Ethiopia has been on my mind for a few months now. You know when you don’t hear anything about something for ages. And then suddenly it seems to be all you hear about! In the UK we have a saying about that. “Wait ages for a bus, then three come along at once.” Well, it’s been a bit like that with Ethiopia. Firstly, the Embassy here in London contacted us last September with a request to meet a delegation. It was the Federal Palace Administration and they wanted to learn about the UK approach to opening places to the public. They also want to build the capacity of the Palace Administration for future projects.
Around the same time, I also met Blair Priday of the Ethiopian Heritage Fund. (She and I both spoke at the Heritage Alliance’s International Day.) The Ethiopian Heritage Fund started August 2005. Its purpose, working with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido church and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, is to aid the conservation of relics. And to provide advice and education on their maintenance. It also aims to raise awareness of these beautiful objects and thereby increase tourism to rural areas.
That very week, Oliver received an invitation to an event at the Ethiopian Embassy to celebrate the first ten years of Project Pencil Case. A former NTEWNI colleague, Arabella Stewart, established this UK charity ten years ago. It aims to support underprivileged Ethiopian students with material needs such as filled pencil cases and uniforms.
Arabella had been instrumental in connecting us to Princess Mary and Addis Woubet about ten years ago. They were INTO members for a while and Oliver spent an inspirational few days there in 2010, which he wrote about here. Princess Mary then presented at our 2011 Conference in Victoria, Canada.
And then Arabella introduced us to Princess Mary’s niece, Esther Antonin. Princess Esther established Heritage Watch Ethiopia in 2018 in response to the mass demolition of historic buildings in the country’s current surge for development.
We were delighted to welcome Heritage Watch Ethiopia as our newest INTO member very recently. And Princess Esther attended our first INTO Africa meeting. (I’m sure the team are going to share the outcomes of this very successful meeting. But in the meantime, here’s a sneak preview of John de Coninck’s wonderful report from Nairobi. His final sentence says it all: “Participants shared a feeling of a very productive time spent together, with renewed energy, new contacts and a sense of commitment.”)
And then finally this week, I had my meeting in London, postponed from last year. Well, not exactly. The delegates from the Federal Palace Administration were unable to travel. So I actually met a team from the Embassy. And, given that the coronavirus outbreak had just been labelled a pandemic by the World Health, we forewent traditional greetings and sat across a wide table. (There will be much more of this to come, no doubt.)
It was interesting to hear however that the Administration had recently opened several historic palaces in Addis to the public. These include two that were previously the Prime Minister’s and President’s official residences. The latter, the Jubilee Palace, opened to the public in September last year with the help of the French Development Agency (AFD).
There are other significant palaces, all owned by the state, outside of Addis. These include Fasilides Castle in Gondar and the Palace of Emperor Yohannes IV in Mekele, both in the north of the country.
The team were keen to learn more about the Trust model and methods for income generation. They spoke about an innovative private-funded project to ‘re-green’ riverbanks in Addis. I shared as much as I could about the National Trust and drew in examples from the INTO network. I offered to support the administration should they wish to establish a more ‘arms-length’ management model in the future.
But more than anything it was a wonderful virtual escape to a country I have never visited. And coincided (yet again!) with an invitation to the Embassy on behalf of the Ethiopian Heritage Fund. To an evening learning about their work to conserve and record the painted churches of Tigray. And what they are doing to mitigate current and future tourism pressures. Lovely to be transported to beautiful Ethiopia from a rather confused and anxious London. I wonder which buses will come along next? But more than that, I wonder where we will be with coronavirus this time next week? Keep safe, everyone!