A month after prominent German architect and long-time resident of Ethiopia, Dirk Donath went missing, colleagues, friends and the Germany embassy in the capital are struggling to explain what happened to him. The Reporter has learnt that the long-time visiting professor vanished while on a trip at the Mago National Park.
“The German Embassy is currently in charge of a case of a missing German national,” the German Foreign Office based in Berlin told The Reporter in an email response. “We are in close contact with the Ethiopian authorities and family members.”
The Bauhaus University professor was stationed in Addis Ababa on and off since 2008 at the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development. He was believed to be an experienced world traveler and was known to travel outside of the capital on an expanded expenditure, according to sources.
On the day he went missing, The Reporter has learnt that he was with a number of German colleagues and a local driver. They were said to be lost and feared they might end up being stuck in the wilderness with little communication with authorities. He was said to take charge of the situation and went on foot to find a way out of the park. He never returned.
With no traces of him, the group searched for him for hours and communicated with the Germany embassy and local authorities. Help came but a dispatched helicopter made a belated search after a 12 hour delay angering many.
The Ethiopian government sent in hundreds of soldiers the following day to scoop the area thoroughly, the German embassy facilitated all the logistics that was needed for the search and friends joined in the search, but there was no trace of him.
His children from a previous marriage and his own sister arrived shortly and visited the area and participated in the search but at the end, there was no trace of him.
His colleagues at the Bauhaus University, where he has been teaching since 1993 are said to take the news of the missing man hard. However, none were willing to talk on the record.
“Due to reasons of the protection of the person of Mr. Donath and his family, Bauhaus –Univrsitat Weimar (would) not provide any statement,” the university said in a statement sent to The Reporter.
Professor Donath was employed in Ethiopia through DAAD Ethiopia, a German Academic Exchange Service program and ventured in to Ethiopia in 2006. Some of his efforts in the country, in particular his mentorship of young architecture students in Ethiopia, were featured on CNN.
He was most recently involved in the formation of a new unit, the Ethiopian Cities laboratory within the Addis Ababa University. He was also awarded with the Holcim Awards, along with his Ethiopian colleagues on a capacity project he engineered on the “Capacities of the Community – Incremental Construction: Low-cost Modular Housing Scheme. This was to be his answer to the housing shortages of a fast urbanization of Addis Ababa.
Upon being recognized, his role in Ethiopia was described as one that is “trying to act and be treated not as an architect – but to play the role of a mediator to share capacities of the community”.
Donath met with newly arrived German Ambassador Brita Wagener most recently on September 21 at the Emerging City Lab at Addis Ababa University. A Germany funded project, he was said to be excited with the mission of the center which was to include research and teaching on emerging cities.
The Reporter has also learnt that he was an advisor to local real-estate moguls that were looking at expanding their businesses outside of the capital.
The 56-year old was said to be instrumental in the careers of many young people in Ethiopia, including facilitating scholarships in his home country. The Reporter reached out to many of his friends and colleagues, but none were willing to talk without the authorization of his family.
The Reporter called his son, Maurice Donath in Germany, but the distraught man said little and hung up the phone.