Skip to content

Demolition and Reconstruction are Now the Most Common Sights along Addis Ababa’s Skyline

The collateral damage is the city’s heritage. While tourist organisations boast that Ethiopia is the cradle of humanity, the capital is being stripped of its past. Heritage defines a city and shapes it socially, historically and culturally. It is impossible to imagine Athens without the Parthenon, Cairo without the pyramids, Rome without the Colosseum. While Ethiopia’s national heritage of dramatic, ancient sites is valued and mostly protected, conserving urban heritage appears to be at best an afterthought, and at worst an inconvenience. Addis Ababa is beginning to look like an imitation of some other city. Buffet de la Gare, a canteen that hosted Ethiopia’s musical legends in the 60s and 70s, was levelled to erect a Gulf-style luxury development. Meskel Square, the city’s most important public space, is like a building site, in complete upheaval. The 1930s villas in Kazanchis, less than a mile from Meskel Square, have been lost under a high-rise development scheme. The dramatic changes of the past 20 years and demise of much historic architecture are not anomalies. A vast urban makeover is continuing. Of the heritage buildings listed by the Culture and Tourism Bureau, about 8% have been demolished. As a former empire, Ethiopia has a long history of centralised planning. Now, an absence of community engagement and growth in profit-driven development means heritage concerns are disregarded. It’s often argued that preserving urban heritage hinders economic growth.