The waxwork of former Emperor Haile Selassie at the Throne Hall. AFP
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Prize for Peace last Friday, is ramping up efforts to showcase the nation's heritage and touristy developments to the world. As part of his measures, he has opened a palace that once housed Ethiopia's emperors to the public.
The palace compound in Addis Ababa was formally launched on Thursday.
The project has been rebranded as "Unity Park".
Abiy's office said on Twitter Thursday that the project "symbolises our ability to come together".
Backed by the UAE, the project cost more than $160 million (145 million euros).
Built in the late 1800s by Emperor Menelik II, who founded Addis Ababa, the palace was the residence of Ethiopia's rulers for more than a century.
Abiy himself does not live there, and it has seen little activity in recent years.
Abiy's advisers say he has taken a keen interest in transforming the palace into a tourist attraction since coming to power in April 2018 — visiting the site every day in recent weeks to monitor progress.
Though Africa’s youngest leader still faces big challenges, he has introduced political and economic reforms that promise a better life for many in impoverished Ethiopia and restored ties with Eritrea that had been frozen since a 1998-2000 border war.
The government's "Home-Grown Economic Reform" agenda, unveiled last month, describes tourism as a primary engine of potential job creation.
On Thursday, government officials and the diplomatic corps toured the expansive site before attending a banquet that was expected to draw five regional heads of state and other dignitaries.
The restored rooms feature items like Menelik's sword and a life-size wax replica of former Emperor Haile Selassie, who lived at the palace.
The site also includes a sculpture garden with installations representing Ethiopia's nine regions, and a zoo is expected to open by the end of the year.
Aklilu Fikresilassie, an Ethiopian employee of the United Nations who attended the launch Thursday, said he was "really fascinated" to set foot inside a place that had been closed to the public his entire life.
"For us it's like a government house, so now when you enter that palace it tells you that we are getting somehow closer to our leaders," he said.
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