The Danger of Ambition and Neglect: The Case of Beautifying Sheger Project

The Danger of Ambition and Neglect: The Case of Beautifying Sheger Project 

Research Project Concept Note

By Sinkneh Eshetu Zeleke and Aziza Abdul Fetah

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Addis Ababa’s rivers have been neglected for quite long, becoming places of informal settlements and economic activities, of landfills and polluted waters. Recently, the PM of Ethiopia, Dr Abiy Ahmad, initiated a three years’ project, dabbed Beautifying Sheger (aka Addis Ababa), to rehabilitate two tributaries of major rivers in Addis Ababa, Kurtime and Bentyiketu1The project’s rivers are differently named, some referring to ‘major’ rivers such as Kebena, Akaki and Kechene; and others to tributaries such as Kurtime and Bentyiketu. This will be clarified in future. , the first stretching for 23.8 km and the second for 27.5 km through the city2UNDP. (n.d.). Capacity building for Addis Ababa city municipality- “Beautifying Sheger Project” office livelihood study and sustainable options for the river side residents. Retrieved from https://procurement-notices.undp.org/view_file.cfm?doc_id=186083 , running from Mount Entoto to River Akaki. The first phase of this project, launched on 27th of February 2019, covers 12 km from Mount Entoto to Bambis Bridge (the upper reach of Peacock Park). The construction of this phase of the project was first warded for an Addis-based construction company, Varnerno, in February 2019. After the Chinese government offered to fund the project following PM Abiy’s debt rescheduling negotiations at the Belt and Road Forum in April 2019, the government withdrew its offer to Varnero and granted it to the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC)3Terrefe, B. (2020). Urban layers of political rupture: the ‘new’ politics of Addis Ababa’s megaprojects. Journal of Eastern African Studies. DOI: 10.1080/17531055.2020.1774705.. This phase is expected to be completed in mid-2020 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the China-Ethiopia diplomatic tie.

Beautifying Sheger aims to enhance the green coverage and beauty of the city, urban tourism, green economy and flood control. Even though it is applauded by many, it is already causing complaints, for prioritising the development over people by the residents affected.4Terefe, D. (March, 2020). Addis Ababa riverside project gives priority to development over residents. Retrieved from https://www.climatechangenews.com/2020/03/12/addis-ababa-riverside-project-gives-priority-development-residents/ Overall, the project, according to two sources, will dislocate 10,000 or 30 000 people5Terrefe, B. (2020). Urban layers of political rupture: the ‘new’ politics of Addis Ababa’s megaprojects. Journal of Eastern African Studies. DOI: 10.1080/17531055.2020.1774705. , drastically disrupt the livelihood of people dependent on the rivers for residence, urban gardening and handcrafts. Moreover, the concrete-dominated design of the landscape, will permanently alter the natural ecosystem.

This research aims to study the impact of the landscape design under implementation on the livelihood of the people dependent on the rivers, focusing on urban agriculture and its contribution to the urban food system. Through participatory research, desk review of secondary sources, analysis of areal maps/photos, and public discussions, the research aims to sensitize authorities and the public to the probable negative impacts of the design. It will strive to suggest better design alternatives that may enhance the natural ecosystem and human-nature integration in the continuing phases of the Beatifying Sheger project.


Sinkneh Eshetu (penname: O’Tam Pulto), a published author and landscape architect.
Aziza Abdulfetah Busser is a landscape designer; practising professional architect, and academician.


[1] The project’s rivers are differently named, some referring to ‘major’ rivers such as Kebena, Akaki and Kechene; and others to tributaries such as Kurtime and Bentyiketu. This will be clarified in future.

[2] UNDP. (n.d.). Capacity building for Addis Ababa city municipality- “Beautifying Sheger Project” office livelihood study and sustainable options for the river side residents. Retrieved from https://procurement-notices.undp.org/view_file.cfm?doc_id=186083

[3] Terrefe, B. (2020). Urban layers of political rupture: the ‘new’ politics of Addis Ababa’s megaprojects. Journal of Eastern African Studies. DOI: 10.1080/17531055.2020.1774705.

[4] Terefe, D. (March, 2020). Addis Ababa riverside project gives priority to development over residents. Retrieved from https://www.climatechangenews.com/2020/03/12/addis-ababa-riverside-project-gives-priority-development-residents/

[5] Terrefe, B. (2020). Urban layers of political rupture: the ‘new’ politics of Addis Ababa’s megaprojects. Journal of Eastern African Studies. DOI: 10.1080/17531055.2020.1774705.