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Who Owns Addis Ababa? (By Addissu Admas)

By Addissu Admas
March 31,2019

I am not sure what the claim “Addis Ababa belongs to Oromia” means or implies. Does it mean that all non-Oromo Addis Abebans should now pack-up their belongings, load them up on buses, trains, mules, donkeys, and God knows what else, and vacate the city and trudge to their respective ethnic enclaves? Does it mean that beginning a certain date Addis Abebans will become resident aliens in their own native city and must apply to the Oromia Killil for permission to stay in the Capital? Does it mean that, not only Addis Ababa will, from now on, be known as Finfinne, but Oromiffa will become its only official language? Does it mean Addis Ababa will be entirely under Oromia’s jurisdiction, with all the consequences that such status dictates? And as a consequence of this will the federal government become a “host” of Oromia Killil? The questions, as one can clearly see don’t end here; there are many more that need answers.

I think that native Addis Abebans are owed an explanation by the radicals and provocateurs who appear to be solely intent at destabilizing an already destabilized nation. The simple fact of the matter is that as long as Ethiopia remains a nation composed of federal states (Killils), the current constitution has determined that Addis Ababa remain an independent Killil with no particular ethnicity to claim it as its own. From the historical perspective, the claim that the land upon which Addis Ababa was built belonged to Oromos from time immemorial is hardly a defensible one. The history of the entire region is one of a constant movement and resettlement of peoples. The question should not be one of “who owned the land first” but “how can we come together to forge a peaceful co-existence”. The primary cause of war in history has been claims over lands that could have been shared peaceably. And wars have rarely settled land issues permanently. They have in fact exacerbated existing enmities. The ugly belligerence displayed by some extremist Oromo individuals and parties can only galvanize non-Oromos to respond in kind. To hope for a solution to come out from confrontation, hostility, or outright war rather than from dialogue and negotiation is a pernicious delusion.

One thing that those extremist Oromo nationalists must understand is that cities, especially large capitals of nations, are not only multiethnic, but are in most cases cosmopolitan by necessity. Capital and large cities have never belonged de facto to any one particular “ethnicity”. By their very constitution they are meant to be spaces in which all humanity can come together, interact, intermingle, intermarry, etc… To claim them as belonging to an ethnic group is as retrograde as it is narrow-minded. The fact that a language prevails in a large or capital city is most often the result of historical happenstance than the consequence of deliberate policy. Trying to change such state of affair is a pure exercise in futility.

I am not here to belittle the injustices suffered by the Oromo people and their quest for a more equitable political arrangement. My issues are with the unreasonable demands made by the more extremist Oromo leaders and groups. I do not believe that it is unreasonable nor unjustifiable, on the other hand (and I have stated this before elsewhere) that Oromiffa become a second official language not only in Addis Ababa but in Ethiopia at large. We have many examples from around the world where such practice has done a great deal in promoting the peaceful coexistence of people of diverse ethnicities.

As any large capital city, Addis Ababa will inevitably be expanding even faster than in previous decades; and land will become an even bigger issue than it has been so far. Instead of arrogantly and dismissively dealing with the Oromo people of the hinterland, as the previous Woyane dominated administration has done, the government of Addis Ababa along with the federal government should seek to find an equitable solution to the problem. In essence, the city of Addis Ababa must consider itself quite simply as any individual purchaser of land willing to pay at market value land it wants to annex. Or better yet, to allow private and corporate parties to purchase land directly from the people in the hinterland with the proviso that it remain under the jurisdiction of Addis Ababa.

Unfortunately, these alternatives are the only ones we can envision under the current constitutional arrangements, which, not ironically, are at the source of the whole problem. Ideally, a more rational and lasting solution can only come with the complete overhaul of the current constitution. And it appears that not much has been debated on this crucial issue, i.e. the need to re-work or re-write the constitution, which in effect will determine – hopefully positively – the future of the country.
Editor’s note: Views reflected in the article reflect views of the writer. If you would like to publish article, please send submissions to

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