Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), and Tan Jian, Chinese ambassador to Ethiopia, decorate a rock at the inauguration of the Addis Riverside Development Project near Sheraton Hotel on October 1, 2019.

A Chinese firm took over the construction of the Addis Abeba Riverside Development Project, which was awarded to Geom Luigi Varnero seven months ago.

First Highway Engineering Group, a subsidiary of the behemoth China Communication Construction Corporation, will construct a central square on 48ha of land and rehabilitate and treat 12Km of riverside that runs from Entoto mountain to Peacock Park for 50 million dollars. The Chinese government financed the project.

The project that First Highway Engineering secured is part of the overall rehabilitation of riverbanks that covers 54Km of riversides along two rivers that cross the city. The river starts from Entoto mountain and runs to a river at Aqaqi Qality. The project is expected to cost an estimated one billion dollars.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and Chinese ambassador Tan Jian, alongside Ahmed Shide, minister of Finance, and Takele Uma, deputy mayor of Addis Abeba, launched the project early last week.

The portion that the Chinese company was awarded has two phases and will open jobs for 300 management staff.

The first phase includes the development of a core area of a central square on 32ha of land and 1.2Km of riverside development. This segment is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2020.

The second phase comprises the construction of the central park on the same land. This section is planned to be completed in the second quarter of 2021.

The whole central square will have three structures: a central axis of etiquette, an active waterfall belt and a cluster of three gardens.

The central axis of etiquette includes a central rally plaza, a lakeside fountain, a music square and an artificial pond. An active waterfall belt will be build during the first phase on the Banteyiketu River and riverside development project, which involves cleaning the water, replanting lush riverbanks and landscaping beautiful scenery. The three gardens are the second phase of the central plaza project and will comprise a children's paradise, an art garden and a centre for science and technology.

The three-year Beautifying Sheger Project was announced last year by the Prime Minister with the main aim of elevating the city's status to one of urban tourism and at the same time rehabilitating two riverbanks.

As a pilot project, a one-kilometre project that includes roads, playgrounds, sports fields, shops, bicycle paths, walkways and entertainment facilities was awarded to Varnero for 2.5 billion Br out of the city's budget. Deputy Mayor Takele Uma attended the inauguration ceremony earlier this year.

After the awarding letter, the company began construction before signing a contractual agreement, since authorities asked it to begin work as early as possible.

However, after negotiations between the governments of Ethiopia and China, which were concluded during the Second Belt & Road Forum for International Cooperation held at the end of April in Beijing, the project seems to have been re-awarded to Chinese companies.

Last April, the two countries signed a cooperation agreement for the project, and China has pledged to finance the 12Km project, which includes the portion that was awarded to Varnero.

"Some people discredit China’s work in Africa, spreading false information that China is engaging in debt-trap diplomacy," said Tan Jian, the Chinese ambassador.

Last week the government of China had extended 1.5 billion Br in interest-free loans for the construction of a 3.8Km road that stretches from Pushkin Square to Gotera Interchange in Nifas Silk Laphto District.

China First Highway was awarded the contract for the road in addition to the riverbank development project.

China First Highway, which operates with 220,000 employees and has an annual turnover of 14 billion dollars, was previously awarded the upgrade contract for the Dessie-Kutaber-Tenta road project and the design and construction of a road in the Omo area stretching to a sugar mill plant.

“Flowers will be planted starting from Bole Airport to Arat Kilo to give the city a greener look,” said Abiy.

An expert points out that there must be an active policy and rules to regulate the project.

Initiating this kind of project is not only enough, but it has to be appropriately implemented, according to Feyera Senbeta (PhD), a lecturer at Addis Abeba University's College of Development Studies.

"One of the major problems of the rivers of the city is sanitation," he said. "Thus, they have to create awareness about the project to make it sustainable."

Besides this, there is also a need for a strong governance system for the project, according to the expert.

"Even though the nation has started many projects," said Feyera, "it often hasn't completed them in the set time frame."


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