Where implemented, socialism and central planning have long been thought of as wielding powerful influence over the process of urbanization. Traits common to countries as diverse as China, the formerly socialist economies of Europe and third‐world socialist regimes are frequently found; conversely, well‐established patterns of convergence and divergence can profitably be used for analytical ends. However, by and large Africa has been overlooked by analysts of a comparative bent. As a result, on the one hand, potentially enlightening material may have been left unutilized. On the other, area specialists have often failed to avail themselves of comparative material. Based on the shortage economy approach to socialist urbanization, through the use of two local level case studies this paper endeavours to show how comparative insights can be used to illuminate issues of urbanization in socialist Ethiopia.