Addis Abeba Loosing Balance Between Progress, Preservation

Mar 30 , 2024
By Eden Sahle

A recent car ride through Addis Abeba with my family unearthed a stint of emotions. While the city's massive facelift was a wonder for my wide-eyed daughter, the scene evoked a profound sense of loss within me. The relentless demolition and excavation mirrored the ach in my heart – a place cherished for its history now ravaged by progress.

Piassa was the heart of my childhood and bore the brunt of this transformation. It was where I attended Lideta Catholic Cathedral School, where my father also worked. We spent countless hours exploring its historical structures and quaint restaurants, forging memories that remain vivid to this day. It held a special significance for him too – his first Addis Abeba haven after emigrating from Eritrea.

His love for history feels particularly touching now. A week before his sudden passing, he took me on a final pilgrimage through Piassa, a bittersweet day etched forever in my memory. We reminisced about the subtle changes over the years, unknowingly foreshadowing the dramatic metamorphosis to come.

I did not go much further for higher education as well. I studied law at Sidist Kilo University and often went to Piassa to meet with my father. After his passing, I went to those places to reminisce over the memories. Returning to see those very streets and restaurants reduced to rubble last week, tears streamed down my face. It was as if part of me was being torn down.

My travels across Europe offered a contrasting perspective. European cities boast breathtaking architecture, a testament to their deep respect for history. Their development prioritises maintaining the historic character. Public sentiment shapes policy, with leaders taking cultural heritage seriously over towering skyscrapers. Cities like Paris and Prague exemplify this philosophy, their residents holding a deep attachment to their architectural backdrops. Buildings here are valued not only for function but for their positive impact on the community and environment.

Europe's cautionary tale lies in Brussels, a city that embraced rapid modernisation in the 1960s and 70s. Widespread demolition of high-rises, a period known as "Brusselisation," resulted in widespread criticism. The new structures were seen as destroying the city's soul, erasing its cultural identity. This misstep led to stricter building regulations across Europe, a reminder of the importance of striking a balance between progress and preservation.

Witnessing Europe's commitment to its cultural heritage, even at significant expense, compels me to question our approach in Addis Abeba. While our historic buildings may not boast the grandeur of European architecture, they hold immense value nonetheless. The city's modernisation, undeniably necessary, has disrupted countless lives.

Addis Abeba's historic buildings lack the grandeur of European architecture. Many structures, especially in densely populated areas, are constructed from wood and suffer from years of neglect. The argument for preservation hinges on our understanding of history's value. Thousands have had their lives impacted by the demolitions. These areas, while holding cherished memories, are undeniably in need of improvement.

The ideal outcome is a plan that successfully balances cultural preservation with the needs of a growing city. Imagine a city that offers modern housing and commercial spaces alongside restored architectural gems. Such a development would foster a renewed sense of community, allowing residents like myself to share not only family history but the rich past with future generations.

New construction can coexist with the legacy, alleviating the grief associated with demolition. It lies in creating a new landmark that respects its heritage while embracing the demands of the present.

PUBLISHED ON Mar 30,2024 [ VOL 24 , NO 1248]

Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at

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