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IN-DEPTH

Transformative tourism

As part of his reform agenda, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has emphasized on revitalizing the tourism sector as part of his three year, USD 10 billion, Homegrown Economic Reform Program.

After assuming leadership, Abiy spent no time delving into projects that promote the city and country in a different light. He kicked it off with cleaning the rivers that runs through the city and its surroundings, dubbed the riverside project. From greening Ethiopia to undertaking vast and complicated agendas, the PM set out to renovate his office at the National Palace, befitting a leader, and the Palace itself.

He, with the aid of many, turned the vast Palace compound into a Unity Park. Visitors of the Palace can now see its history and documents in full view, to help better understand Ethiopia’s rich past. An animal zoo and a children’s playground together with representation of different peoples’ traditions across Ethiopia adds to the sites in the Park.

With beautifying Ethiopia at heart and in the view of promoting tourism, which is slated to earn USD 29 billion in 10 years, the PM went further and tasked his team in creating a park at Entoto.

From a tourisms point of view, both Unity and Entoto Park can be considered as a new destination for visitors, especially to the 70 percent of transit travelers which Ethiopian Airlines caters to, from the ten million passengers that pass through it. The magnificent scenery and landscape, the hillside hiking and horse trekking, the biking routes, the well-furnished services of lounges and restaurants housed in the parks, have definitely brought more vivacity to Addis Ababa, offering more vantage points.

Across his office, in front of Sheraton Addis Hotel, sits an architecturally pleasing fountain with water dance show. Add to that, Meskel Square, which is a historical place where people gather for religious festivities or rallies, is also under construction, likely to be finalized in less than a month’s time.

The demanding PM, as many of his executive team members call him, has added three more grand projects. This time, the projects, located out of Addis, are to be implemented immediately. As it was mostly the case with the projects in Addis, these will also be financed by voluntary fundraising arrangements.

It can be recalled that “Dine for Sheger” generated some two billion birr, when the PM hosted a lavish dinner costing five million birr per plate to finance the city’s projects. Likewise, Abiy announced there will be a 10 million birr dinner for VVIPs and a five million birr dinner for VIPs, in a bid to help fundraise three billion birr, for the projects. As part of this fundraising mechanism, many public agencies are underwriting monthly salaries from their employees.

According to the PM, Gorgora, found in Amhara Regional State, has seen little investment, compared to the potential it has in attracting tourists. An area linked with Lake Tana, will have new lodges, hotels, and recreational facilities in and around the lake.

Similarly, Wonchi Lake, a breathtaking Crater Lake harmonized with subterranean greenery, in close proximity to Addis Ababa, provides an extraordinarily scenery and an irresistible appeal to nature-loving visitors. 

Koiesha, the third project, located in the Southern Region of Ethiopia is also a naturally endowed place with exotic vegetation and wildlife. Rich with elephant population, there lays Chebera Churchura, one of the endangered national parks struggling to preserve unutilized natural resources.

These projects, as many do agree, have enormous potential to contribute to the economy at large but remain underutilized. However, one could equally argue against the newly devised approaches in realizing these potential. It raises some questions on how these projects were chosen, and on what basis were they prioritized?

More questions can be asked as to whether these projects have undergone rigorous project feasibility tests and appraisals? What will be the opportunity costs of the huge investments made on these projects given the sensitivity of the tourism sector at times of political crisis, communal conflicts, or a pandemic? How transparent are these contracts and projects? To what extent the procedures and the processes are being done properly?

To the dismay of some commentators, they might not get all the answers. However, some experts have shared their views.

Tadele Ferede (PhD), senior economist and associate professor at the Addis Ababa University (AAU), has in-depth planning experience. Tadele is not blind to the socio-economic impacts of the already developed and the newly proposed projects have on the economy. He admires the initiatives but equally underlines the need to have an institutionalized project appraisal, evaluation and monitoring approaches, to avoid unwarranted disasters previously caused by “parachute projects” referring to some of the mega sugar factories, power plants and fertilizer complexes, which have been in one form or another marred by controversy.

He advises, there should be a mechanism on how such projects are valued on the basis of priority rankings, in terms of economic, social, and environmental considerations. “A predefined and well thought out plan saves enormous resources and time wastage,” said Tadele.

The current administration, noting previous maligned projects, has assigned the Planning and Development Commission (PDC) to validate and approve the implementation of national projects.

Last week, the Press Secretariat at the Office of the Prime Minister, as part of its “Addis Wog” discussions, convened in the presence of former PM Hailemariam Dessalegn, attending in his current capacity as board chair of Tourism Ethiopia. He was joined by a group of architects, tour operators, and actors from the hospitality sector along with officials involved with these projects.

According to Hailemariam, the new projects have set new chapters in the project management cycle. From inception to the timely execution and delivery time, these new projects have opened new pathways, and said he appreciates the new sound project implementation method established by the current PM.

While amplifying the leadership and execution approaches made by Abiy, Hailemariam emphasized on how vital it is to institutionalize timely project implementations and cost-effective approaches, to the grassroots system of government.

Recalling on how he established the Ethiopian Construction Projects Management Institute, to spearhead project feasibilities and performances, the former PM underlined the need to codify practices of new “pilot projects” for future references. The political and institutional leadership coupled with institutionalized approaches, according to Hailemariam, could help the country take a leap forward, in its transformative route. He further validated the values of these projects as going beyond their economic implications.

Eyob Tekalign (PhD), State Minister of Finance, has reiterated on the overall significance the projects bring to the economy. Tourism being part of the Homegrown Economic Reform Program, and in the ten-year perspective plan, it targets to add some six million jobs, Eyob said.

Eyob argues inclusiveness and the benefit of these projects towards the surrounding communities, is significant and adds value across the tourism sector. In economic terms, tourism is expected to contribute a 10 percent share to the GDP. Ambitiously, this sector has been tasked to earn USD 29 billion by the end of ten years. Currently, tourism generates USD two to three billion annually, and contributes around five percent to the GDP. 

Both Habtamu Tegegn (Eng.) director general of the Ethiopian Roads Authority, and Abraham Belay (PhD), Minister of Innovation and Technology (MinT), who have been assigned by the PM to coordinate these projects, have elaborated the approaches involved in composing Public Private Partnership (PPP) modalities. According to Habtamu, some of the investors involved have generously granted their financial resources, skills and technical expertise, for the project to come to fruition. To Habtamu, the unwavering follow-up and close monitoring of projects conducted by the PM has contributed to meeting the deadline and delivering the project on time.

For Sileshi Girma, director general of Tourism Ethiopia, despite all the projects being significant in adding value; timely maintenance, security, hygiene, sanitation, administrative visits and the like, require due attention.

Observing the half-day discussions during “Addis Wog” has led some to think there are more areas that need focus and still require explanation. We have been told the financing modalities. We know that the PM is set to host VIP dinners, eyeing to raise three billion birr. But, who receives what amount of money, for what amount of work? How are private companies awarded the designing, construction, consultancy and other jobs? These issues need to be addressed and thought-out, communicated with the public clearly, before another gaffe creates a soar taste.