Grim reality turns hope to despair
At the last census count, Batu a.k.a. Zeway, a city whose population stood at 43,000 then had few infrastructures for its growing population. That was in 2007. Since then, there has been much development, including paved roads that were a rare scene then, the opening of decent lodges and hotels, in particular one owned by Olympian Haile Gebreselassie, a vineyard owned by BGI, a large flower farm owned by Sher, a Dutch multinational and others.
This week, much of the advancement that has been changing its narrative of a reasonable city worth investment – much of the effort of the last two decades was gutted, turned into ashes in the wake of the sudden execution style death of artist, Hachalu Hundessa.
“It was in the very early morning on a Monday, the day after Hachalu had died, when scores of young people from outside of the city, with the intent of burning anything that was standing, with little interest to kill or steal anything visited us and see everything burn to the ground. They had a white paper with a list of names and it seemed it was targeted and executed according to plan,” said Yitsak Alemu, a resident of the city, describing much of its downtown having a pile of debris.
All around this city, much of what stood, even its reputation as reasonable and peaceful society where co-existence with others is possible and something that propelled it to lure national and international investors has been damaged.
Olympian Haile Gebreselassie, a noted local investor is set to depart the city; refusing to rebuild and with it will be the end of a hub that helped create hundreds of needed and scarce jobs for the area.
The athlete has seen its spacious lodge, one of his biggest lodges across the nation and an animal farm he owned were all burned. The lodge, which had given tourists a reasonable accommodation, is no more, except the side villas he built as an expansion project in recent years.
“Haile has on numerous occasions tried to be a responsible citizen in the area, by providing needed employment, opportunities for advancement but he has long been seen as an enemy, almost too foreign in the area. The lodge was the first to be attacked and destroyed. The young people who came to the lodge and burned it did not want to hear reason; they just wanted it to be gone. It seemed Haile was targeted and the result is the permanent closure of the lodge,” a management of the hotel who asked his name not be used told The Reporter.
The vineyard owned by BGI, via its Castel Winery located in the outskirts of the city was barely touched. Its livestock farm, owned by its workers, who invested in it and shared in its profits, was also gutted down.
According to sources, the winery has faced many challenges in the past; including young people who stop its vehicles randomly and preventing its products from heading to the capital unless paid a ransom and random attack that has forced it to be more prudent in its investment.
Several butcheries were also destroyed, turned into ash.
“It was early and we had just opened for what is otherwise a busy morning. Young mob of people just walked in and started throwing our belongings on the ground and started breaking our windows, bottles and we felt overwhelmed. They also started drinking our wine and others, before they started taking our meat outside with much entitlement and before we knew it, a fire had started and we run to save our lives, while our livelihoods burned to the ground,” a former employee at Mihret Terefe Butchery told The Reporter.
By the time, they reached Bethlehem Lodge, in front of Haile Resort; the guests, much of them from BGI had vacated it and the owners stood outside to beg for mercy. There was no mercy. The lodge was a target. With parked BGI vehicles, this had come overnight to deliver St. George beers, it was lit on fire.
When they were finished, burning the property and the vehicles, they visited the owner’s personal residence and burned that to, making them destitute in the bleak of an eye.
Few were spared. One was the old location of an old Kuriftu location, which has since turned into a wine bar. It has been months since it re-opened by a person, a diaspora who had returned from France and had much interest and connection to the area, involving himself to some of the social challenges of it and helping motivate and hire young people.
When his bar was visited, it was the residents who came to protect it, older people who fell to the ground to spare it and begged for mercy. It was untouched. The young people moved on to others.
Batu Zeway Lodge AKA The British Lodge was not as lucky.
The lodge was a hidden gem, hidden in the heart of the city. When it opened a few years ago, its British born owner, along with his Ethiopian wife wanted a different kind of hospitality. They wanted the city of his wife’s birth to have a good quality boutique like hotel, without the suffocation of a five star hotel but a feeling of home.
They built a swimming pool from scratch and planted trees, embraced nature and wanted his guests to have a feeling of home not found in mega hotels such as Haile – a fixture for many.
Theirs was not spared.
As hundreds of young people rushed to the gate of the hotel, overpowering guards, there was little the owners could do but save their lives.
A decade of immaculate effort to bring such hospitality, years of investment, becomes a nightmare in mere in minutes. Their dreams turned to ashes – in turn of the dreams of the workers – who just a few years ago were celebrating the opening of the unique place.
To distraught, despite repeated effort by The Reporter; they refused to speak to the media on their ordeal.