One of the consistent joys of working at Addis in the UNECA compound is the fact I get to work in the oldest United Nations building in Africa: Africa Hall. Some people might be upset that they have to live and operate in somewhat outdated structures, especially when across the parking lot are brand new buildings with hi-tech gadgets and marble floors. But those compounds have no historical life, and are architecturally boring. Africa Hall is different. It was built in 1961 by Emperor Haile Selassie in part to make Ethiopia the center of Africa political life and to show the world that Ethiopia and Africa in general could compete in the global economy. In 1963, the building served as the center for the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor to the African Union. Stained glass windows are seen throughout the building and in the conference hall itself. Created by Afwerke Tekle, the main work is a 150 square meter window called the “Total Liberation of Africa,” that shows African nations working together to overcome poverty (see footnote for a better/more complete explanation), and depicts the UN as a knight in full armor. The artwork is broken into three sections, which attempts to tell the story of African progress, starting with “Africa Then,” “Africa then and now,” and “Africa now and in the Future.”
Within the actual conference center there are portraits of the leaders from countries of the founding OAU delegation, with Morocco whited out as they left the delegation in 1984 due to the membership of Western Sahara. The entire hall has for the most part not been renovated since the 1960’s, still sporting its original blue carpet, wood paneling, and artistic renditions. The equipment and technology used for interpretation/translation, looks to be from the cold war or straight out of the movie Apollo 13, with levers and flashing lights that simply don’t make sense.
What has so enthralled me about the Hall is the history that has been made there. The podium is the same that has been used countless leaders and dignitaries. This preservation allows the building to almost feel like a museum, commemorating the history that was made there. Unfortunately, this history is going to be renovated. The ceiling is leaking and conference attendees tend to prefer shinier and newer décor, which has resulted in the UN trying to find donors to redo the whole building. What this actually entails, and whether the beautiful artwork will be left in tack, I don’t know. But being able to work in such a building, walk the halls, and experience the site of so much African history, has been a real joy.
 It is interesting to note, that the official story of the stained glass window is that it depicts Africa overcoming poverty and disease. However, most Ethiopians (every one that I have spoken to regarding this picture) have stated the pictures actually depicts Africa overcoming colonialism. In the pictures, colonialism is depicted as a dragon. In the first stained glass window, it shows Africans carrying the dragon on their shoulders with a grim-reaper like figure overlooking. In the second picture (“Africa Then and Now”) the dragon is being slaughtered with several Africans representing a variety of countries dressed in different garments watching. And in the final picture (which is the focal point of the piece) it shows Africans dressed in white bearing a torch, lighting the way for the future. The differences in analyzing the dragon (in the western perspective it symbolizing poverty and in the Ethiopian perspective colonialism) is for me extremely interesting. Maybe it can simply be both, as colonialism despite the writings of Niall Ferguson helped exacerbate poverty due in part to its exploitative practices.