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Revamping an iconic Hall
Foreign Minister, Gedu Andargachew and Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe heading to visit the Africa Hall

Revamping an iconic Hall

Major renovation commences with USD 57 mln

Pursuant to an agreement signed between the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to renovate the symbolic Africa Hall, the government of Ethiopia has granted an additional plot of 3,100 square meters of land to incorporate the renovation and preservation of the Africa Hall together with the ongoing Beautifying Sheger Project.

Built in the 1960 to host the historic establishment of the Organization of the African Union, which was signed in that same building in 1963, the Africa Hall has hosted major gatherings, decisions and debates until it was donated and transferred to the UN some 60 years ago.

Vera Songwe (PhD), executive secretary of the UNECA, told The Reporter that Africa Hall will be made part of Ethiopia’s tourism destinations and will be one of the historical sites in Addis Ababa. Reaffirming Ethiopia’s support to UNECA, Gedu Andargachew, Minister of Foreign Affairs, has signed the accord with Songwe. The Addis Ababa City Administration has also inked agreements to provide the land that according to Antonio Baio, general manager of the Africa Hall project, will serve as a public park area.

It is to be recalled that Hirut Zemene, state minister of Foreign Affairs, while signing initial accords with Songwe, last year, said that the agreement to renovate Africa Hall comes 60 years after its commencement to continue its historic existences. Architects and contractors and designers have been picked for the renovation job. A technical team has also been formed and an advisory board made-up of diplomats and donor countries are overseeing the project.

Emperor HaileSelassie I, who donated the plot of land for the construction of the Africa Hall, was reported to have said that the Hall was a pivotal place in the movement of the decolonization of Africa. Konjit Sine-Geiogis, a seasoned diplomat who has retired in recent years, gave her testimonials on how she remembers the founding of the OAU at the Africa Hall, where 32 African Heads of State and Governments had ratified the formation of the OAU. 

It can be remembered that back in 2016, the UN general assembly approved the renovation project which will cost USD 56.9 million; and expected to be completed in 2021, UNECA said. The cost is to be covered by the UN from its regular budget and voluntary contributions from member states. However, according to Antonio Baio, once the restoration and renovation project is finalized, the Africa Hall and part of its surrounding will be made open for the public.

Africa Hall has remained as a permanent headquarters of UNECA and until the renovation is finalized, the building will remain closed. According to both Songwe and Baio, Africa Hall will be renovated to last for many generations preserving Africa’s history.

According to records, the structure, which was built in a period of 18 months, was completed in February 1961. It covers a total area of 75,000sq.m with an operational area of 13,800sq.m consisting of 3,600sq.m of conference halls, 5,500sq.m of offices and 4,700sq.m of general facilities. Back in 1971, the construction works again commenced, funded by the United Nations to extend the structure, which was completed in 1975. It contains a block of 800 new offices, a 6-storey building to house the vast library and other edifices for general facilities. This extension work added a further 130,000sq.m plot.

Along with the Addis Ababa City Hall, Africa Hall was one of the two projects designed to demonstrate, in the words of Emperor Haile-Selassie, “that it is possible to construct grand buildings here too [in Ethiopia], by erecting a couple of high-profile structures. It is not their complexity or size that matters, but the maximum possible use of home-produced materials, in order to shake our wealthy middle-class (which keeps its money under the mattress) from the inactivity that also binds it in the field of construction, and stimulate it to invest its assets also in building to make this ‘great village’ a city and a true great capital.”

It was here, in the conference center, that the African Union’s predecessor, the OAU was founded on 25 May 1963. The building hosts the late Maître-Artiste World Laureate Afewerk Tekle’s most decorated artistic work, Total Liberation of Africa, a 150sqm stained glass painting.

Considered as a heritage building, the Africa Hall was designed and built by Italian firms. According to records, Arturo Mezzedimi, who was the architect, was also involved in many town planning and designing projects where Emperor Haile-Selassie were personally involved and Varnero Construction PLC is the one that built the Hall.