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ArtAddis Ababa heritage sites: societal fabric or obstacle to modernization?

Addis Ababa heritage sites: societal fabric or obstacle to modernization?

 TekluAbebe, 51, looks back on his childhood in Piassa with a special sort of fondness. He grew up in a part of Doro Manekiya known as FiyelSefer. On Sunday mornings, Teklu and his neighborhood pals would play football on a nearby field called Mazegaja Meda before heading to the old Dehab Hotel for an affordable and well-earned meal.

It is a weekend routine that Teklu says he cannot forget.

“This is where all my childhood memories were made,” he told The Reporter.

Unfortunately, Teklu’s childhood haunts have become collateral damage in Addis Ababa’s latest bid for modernity.

The streets and homes that once made up Doro Manekiyahave been demolished in recent weeks as part of a citywide infrastructure project. The field where Teklu and his friends used to meet for a game of football is long gone, replaced by the Adwa Museum inaugurated last month.

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Even the historic Dehab Hotel, a favorite for its ‘milassenber’ dish, has been wiped out of existence by the extensive construction work.

These are just a few examples of landmarks sacrificed to the ‘Corridor Development’ project being carried out in all corners of the capital. According to the mayor, The project covers 8.5 kilometers of road between Arat Kilo and Piassa, a 9.6 kilometer stretch from the Addis-Africa Conference Center near CMC to Arat Kilo through Megenagna, and other works in Goro, Meskel Square, and Bole.

In total, the project covers close to 41 kilometers along Addis Ababa’s main thoroughfares, with all of the corridors converging at the Adwa Memorial.

The ambitious makeover is a pet project of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) entrusted to Mayor Adanech Abiebie. It comprises road expansions and modifications, and the construction of other infrastructure and riverside projects.

Already, the work has turned Piassa into an unrecognizable heap of bricks and twisted metal. Many of its storefronts have been razed, and the ones still around are clearing their goods at discount rates before the bulldozers arrive.

The Prime Minister says the construction work will be wrapped up in six months’ time, but the demolition of historic sites has already been a source of discontent for many.

Data obtained from the Arada Culture and Tourism Bureau reveals there are a total of over 433 heritage sites registered in Addis Ababa, with close to half of them located in Arada, all fulfilling the legal criteria for official heritage status. No less than 56 of them have been partially or fully demolished as part of the Corridor Project. An additional 13 sites were previously torn down to make way for the Riverside and Meskel Square Beautification projects.

Hager Fikir Theater and Cinema Ethiopia are among the ones that have been spared.

Hager Fikir, founded in 1927, is among the oldest and most renowned theaters in the country, and was initially slated for demolition before public outcry pushed the authorities to reconsider. Nonetheless, a portion of the theater grounds has been claimed by the construction work.

The theater’s employee recreation club and its outer fences have been torn down, as have a rehearsal hall and housing for security personnel.

Abdulkerim Jemal, manager at Hager Fikir, said they managed to save a building on the premises that housed Italian officers during the occupation. Its basement was simultaneously used for the imprisonment and torture of Ethiopian patriots. The building is located near the recently demolished recreation club.

“We went through long discussions and communication with the concerned government offices to save the main historical part of this house,” he told The Reporter.

Abdulkerim is the 19th person to manage the theater since it opened its doors. Hager Fikir currently employs 132 artists and offers five shows a week. However, the recent construction work has cut off electric power at the theater and serves as an inconvenience to theatergoers, slimming down audience sizes.

Addis Ababa heritage sites: societal fabric or obstacle to modernization? | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

The Ethiopian Heritage Protection Authority says it has introduced new criteria for heritage status to replace directives first made official in 2015, which it says were flawed and lacked standardization.

The revised criteria include age, historical significance, and design and material type, among others. Officials say they re-evaluated buildings registered as heritage sites using the new criteria, and found that most failed to fulfill them. This includes a house that once belonged to Dr. WorknehEshetu, a famed physician and politician, according to officials.

However, an expert at the Arada Tourism Bureau who spoke anonymously told The Reporter that the heritage sites being demolished do meet the criteria.

Wondewosen Kebede, a historian and expert on heritage management, argues that not enough research has been done on Piassa and other areas where the Corridor project is being implemented.

“Piassa is the core of urbanization. There are untouchable zones where heritage sites are located,” said Wondewosen.

One month into the construction work, on March 27, 2024, federal and city officials gathered to evaluate the progress. The Mayor said work kicked off following a seven-month study by an unnamed consultant.

“We;ve built good projects like the Adwa Museum. Now, we have to link the dots with quality roads,” said Adanech.

She mentioned six registered heritage sites in Piassa and Arat Kilo, and said the city is “redeveloping” some of them. She made no mention of the dozens of other registered sites.

“Most of the infrastructure in Piassa was built sixty years ago. Piassa has no sewerage and drainage system,” said Adanech.

The Mayor also claimed the residents of these areas are satisfied with the project, but this is despite growing discontent with arbitrary and inadequate compensation and replacement housing.

No less than 1,989 residences and commercial spaces are being torn down in Piassa and Arat Kilo alone, leaving a total of 11,000 people in need of new homes, according to the Mayor. She said they would be receiving “better” replacement housing, and a little more than 1,143 people are being relocated to condominiums.

“The corridor development project will benefit everybody,” said the Prime Minister.

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