Addis Ababa, February 24, 2023 – In partnership with the World Monuments Fund, the U.S. Embassy, Addis Ababa, completed the cultural heritage conservation work on the landmark late 19th-century building, commonly known as the “American Gibbi,” located in Addis Ababa’s business district, Merkato. The Embassy awarded a $240,000 (over 12 million birr) grant to the World Monuments Fund in 2019 for the conservation of the historic building.
In connection with the successful completion of the conservation work, the Public Affairs Section of the Embassy coordinated with the Yemeni community to organize a ceremonial re-opening of the restored building on February 22, 2023, coinciding with the 86th annual commemoration of the “Yekatit 12 massacre.”
Ambassador Tracey Jacobson, Chargé d’Affaires (CDA) of the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, was joined for this event by State Minister of Tourism Sileshi Girma as well as the ambassadors to Ethiopia of Yemen, Türkiye, United Kingdom, Sweden, other members of the diplomatic corps, members of the Yemeni community, and descendants of Ethiopians whose lives were saved when they were given refuge in the building.
During her remarks, Ambassador Jacobson noted, “This building is a physical symbol, not only of the history underpinning the relationship between the United States and Ethiopia, but of American diplomacy at its finest.”
The building served as the American Legation in the 1930s. In February 1937, in the aftermath of the failed assassination of the Italian Viceroy Graziani and the consequent indiscriminate massacre of thousands of residents of Addis Ababa at the hands of Italian fascists, the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Cornelius Van H. Engert sheltered 700 Ethiopians in the compound fleeing the violence, thereby saving their lives. The incident is known as “Yekatit 12” or “The Addis Ababa Massacre.”
For the past 80 years, the American Gibbi has served Yemeni and Ethiopian students in the capacity of a community school, but by 2018, it had deteriorated into an advanced state of neglect. The unveiling of the project will refresh memories of the heroic actions of CDA Engert and other American diplomats, and the role this building played in saving many Ethiopian lives by giving them shelter in their time of need.
The inaugural event featured a panel of historical and architectural heritage experts, who explained the significance of the building, an exhibition of photos showing the historical photos from the Embassy at that time, and a historic narration on the role of CDA Engert during the “Yekatit 12” incident, given by a leading historian of that period, Ian Campbell.
This is another example of the American people partnering with the people of Ethiopia. To learn more about the U.S.-Ethiopia partnership, please visit: U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia (usembassy.gov) and follow U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa | Facebook and @USEmbassyAddis on social media.