The revamping of Meskel Square, turning an abandoned area into Friendship Square, decorating the corridors of main roads, and a new project to be undertaken along the city’s railway have all been done by the current administration to lift the face of the capital. A city that was once insulted by the late Libyan leader Moammar Ghaddafi for being too dirty to host the African Union, has been on a series of facelifting activities in the last couple of years. Beyond aesthetics, the projects also serve individuals, small businesses, and the city administration as a source of income. While these project sites are attracting more and more photoshoots offering beautiful backdrops to seize important moments in citizens’ lives, many fear they have classed out the majority of the city’s residents, writes EBR’s Trualem Asmare.
Almost immediately upon taking the helm, Abiy Ahmed’s (PhD) administration embarked on various projects meant to uplift the face of the capital and other major towns in the country in what some see as a well-calculated political move. The revamping of Meskel Square, and development of Friendship Square and Unity Park, to mention a few, are some of the projects that were undertaken to uplift the appearance of Addis Ababa.
The administration has been entertaining both compliments and fierce criticism for these projects. While citizens are happy with the quality and delivery of the projects, others criticize the government for paying undue attention to aesthetics over citizens’ security and development. A series of communal violence, attacks on civilians, and all-out war alongside record levels of inflation and a slowing economy ever since the Prime Minister stepped into office are undeniable facts, even though the causes cannot be fully placed on the Premier. Some see the focus placed on aesthetic revamping taking up too much mental space in the administration’s bigwigs.
As severe and relevant as the criticism is, the projects are serving citizens, small businesses, and the city administration to a certain extent. Affording citizens have found beautiful go-to places to clear minds, while small businesses are taking advantage of visitors’ traffic to these sites and the city administration has increased its revenue.
The renovation of Meskel Square began in 2020 and consumed ETB2.6 billion. The renovation work has given a major facelift to the nation’s main public gathering space in Ethiopia. The project has equipped the area with integrated facilities including an underground parking space that can accommodate 1,400 vehicles alongside numerous shops and restrooms.
Named after the annual Meskel holiday and festivities of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church primarily celebrated at the site, the square has hosted major religious, political, and social events for decades. It has now also become a place for citizens to spend their leisurely time surrounded by the bright lights coming out of the big advertisement screens. During the weekends, it is estimated that more than 2,000 people spend their time at the square—all creating opportunities for small businesses and jobs for the food trucks that operate in a revolving manner as well as tenants of the 30 shops inside the square.
Recently, the Addis Ababa City Administration made public fees it will charge for different services held at the square and other newly opened parks. Accordingly, it costs ETB2 million to organize a concert and ETB250,000 for weddings or graduations. Photo sessions can be booked at any of the new parks for ETB35,000.
Tizita Benti, a government Accountant, is one of the beneficiaries of these projects. She founded Family Burger along with three family members and now sells food at Meskel Square. Tizita and her husband came upon the idea after visiting the Square one day and thought of the idea of opening a burger shop and giving it to her mother-in-law to operate.
“The place offers a huge business opportunity,” Tizita told EBR. “Patrons of the square like to use fast foods like burgers, sandwiches, and potato chips.” Three months after having started working at the new shop, Tizita’s mother-in-law is now financially independent.
The redevelopment of Meskel Square has seemed somewhat like a revolving door and not all good news, however. Zufan Kassim used to sell boiled eggs and potatoes at the square before the redevelopment. She has now been chased away, alongside others similar to her, from their known business spots after the redevelopment. Zufan, a mother of three, had supported her family by selling eggs and potatoes for 20 years before she had to evacuate.
‘’Now, I am just selling corn on the streets which is not good enough to support my family nor myself,” she told EBR.
Unity Park, was among the first of the Premier’s projects in the capital. He took parts of the National Palace that were unused and created a beautiful park while also incorporating some historical buildings that once housed and served as a seat of government from emperors Menelik II and Haile Selassie I, as well as Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Wide ranging with many features and even featuring a zoo, the place is also beautifully constructed but still has accessibility questions to the less well-off. Wedding photo shoots here also cost ETB35,000.
Wider in scope and ambition, the Beautifying Sheger Project—another of the Premier’s initiatives—follows four tributaries of Akaki River, namely Kebena, Kurtume, Kechene, and Banteyiketu, for the building of green spaces and a 56 km walkway from Mount Entoto to Akaki. The project is designed to protect the rivers from pollution, reduce flooding, and make Addis Ababa a bike-friendly city and a tourist attraction while creating job opportunities for numerous people. It was initially expected to consume ETB29 billion but one would expect this to grow quite substantially.
The riverside development touches on the Entoto area where many streams start to become rivers in Addis Ababa. In this area, one will find Entoto Park, yet another project with the objective of beautifying the capital and its surroundings. Found in the northern part of Addis Ababa, the Park has been delivering services of indoor and outdoor adventures.
Every Sunday morning, Yonathan Kebede, a 27-year-old man who runs a family business, likes to walk up the hill and spend some time in the new park reading. Entoto gives Yonathan a piece of peace and quiet after a long week in the busy Addis Ababa.
“Of course, you can enjoy the adventure of playing games, but for me, the place just gives me the moment I need to listen to myself,” Yonathan told EBR. “I feel really good coming back home having spent some time there on the weekends.”
Even though people that EBR approached agree on how peaceful and joyful the place is, not a lot are happy about the slow price increases for services at the park. Abel Tefera, alias, 27, used to frequent Entoto Park with a group of friends. Not anymore.
‘’We don’t go to any of the parks as often as we used to as prices at these places are growing unfairly higher by each day,’’ Abel complains. EBR
10th Year •July 2022 • No. 109