 255,000 and 320,000 thousand people.

Let’s assume a very large spill-over to the adjacent roads in all directions. We can add about 20,000 square meters. And, that would accommodate a maximum of 80-100,000 people. (I ignored roadside shops and others obstacles).

Therefore, the total probable size of any “unprecedented large gathering” that ever took-place in Meskel Square and its vicinity could not be more than 420,000.

And, I am afraid, this is probably a generous estimate.

Mind you, the number could get lower if part of the crowd is sitting (as it is the case in most events at Meskel square) or if it is a mass prayer (my guesstimate is that one meter square can only accommodate two Muslim prayers).

I think we are now done with the million people myth.


Daniel Berhane

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