Nestled among the houses lining the road from Kazanchis to Arat Kilo lies Fendika, an unassuming cultural center that has nurtured the city’s vibrant arts scene for years.
Though it may not look like much from the outside, passing through Fendika’s doors, one can find a treasure trove of Ethiopia’s diverse cultural heritage – in the traditional music that floats through the air, the community of artists and art lovers who gather within. Now, due to redevelopment plans, the centers future is uncertain.
For years, the center has hosted cultural performances, art exhibitions, poetry events, music shows and other artistic and cultural events that have left an impression on visitors. It has become a go-to place for people who want to enjoy traditional Ethiopian music, as well as food and drinks.
The center is also a destination for visitors from abroad who want to experience Ethiopia’s diverse cultural arts. They can listen to the poetic sound of azmaris, see traditional dance performances, and drink tej from a cultural berele drinking glass.
Since yesterday, the #SaveFendika hashtag has flooded social media, after rumors surfaced that the cultural center would be demolished amid ongoing citywide gentrification efforts over the past few weeks.
Fendika’s owner, Melaku Belay, confirmed authorities ordered the demolition to make way for the construction of a hotel. “We were called in by an authority – who remained unclear to us and told us that the area was being given to someone who is going to build a five-star hotel,”Melaku said. “To be honest, they didn’t even give us an opportunity to discuss and it seemed as if the decision had already been made.”
The authorities returned this past Tuesday and issued a request to bring official documentations of their ownership of the land within four days, according to Melaku. He says the area will then be calculated in order to prepare an alternate property in another location. Once the four days were up, the center was to be demolished.
Melaku says that the house is his legally purchased private property. He claims he was developing the space to meet community needs, having finalized plans two months ago for a 20-story building design.
Despite this, Melaku says the sudden decision to demolish the space was made. He explained that the center aimed to make Addis Ababa a major tourist attraction, envisioning it becoming “the capital of the world,” not just Africa’s capital. The impending demolition, disregarding these goals and Fendika’s cultural heritage, is highly disappointing.
Melaku had no plans to share this information publicly until he realized Fendika’s fate seemed sealed.
“When I saw that it was going to be torn down, I knew I had to speak out because it’s not just mine – it’s the community’s,” Melaku said.
He went public with the news late last night, according to him, and within hours, outrage lit up social media as countless fans expressed shock and indignation at the news. An outpouring of support for preserving Fendika’s cultural treasures has quickly multiplied across all platforms.
The news deeply disappointed 28-year old art lover Shewit Shiferaw, who has visited he center many times seeking spaces to enjoy art. “I can’t believe they want to destroy this place,” she said.
“It’s filled with memories of laughter, comfort and peace. It is a place where artists turned to their stories and freely express themselves,” Shewit explained.
Beyond fun with friends, Shewit says Fendika is one of her go-to recommendations for the diaspora’, tourists and foreigners wanting an authentic Ethiopian experience beyond average sights.
The nightly azmari performances and occasional jazz bands were among Shewit’s favorites at Fendika. She hopes a “miracle” will allow the cultural center to remain standing so she can continue enjoying its entertainment.
Hoping to inspire a last-minute rescue, a growing chorus of Fendika faithful have taken to the internet, sharing memories that make the place so dear.
“My greatest concern is not the demolition of my house, I don’t care about that,” Melaku explains. “What concerns me is demolishing something that belongs to the people, something irreplaceable. That is something the government must think carefully about.”
As the countdown to the possible demolition continues, Melaku’s words remind us of what truly matters – not the buildings themselves, but the cultural legacy they house and the community they serve. Fendika’s treasures extend far beyond its walls; they live on in the memories and art it has inspired. With care and compromise, perhaps a way can be found to preserve both progress and precious cultural heritage for generations to come.