June 4, 2022

Ethiopia’s construction of a new national palace is not a timely priority: Economic experts

City: Addis AbabaCurrent Affairs

The government in Addis Ababa could spend the money on more needed projects, say critics.

Avatar: Nigist Berta
By Nigist Berta

Nigist is a senior reporter and content creator at Addis Zeybe, who is experienced in journalism and who explores her passion for storytelling.

Ethiopia’s construction of a new national palace is not a timely priority: Economic experts
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Credit: French Center for Ethiopian Studies (The Ethiopian National Palace, formerly Jubilee Palace)

The Prime Minister’s Office is finalizing preparations to construct a new national palace at a cost of 49 billion Br., according to a recent report

When completed, the palace will become Prime Minister Abiy's most expensive mega project to date. According to the initial article, the project will become the second-biggest public project after the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which has cost over 130 billion Br. this far.

The new palace said to cover five local ‘woredas’, is situated on a sprawling 503 hectares of land at Yeka Hill, in Yeka Sub-city. It was reported that the palace will have three different types of halls, as well having three artificial lakes, housing units, and road infrastructure. 

Addis Zeybe has learned that this construction is being completed under a project named “Chaka Project”, which is part of the government’s 10-year prospective plan to improve the city’s infrastructure. 

According to the report the project will lead to the evacuation of thousands of people. However, an anonymous source close to the project told Addis Zeybe that residents will be given other residential houses in other parts of the city.

The Ethiopian Roads Administration (ERA) has already started to construct a 20 km long road in the area. This alone is estimated to cost 15 billion Br., the source said. 

The source added that 9km of the road had already been built. Addis Zeybe has visited the road construction to verify this claim.

The last three years saw the launch of over a dozen mega projects initiated by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The Unity Park Project and the Mesqel Square Project, which have cost five billion and 2.5 billion Br. respectively, are among the infrastructure projects that have been completed and opened to the public since last year.

As a result of an online poll undertaken by Addis Zeybe, nearly 80 percent of respondents do not agree with the idea of the construction of the new palace.

The reason for the disagreement lies in the fact that Ethiopia is not in the best shape in its finances. Although the Ministry of Planning and Development is expecting a 6.6 percent economic growth for the current fiscal year, the war has ravaged the economy and many communities. A devastating drought has also affected considerably large parts of Ethiopia. 

Getachew Mekonnen, an economic expert at Bahir Dar University said, “After a recent meeting between Abiy Ahmed’s government, the U.S. government, and European Union, the World Bank injected $300 million in aid for the reconstruction of war-torn areas. However, even that has not helped that much.” He added that the Prime Minister’s office better reconsiders its priorities.

Getachew went on: “It was noted that the Addis Ababa riverside project, which is slated to cost 29 billion Br., and an underground parking with a 60-meter tunnel that connects it with Unity Park and the Museum, are among the projects that are under construction”

He asked how the government could take this on when Ethiopians are asking for damaged buildings and roads to be repaired. It also comes as many are fighting hard to survive due to the high inflation and when people are dying because of a lack of proper medication and health services.

Another economist Solomon Eshetu elaborated saying that Ethiopia is in the midst of a complex crisis that can be described as multifaceted. It has suffered many recent traumas – and it is still struggling. He says the reason for all this pressure is the government’s extravagance.

"The government has been spending huge sums of money over the last three years. One of the highlights of this was the construction of the new palace. The work of the government is very sad and lacks a lot of consideration,” said Solomon. 

He also said that funds used for these luxury projects could be used to build hospitals and to go towards advanced economic, social, and health infrastructure.

Both experts agreed though that the project would lift living standards in the surrounding area. It is clear, however, that thousands of residents will be required to vacate as construction continues.

In addition, the initial report indicated that “the residents will be given a chance to develop their own property on their land if it fits the standard of the area where the palace will be built”. 

However, the experts stress that many of the residents, given the level of poverty in the city, will be unable to redevelop their homes. It has not been made clear if the government will make financial arrangements for them. 

Addis Zeybe has approached the Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Finance for comment on the issue. As of the publication of this article, it is yet to receive a reply.

Menelik Palace, which is currently serving as the residence and office of the Prime Minister, is going to be turned into a national museum, along with the Grand Jubilee palace.

 It is known that the Grand Jubilee Palace, which is within walking distance from Menelik palace, is currently undergoing renovation. It was announced earlier this year that Addis Ababa City Administration was spending 2.2 billion Br. to renovate the structure which was originally constructed under Haile Selassie’s government.

The Menelik Palace, also known as the Imperial Palace or Great Ghebbi, is a palatial compound in Addis Ababa. Previously it was the seat of the power of the Emperors of Ethiopia. Within its confines (now called Unity Park) are several residences, halls, chapels, and working buildings including the offices and residence of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.

During the rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam, the palace grounds were used as a prison to house many notable people of the government of Emperor Haile Selassie, including the Emperor himself. 

In 2010, construction began on a new residence for former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his family. The project, which was estimated to cost 80 million Br. for a two-story house, was being supervised by Meles's wife, Azeb Mesfin. Also part of the project were guest houses worth 25 million Br., and a thorough refurbishment of the palace gardens.

In 2018 work began on a large-scale restoration of the palace compound, and was opened in 2019 to the public as Unity Park.

The park comprises natural, cultural, historical, and heritage tourist attractions all in one place: zoos, a traditional garden with indigenous plants, historical artifacts, and buildings of the late emperors and rulers, traditional and handmade furniture and properties, a photo gallery of the country’s and, various sculptures depicting the culture, civilization, and strength of Ethiopian nationalities.