At the northeast gate of Addis Abeba, near the bustling CMC roundabout, lies the Addis-Africa International Convention & Exhibition Centre (AAICEC), a pivotal establishment that carries hopes of becoming the largest convention centre in East Africa. The Addis Abeba City Administration, a principal shareholder, has plans to expand the existing territory of the convention centre, adding a new chapter to its decade-long development history.

However, this ambitious plan, expected to exceed the current project cost by a staggering nine times, faces challenges. The proposed expansion will be difficult to attain without the potential acquisition of surrounding properties, including a building under construction by Country Trading Plc, and another to the north owned by Noah Real Estate Plc.

Despite their modest land size, they overshadow the convention centre with their imposing structure.

Binyam Brehane, the major shareholder of Country Trading Plc, has firmly rejected such speculations about a property estimated to be worth billions of Birr.

In an interview with Fortune, Biniam expressed his unwavering position.

“We haven’t sold,” he told Fortune, rather in an emphatic tone. “We won’t be selling.”

For over 35 years, Country Trading Plc has been a significant player in Ethiopia’s market, importing international brands like Hennessey, Stolichnaya and Red Bull. Now, Biniam envisions an entry into real estate development, an ambition embodied in the nearing completion of a luxury apartment complex with around 1,000 units. The towers, painted in purple, white, and gold hues, and boasting 22 floors, appear inspired by The Palm Building in Dubia. He pledged to begin offering the public these apartments for sale in a few weeks.

Unveiled in 2012, the AAICEC’s dream was to construct a convention centre that rivals its international counterparts. Even today, amidst several delays and cost renegotiations with its Chinese contractor, CGCOC, due to the pandemic, the dream lives on.

As the manager of the AAICEC, Gashaw Abate, confirms, around 78pc of the first construction phase has been completed. Once done, the AAICEC will house a 5,500Sqm event hall, a commercial building with 35 shops and a bank, a 160-seater bridge restaurant, and a 1,500-seater amphitheatre. Designed by Universal Consulate and BET & Fasil Giorghis Consulting Architects, the Centre is expected to house 20,600Sqm of indoor space within its 110,000Sqm area.

Yet, the City Administration’s significant interest in the neighbouring Country Tower property suggests a deeper plan tied to the AAICEC’s expansion.

Mohammed Nursani, the board chairman at the metropolitan chamber, commented, “That has to do with the city administration directly,” implying that the City Administration holds the reins when it comes to the convention centre’s future expansion.

From its inception, the AAICEC was a beacon of collective effort. With a public offering of 300,000 shares in 2013 valued at 10 million Br, it successfully gathered private and public entities. Later, it elevated its capital to 1.5 billion Br, onboarding the Ethio-South Share Company, a group of Ethiopian investors based in South Africa, which acquired 115,000 shares. Today, the Addis Abeba City Administration remains the largest shareholder and anticipates an increase in its investment.

“It is certainly going to increase in amount,” Gashaw told Fortune.

As the story of AAICEC continues to unfold, it carries not only the promise of a thriving convention centre but also the hopes of a city that is continually reinventing its urban landscape.

The Addis Abeba City Administration’s involvement in the project has not only injected financial impetus, but has also been pivotal in shaping its trajectory. The Administration, after acquiring 33,000 shares early on, remains a significant stakeholder, having invested a sum of 606 million Br. However, the City Administration is not the sole contributor to this ambitious vision. A host of other key stakeholders, such as the Ethiopian Tourist & Trading Enterprise’s (ETTE) 170 million Br, the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia’s (CBE) 150 million Br, the Federal Public Servant Social Security Agency’s 130 million Br, and the Ethiopian Insurance Corporation’s (EIC) 100 million Br, have collectively added to the growing investment pool.

Yet, alongside this optimistic scenario, the AAICEC project has seen its share of hurdles. Over the past decade, the Centre’s construction has encountered a host of setbacks, including extensive delays and cost renegotiations. The global pandemic was particularly disruptive, causing considerable logistical and financial difficulties. Amid these setbacks, the collaboration with the Chinese contractor, CGCOC, continues to complete the project by the following year.

PUBLISHED ON Jun 10,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1206]

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