Addis Ababa and the African Union: Meeting the standards of a Continental Capital

Avatar: Bruck Negash
Bruck NegashJune 23, 2020
Addis Ababa and the African Union: Meeting the standards of a Continental Capital
Since the Sirte declaration of 1999 announced the establishment of the African Union (AU) and the end of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Addis Ababa has hosted the African Union for the past two decades. Located around Roosevelt Street in what is commonly known as the Sarbet area, the African Union headquarters is one of the city’s greatest architectural sights with its 21 story building completed in 2011. Ethiopia won the bid to host the African Union by competing against strong contenders like Libya, Nigeria and Kenya. At the time - just after the completion of the decolonization process - the value of the symbolic significance of the only nation that has not been colonized was one of the major reasons for the Union to decide to set up its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.The seminal speech by the late and former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in Lome, Togo asking the Union’s members “Who trained Mandela?” noted that irrespective of local realities or whomever is in power in Ethiopia, the country has always been committed to African independence and liberation. The former prime minister of Ethiopia also noted that deciding where the headquarters should be was one of the easiest tasks before the participants of the meeting in Togo.There is no denying the historical and symbolic relevance of Ethiopia to the African continent - especially in the context of colonization and the efforts to decolonize the continent in the 1950s and the 1960s. However, as we enter another decade of hosting the regional organization it is time to ask how well we are hosting the organization representing the African continent and its 1.26 Billion inhabitants. To start with the rather simpler tasks we must consider the current infrastructure capacity of the city as compared to other hosts of regional and international organizations as well as other cities of the continent. There are only five other cities in the world that host headquarters of regional and international intergovernmental organizations. These are New York hosting the United Nations Headquarters, Washington DC with the Headquarters of the Organization of American States, Brussels as the home of the headquarters of the European Union and finally Jakarta and Cairo as the headquarters of the Association of South-East Asian Nations and the Arab League respectively. Hosting a regional organization has a lot of implications. Such organizations have international or at least regional staff coming from different parts of the continent. In simpler terms it means hosting a lot of expatriates who travel to Addis Ababa to serve the Union. Such professionals require certain services from the host country. Infructural issues such as internet, electricity, water supply and transportation as well as service requirements such as banks with international payment methods, sufficient reserves of foreign currency and other services need due attention in order to meet the standards of hosting a regional organization such as the African Union and its workers. Sanitary issues are also of importance in the context of a city such as Addis Ababa. Currently ranked 99th in terms of electric power generated and with only 44% of the country, the issue of electricity has been a common headache for the inhabitants of Addis Ababa for as long as the city has existed. This is a staggering statistics compared to African nations such as Kenya with 75% and Egypt with 100% of their respective population securing access to electricity. This puts the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in perspective. With the GERD expected to power the whole nation and increase access to electricity by a significant percentage, speaking as an optimist yet objective Ethiopian, the dam is expected to solve the shortage of electricity in the city of Addis Ababa. Internet or the lack thereof is another significant area of improvement in terms of making sure Addis Ababa continues to meet the standards of hosting an organization such as the African Union. With only one service provider operating in the country, the internet stability, connectivity and speed is a serious problem in Addis Ababa and other regions of the country. The recent initiative to partially privatise the Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation and other initiatives to let service providers such as Safaricom is an encouraging direction being taken by the current administration under Dr. Abiy Ahmed. Finally, in terms of infrastructure and the service sector banking and access to foreign currency will be the final subject of analysis in this article. Hard as it may be to process, Ethiopian banks do not have online payment methods in their banking system. This is a significant shortcoming for Addis Ababa as the capital of the continent. In conjunction with this, another facet of the discussion is the overwhelming shortage of foreign currency in the country. Again, in line with the nation’s bid to become a member of the World Trade Organizations there are initiatives at the government level to allow foreign banks to operate in the country alongside the existing ones. If followed through, the introduction of such initiatives is expected to improve the banking services of the country in the coming years. As a footnote to the article above, Ethiopia should also address the issue of socio-cultural integration with the continent as well. As the recent global #blacklivesmatter protests have shown us, the divide between Ethiopia and other black cultures and initiatives is a serious problem observed in the Ethiopian community. From an unfounded superiority complex to referring to other citizens of the continent as ‘Africans’ or ‘Tikur’, the Ethiopian must integrate socially with the continent exploring the diverse cultures that make the continent what it is. More initiatives by the government are required in the effort to curb this reality.
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A PIECE BYBruck Negash

Bruck Negash is a human rights researcher currently working at Addis Zeybe as a Research Editor.