Addis Ababa, the capital and largest city of Ethiopia is the seat of African Union and is considered by many as the capital of Africa for its historical, diplomatic and political significance for the continent.
Museums like the Africa Unbound Museum try to create an environment where visitors can learn about Africa in one place. The museum, unlike no other in Ethiopia, explored a different aspect of Africa and its history. Rather than just focusing on colonization and indigenous animals, it features a different aspect of the development of Africa. It showcases people that are unique to the continent’s history including activists, singers and presidents such as Martin Luther King, Mariam Makeba, Wangari Maathai, Lymeh Gbowee, James Brown, Marcus Garvey, Taitu Betul, Kwame Nkrumah and many others. The museum that opened just three months ago, also portrays the creation of the OAU by both the Monrovian group and Casablanca group.
Rahel Kassahun (PhD), founder of the museum, told The Reporter that she wanted to educate and raise awareness about development. She highlighted that our past plays a critical role in shaping our present and future. Rahel told The Reporter: “The need to have space that is inspiring and makes us appreciate our heritage as Africans has a critical role to play in the development process.” Opening museums like this do not go without a challenge. For Rahel the major challenges were the poor work ethics of contract workers, the high bank interest loans and the lack of willingness to collaborate and work together with tour operators. This museum was built as a result of over 20 years of research that Rahel conducted in a wide range of areas. She wanted to portray the richness of African culture also highlighting that it is a pan African museum.
The Museum walks visitors though history and spirituality in a way that provokes curiosity in its visitors and shows a very different aspect to African-ness. The concept of unboundedness is a great way to explore and understand Africa. The museum explores parts of history that are forgotten by many. For instance, the matriarchal community and the start of a patriarchal society. Africa Unbound Museum gives an incredible insight into the becoming and evolution of humans as a whole. Rahel noted that museums like Africa Unbound have great transformative value. They educate and encourage people to ask the basic yet fundamental questions and inspire to engage in a deeper and more meaningful way.
“We need to be more in touch with our African-ness. We need to see ourselves in more expanded ways. We can embrace our Ethiopian-ness and our African-ness at the same time. But for us to see ourselves and identify as Africans, we must first learn about this magnificent continent of ours and its soulful people. Africa has a glorious and rich heritage. When people come to our museum and learn about this, they become very emotional and leave feeling very proud. Not just Africans but Europeans, Americans, Asians, etc. feel a deep sense of connectedness,” she told The Reporter.
Addis Ababa’s African-ness is not only portrayed by museums. Restaurants are also places where one can see different African cultures.
Mama’s Kitchen, a famous restaurant in Addis, catered the recent African Union Summit’s buffet at Unity Park. Mama’s Kitchen serves all kinds of customers, from locals to Africans and international. They previously had a day where they would have a buffet of other African food specifically Kenyan food. They brought a chef from Kenya to train other cooks and to also provide Kenyan food to their customers. The most common food that was served was Ugali.
Mama’s Kitchen is planning to open many more branches in different parts in Addis. Mikias, operations manager at Mama’s Kitchen, told The Reporter that they are opening a branch at Unity Park where they will have other African cuisines as well. As the seat of the African Union it’s important to accommodate all other Africans with their home cuisine as well.
Ethiopia has had a huge contribution to the creation of the African Union. The creation of the African Union was not just a sudden happening, it could be anticipated throughout African history. Ethiopia has for long been the image of a non-colonized and independent country. It has played an important role in the formation of AU as well. Ethiopia, the oldest independent country in Africa and one of the oldest countries in the world is at least 3000 years old. Ethiopia has been an important inspiration to Africa, mostly as it remained free from European control during the age of imperialism.
Many researches and authors have shown Ethiopia’s role in African history that shows comprehensive account of Ethiopian diplomatic history in its contribution to Africa and the struggles waged by the oldest independent African state not only for its own survival but also for African freedom and unity. Ethiopia’s contribution to the decolonization of Africa at the then OAU now AU levels and the pan-African movement as well as its achievements are well documented.
As the political and diplomatic capital of Africa, Addis Ababa reflects a mosaic of cultural representation than any other city in the continent says Samuel Tefera (PhD). It is actually a space where the world present itself in a unique pattern.
“Addis hosts the African Union Commission and the UN-ECA which both are melting pots of various representation from all corners of Africa bringing together men and women of Africa and allowing them to exchange, interact and add to the beauty of the capital through manifestation expressed in the form of political, economic and aesthetic gathering,” Samuel told The Reporter. These gathering in small and large numbers create opportunity for individuals and groups to reveal their unique identities as expressed in their music, dance, paintings, food and clothing.
According to Samuel, who is an assistant professor at Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa reflects Africa, as it hosts people, at least representing their countries in many different ways. The city reflects and represents Africa and of course even beyond, it should stand out to live up to the name, the capital of Africa. Samuel asserts that it is important for Addis to reflect Africa as it is the Africa’s political capital. He told The Reporter that as a historical capital that heralded an end to oppressive and exploitative colonial history of the continent, it is a seat of the government and the people of Ethiopia, a country that spearheaded the fight against abusive administrations in the continent, and proved that people can fight for truth, independence and respect and can win. It is a country that stood along other Africans in their struggle to freedom and structured the pan African movement through the establishment of the OAU, now AU. Hence, he said that it is indeed important that Addis shall reflect these founding facts through individual state and regional collective representation in the form of art, economy, politics and culture.
Samuel recommended that institutions such as the African union and individual member states shall strive towards the promotion of their culture through opening cultural centers in the representations where they can showcase their history and culture. They shall engage with private and public institutions including education centers and promote their culture, language and ideas by engaging people in the capital. Samuel commented that Addis hosts the French, Italian and other cultural centers and Africa countries need such space to increase the awareness of the various cultural attributes their people have. “I do not believe that there is a single thing called “African culture” but African cultures exist and manifests itself as a collective and mosaic identity of the people and African origin and that no other capital in the continent displays these better than Addis,” he told The Reporter. He added that the media shall also capitalize on production of commentaries and news such as culture and arts that contribute much to the making of a healthy generation and the creation of multicultural hubs that are positively engaging and attractive for people to live in.
Contributed by Sesina Hailou