Arts & Entertainment

Ethiopia’s biggest library, a beacon of hope amid unrest

By Desalegn Sisay

Addis Ababa, Feb 23 (EFE).- While the war in northern Tigray region drags on, Ehtiopia has opened the massive Abrehot Library in the capital Addis Ababa, a move that seemingly presents a paradox in a country that celebrates the sanctity of the written word but has no glimmer of hope of reaching a national dialogue.

The new library, which opened its doors to the public on January 1, is East Africa’s biggest, according to Yonas Zewdie, head of Addis Ababa City Council’s communication bureau.

Bahilu Tarekegn, a university professor who recently visited the library with his students, tells Efe: “This is what the society needs.”

“It is a gift that will give hope to the next generations.”

Abrehot is Amharic for enlightenment, one of five official languages and a widely used lingua franca in Ethiopia.

Architect Yosef Bereded, who designed the grand library, says it is intended to mirror the country’s literary and cultural heritage.

“People in rural Ethiopia and monasteries have a custom of reading books under the shade of trees. To express this in a modern way, the roof of the building was left open in a way that lets in light and illuminates the entire building,” Bereded explains to Efe.

The façade of the library has words from 18 different languages engraved on it.

Abrehot, built on an area of 19,000 square meters, has the capacity to house 1.4 million books.

The publicly-funded construction cost 1.1 billion birr ($21.6 million).

The library has reading spaces for minors and families with babies, a cafeteria, parking space for more than 100 cars, meeting rooms and a theater.

The building is surrounded by a large garden in a neighborhood, where the parliament and prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s office and residence are located.

Abiy stressed that illiteracy is one of the main issues in Ethiopia, where the literacy rate for the population aged 15 years and above is only 51.8%, according to the latest data published by UNESCO.

“Because of illiteracy, we have been fighting among ourselves and we have destroyed our country (…) It has made us sell ourselves to serve our foreign enemies and attack our own nation,” Abiy said.

Despite the Ethiopian government’s recent gestures such as ordering its forces to stop advancing into the war-ravaged Tigray and granting amnesty to several political prisoners, dialogue between the warring sides still seems a remote prospect.

Abiy, however, told parliament on Tuesday that he does not rule out future negotiations with the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The war broke out on November 4, 2020, when Abiy ordered an offensive against the TPLF in retaliation for an attack on a federal military base in the region.

Thousands of people have died and some two million others were forced to flee their homes due to violence.EFE


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