Ras Kassa sefer, also currently known as ‘Ferensay 41 Eyesus’, is one of the earliest neighbourhoods/sefers/ which started with Leul Ras Kassa Hailu(Prince Head) and was named after him eventually. In this oldest settlement of Addis, among the many dwellings nestling on the hilly neighbourhood, was a marvellous and charming small villa. Set in an open green field, well above the cities’ average, around 2700 high, with old indigenous trees nearby, it was a jewel adorning this neighbourhood. To say it was more than just a visual sensation, pleasing anyone passing by wouldn’t be an exaggeration. The villa, constructed some 90 years back, was initially a residence of Dejazmach Amde Kassa, a grandson of Leul Ras Kasa Hailu.
I used to take long walks in this beautiful and breath-taking environment which I have fallen in love after moving there some five years back. On my walk to the nearby woods, I always used to pass by this marvellous villa. Each time I saw it, I always took a moment of pause compelled by its charming allure. It used to feel as if I had run into a dear friend, took a moment to chat, before carrying on with my stroll; comfortable with having such a standing historical testament of the cities’ founding, amidst the frenzy of change rocking the city. I hoped it would remain there for generations to come.
Its beautiful architecture, whitewashed appearance and humble, yet imposing presence within a big open green field were appealing. The fact that it was devoid of a fence, which scars Addis as is the case everywhere, made it more accessible and all the more enticing. It would demand every passer-by’s attention. Even if you didn’t know its historical significance you definitely would grant it more than just a glance. This villa was not just an ordinary one. Owing to its historical significance, it was one among many, which was registered as heritage and protected by the Culture and Tourism Office. It was to be open for public use as an artistic venue.
Sadly, though I learned that it was demolished last week by the Federal Housing Corporation. The corporation, claiming it is the rightful owner of the property and seeking to build an apartment, destroyed the public heritage. All this happened, in disregard and amidst an ongoing legal dispute with the Culture and Tourism office over the heritage. It was not so long ago, probably a couple of weeks before this incident, when I heard the news that the Corporation will be constructing housing estates in five different locations within Addis. The first phase of many to follow.
It was a project reported as a very significant undertaking to positively contribute to the housing problems of the city. To see that corporation started its venture by ruthlessly demolishing a heritage building has done more than amplifying my scepticism of what we are doing as a country under the pretence of development. This intentional demise has left me utterly shocked, infuriated and at a loss for words. It took me a few days to react, I was intentionally silent lest I would be neither rational nor calm about what I would say.
Now, eventually, I would like to share with you my thoughts hoping you would do so as well. To witness such an inexplicable act, happen in broad daylight, by a corporation which claims to be working towards a better future, is beyond heartbreaking. To vandalize a perfectly sound heritage, in a time where we, as a country, are begging for money to restore heritage sites threatened with ageing and natural causes is just unimaginable. This is not expected of a responsible citizen let alone the countries federal institutions. If this is the corporations’ modus operandi, I rather wish it regress to its stagnated slumber it has been in for years.
We have seen our city being obliterated all in the name of progress and development. However, such irresponsible and ignorant act should neither be taken lightly nor tolerated at all. To devoid, the city of its assets and heritage is a heinous crime and should be treated as such. I am not extrapolating, and this is not an isolated incident. Somehow disregard for heritage has become a commonplace. But it doesn’t mean it should continue to be so. We should not adjust and accept it passively but ferociously fight it.
Finally, I would like to conclude by pleading for action. One is a call for all concerned institutions and individuals to do whatever is possible within their capacity. For social media community to talk about this issue, give it the attention it deserves and be vigilant to bring other such matters to the limelight, prior to the damage, as it seems to be an impactful act. Most importantly, I want to urge the Addis Ababa Culture and Tourism office to be assertive, vicious and not compromise on the matter. It should not only put a stop to this madness and prevent any further damage but completely thwart attempts of the corporation to proceed in any way. It should take legal action, demand restitution of the property and claim financial compensation from this irresponsible corporation for the complete reconstruction of the public heritage!