Ethiopia: Abiy Embarks On Palace Vanity Project–While Economy Crashes, War Crisis Continues

 Photos: YouTube Screenshots

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed‘s palace building vanity project is raising eyebrows in a country where the economy is in free fall–and still facing crises relating to the war in Tigray.

In 1994, President Tayip Erdogan of Turkey unveiled, an 1100-room palace atop the forested hills overlooking Ankara. He named it the White Palace. Built at a cost of $615 million, it was seen by observers at the time as a vanity project by an authoritarian ruler with delusions of grandeur. Erdogan called it a symbol of Turkey’s importance and growing role in the region.

An obscure young soldier in the Ethiopian National Defense Force named Abiy Ahmed must have been taking heed at the time.

Rumors have been circulating over the past 2 years that Abiy Ahmed, now Prime Minister of Ethiopia was planning to build a palace for himself. Emulating Erdogan, his role model and partner in crime in the genocidal war on Tigray, Abiy’s palace will be, by all accounts gargantuan and is expected to eclipse Erdogan’s White Palace. He has declared it a national priority project for Ethiopia. This will be built atop the forested Yeka Hills overlooking the city of Addis Ababa. The Forest project as he calls it, will inevitably require deforestation to make room for the construction. Tens of thousands of poor residents are reported to have been forcibly removed from the area, now rendered homeless without recourse or adequate compensation.

The palace itself will sit on an area of 1242.94 acres.  Interlacing roads that stretch to 18 miles will be constructed along with the creation of 3 artificial lakes and a secret 4.3 miles of underground road for the exclusive use by the would be El duce. As is often the case with such vanity projects, its grandeur is only matched by its grotesqueness as seen from the architectural rendering.

When a member of parliament asked where the 49 billion Eth. Birr (over a $1 billion) for the project was coming from, the PM told him and the rest of the stunned members of parliament that it should not be their concern. He also said that the 49 billion figure they keep talking about was not correct and could run as high as 400-500 billion birr (over USD 10 billion). The number that is being circulated in the media now is $15 billion with cost overruns likely to push the final figure much higher. It must be noted that the national budget presented to parliament for fiscal year 2022-23 was USD 15.1 billion. Note also that the reconstruction of Northern Ethiopia alone will require $25 billion according to former president of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo, who brokered the Pretoria cessation of hostilities agreement between the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Prosperity Party led government of Ethiopia on behalf of the African Union.

The PM is proud of his ‘national’ project which according to him, will be bigger and more consequential than the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. His patron prince, Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) of UAE is said to be footing a portion of the bill needed for the palace construction.


The folly of this project can best be appreciated when seen against the backdrop of an economy that is in free fall with galloping inflation and foreign direct investment drying up; a country in a state of war in Oromia and Amhara two of the largest regional states that constitute Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE). There is a tenuous truce in Tigray region, although much of the Pretoria agreement, particularly the issue of transitional justice and withdrawal of foreign troops remain yet to be implemented, to the detriment of the long suffering people of Tigray.

Ethiopia is also a country with the highest number of internally displaced people (IDP) reaching as high as 5.1 million in 2021 which has since gone down a bit, according to International Displacement Monitory Center (IDMC).  STATISTA estimates 22.8million Ethiopians are facing food insecurity, 11 million are severely food insecure due to drought alone.

Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia is in many ways a throwback to some of the notorious self-aggrandizing African leaders of the last quarter of the 20th Century who were building palaces while they ran the economy aground, impoverishing  and oppressing their people. They did not do it alone. They had sponsors. The case of Mobutu Sese Seko, brought to power by his Belgian and American benefactors after assassinating Congo’s first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba is a case in point. He built an opulent palace in a remote jungle village of his birth, Gbadolite, complete with an international airport where the SST Concorde used to land and now lies in ruins. – :~:text=Yet%2C%20Gbadolite’s%20most%20famous%20son,a%20village%20of%20Chinese%20pagodas.

Another example of vainglorious projects is one by the late Francophile President of Cote d’Ivoire Houphuet Boigny who built the world’s biggest church at a cost of $300 million in his remote village.

Jean Bedel Bokasa of Central African Republic, yet another protégé of France, crowned himself emperor with France providing help for his coronation. At the lavish reception his guests were treated to more than 25,000 bottles of Moët & Chandon, Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Lafite Rothschild.

The Forest project is a case of Abiy Ahmed’s 21st Century version of “Let them eat cakes”. Such ostentatious display of conspicuous consumption and raw and unchecked exercise of power by one self- centered megalomaniac may be the last straw that broke the camel’s proverbial back. The people can only take so much abuse and humiliation. Can the storming of the Bastille be far behind?

Mohammed A. Nurhussein MD



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