(WRITTEN AGAIN BY A PEASANT’S GRANDSON)
September 1, 2020
For most who do not pay attention to what has been going on since the last 20 years, Ethiopia has been presented and marketed as an economic success. For the intellectuals and locals, especially those who are not tied to the ruling elites, Ethiopia has been a bad dream gone worse. our lives disassembled, destroyed, and shredded by our own brothers and sisters who hailed from the countryside to claim the whole country as their own.
The impact is intergenerational; making the city dwellers victims of this wholesale collectivization and mere onlookers of all that happens around them. This includes being disenfranchised, removed and thrown out of their homes and dwellings in the name of planned modernization and master planning.
I am writing this article to bring this issue to the fore as there are many people like me who have hit a dead-end in trying to find justice for their rightful ownership of their properties in the city.
I own a home that was passed to me by my deceased parents as an inheritance and which in-turn was built by hand and passed on to them by their parents almost a century ago. This property happens to be in the middle of the city in what used to be known as Gurd Shola. With a size of 1200 square meters, I presumed that I could get it renovated and build it up as a modern residence as the house was made of mud. Having gone to the municipality for the past 9 years to secure a building permit, I have witnessed and lived through three updates of a never mastered master plan, a bunch of middlemen and an army of corrupt bureaucrats to have settled into my current status of owning a dead property! “my home has officially been placed into the LANDBANK some years ago” hence I cannot build, renovate nor fix my house as it is designated to be rolled into a “LAND BANK” which is a repository of land to be sold off to developers and “selected” investors.
My property is suddenly not legal and will not be assigned a plat nor property record as it should not exist according to the new zoning; according to the unwritten laws of the city, (Not sure if there is any law on the books that gives the government a right to disown someone’s home and put it in a land bank, parcel and sell it) but that is exactly what I was told 7 years ago and that is what I have been fighting against.
The house my grandmother built with her own bare hands while my grandfather was away fighting for his country against Fascist Italy, the property my mother kept despite attempts from the giraazmatch and dejazmatch threats of being taken during the monarchy, and later torn down by force during the military regime; now is being robbed by our new Fitawraris of the time.
I do understand what “Eminent Domain” is and the right of the government taking an individual’s property for the good of the people, building roads or a school etc… I also have to live with the fact that Land belongs to the state in Ethiopia. But taking property from its rightful owner and selling it to another without any consideration given to that owner or at least giving an opportunity for him or her to rebuild according to “Let’s say the MASTER PLAN” or whatever the government wants to achieve; is insane.
my case maybe exceptional as I know for a fact that most residents who get removed or relocated to the edges of the city do not have such resources nor would they be able to afford to put up new buildings and invest in real-estate or whatever the government decided to be built in their overnight concocted new zones that are created whatever political purposes they serve.
I have been asking, applying, requesting and pleading to be allowed to develop my own property in any way shape or form as is allowed or specified by the “Master plan” and zoning rules of the city. “to only have been told to stop applying; as the whole area is rezoned as grade 1 and will be parceled and made available to investors”. I have been asking to do so as I have the resources to develop as the plan allows hence my insistence.
The so-called MASTER PLAN and the previous era “DEVELOPMENT BLOCKS or POLITICAL PARCELS” still exist and the number of homes and areas within the city that have been transferred to the subjective and hard to extricate “LAND BANK” are quite staggering. Drawing large swaths of imaginary boundaries on the city MAP, uprooting its dwellers without any consultation nor any consideration for their plight, needs, wants and or capabilities! and selling the land to the highest bidder is not only illegal but is immoral by any standards.
While the rural population surrounding the main cities of the country has revolted against the very same practice and inhumanity; bringing about the recent changes in government, city dwellers like me have remained victims as there has not been any significant nor basic reform introduced to stop the carnage of disenfranchisement from their homes.
In fact, the practice has intensified and is more justified today than before under the new administration as we have seen no fundamental change to the practice nor the process to date.
No one has yet collectively contested the legality nor fairness of this process in an organized way as it is mostly a taboo to ask any reasonable question of rights and or privileges of individuals or their property in Addis Ababa and I am sure other main cities. Since everything in Ethiopian life is highly politicized to a combustible point where one can not even ask for fairness; Those who do either end up in jail or somehow are disenfranchised themselves.
The just deposed mayor, either through severe ignorance or due to vindictive intentions of his predecessors has not even considered investigating this gross malpractice as he was busy fighting his own political demons.
No shaming intended, but I for one would have been a big fan if the mayor was busy fixing the source of the problem: collectivization policies where citizens are shipped out to the far corners of the city while the dwellings and homes they own are unfairly repossessed and sold to others. Did the mayor not publicly claim to have stopped this practice of disenfranchisement before he left to his cushy ministerial position?
Our newly appointed mayor, even though she is new to the post has experience in the art of political taekwondo and jiujitsu. I am told she may be able to accomplish something that her predecessor has not; hence my plea for her to take the time and take a closer look at us the people.
The complexity of this problem is multi-layered.
First: Lack of any dialogue or sensitivity to the citizens; instead of putting real and meaningful discussions about issues challenging the city and its population, most are still engaged in byzantine arguments of who came from where and who should get which chair instead of dealing with real issues.
Second: Absence of representation of the city residents in the city’s affairs; where policy is handed down from above as if the city is some property without people and lives in it.
Third: Politicization of every facet of the city administration to the point where simple municipal responsibility and mundane activities are weaponized as tools of manipulation of the populous.
Fourth: Lack of competence at all levels in planning, administering, managing and executing the affairs of a large city like Addis Ababa.
Fifth: Identity politics and the way government business is currently conducted in our city.
Sixth: Monetary Corruption
Seventh: Moral Corruption
Eighth: Political Corruption
Not surprisingly, the rhetoric and consequence of not focusing on real things that matter; for almost five decades since the military regime in the ’60s; has taken root in our society where the headlines have nothing to do with the facts on the ground. In-fact it will be very surprising to find anyone in the city administration discussing matters that are practical or more relevant to people’s lives at the local level than just mere hypotheticals based on innuendo and meaningless bloodline talk.
In the meantime, the city is still dissected and partitioned for future sale using the very same rules from the era of the previous administration.
As a matter of fact, I would rather speak about personal, local, village-level issues than the general abstracts as for too many years we all wasted so much time talking about our country and city as an abstract, without contributing a tiny effort in making a difference in our own communities.
That is why I am writing this piece about myself and those who may be in my predicament. Some may consider this as a frivolous personal issue compared to what is currently happening in the country as a whole and the unfortunate events that are unraveling almost on a daily basis, and the many who have been uprooted from their way of life and have no other means of survival.
Rights are personal! And I start with myself. as dignity, fairness and justice must be personal.
There is no corner of the city where the real and practical complaints tied to homes, homeownership property rights, and individual rights are not felt or heard. The rules and regulations that were planted by the previous administration are still the same and are enforced with vigor. Homeowners are mere pawns that can either be removed, erased, and or pushed away regardless of their capability to either participate or contribute to the so-called planned development effort. The nagging question is “WHO ARE WE CLEARING and BUILDING THE CITY FOR?”
Leaving the identity politics aside, the very architecture of the previous regime in collectivizing, parceling, and aggregating land in the city and selling it to the highest possible bidder or the closest ally, or stooge without any concern for the rightful dwellers has not abated. “Maybe the very essence of the regime was not to change such practices but to change the people at the helm and get it done faster and better as if it was righteous in the first place? Does anybody even care? Mrs. Mayor, Are you listening?
Will the new mayor make a difference?
I was listening to the interview the previous mayor Takele Uma gave on the VOA Amharic program on the topic of “Disenfranchisement & development”. Mr. Mayor has indicated that his administration has stopped the previous policy of disenfranchisement and is engaged in a reform program. I couldn’t agree more on this action as this is a long-overdue problem that has been awaiting a resolution.
None of us will accept a practice where our rural brothers and sisters are thrown out of their holding and the land is sold to others in the name of development.
Having said that, the focus of this administration seems to be one of a firefight; than of a plan based on the long term and sustainable way of addressing this contentious issue so that there is a harmonious and equitable prospect for the city to grow as a major city and for its residents to benefit from this growth.
While we all agree on equitable and fair compensation, restoration, and rehabilitation of people who have been disenfranchised by the previous administration in the name of development, we also want to bring the plight of thousands of the city’s long term dwellers who have been targeted and systemically uprooted from their homes and neighborhoods without any concern for the very same fabric of their social existence. Moreover, the disenfranchisement did not stop at all as the current administration is also partially following the very same EPRDF blueprint of “ERASE – SELL–BUILD–RESETTLE” plan charted as retribution for the city’s the overwhelming rejection of the government.
There was no vision nor plan to organically and inclusively develop the city uplifting its residents and others to come. The Addis Ababa master plan has been nothing but an empty architectural exercise. You do not have to be a genius to understand that as for example Addis Ababa still does not have anything resembling a water or sewage management system. (By the way, we are talking about a more than 2000-year old ancient technology that the city has either ignored or overlooked in its so-called master plan.)
We all agree that a condominium is better than a shack. A dwelling with a toilet is way better than one without. Modernizing and rebuilding the city for its residents is a noble idea as long as it is done fairly and equitably. The problem I see is one in the future than current. Imagine Addis 50 Years from now, Imagine the city having built over 20,000 condominiums housing over 4 million residents and tell me if that is not the genesis of what the westerners call a Ghetto?
Partitioning land in 40/50 sqm plots and building temporary shelters is nothing but temporary. Since resources are precious, if the city does indeed have the heart and mind of our PM, it should build something better; something that would last longer and that every one of us can be proud of.
Can someone also tell me why we are building residential clusters way out of town and have businesses in the middle? Is that not a recipe for traffic congestion? creating the old relics of the 1960’s commute by design cities? I suspect the planners did not plan well and most probably were thinking backward than forward. Where is the local, green, sustainable thinking in this? Who are we building for? I hope we are building for our kids and grandkids and not for the past.
Lining up endless rows of high-rise buildings and creating dense population centers as positive it seems has its own social implications unless the city starts looking at the population mix in economics, demography, social offerings, amenities and other parameters that would mitigate unwanted short and long term outcomes.
It is not only fair but also a necessity to nurture and support the city dwellers rebuild, recreate and modernize their homestead as a priority and the city create a balance between the have-s and have-nots so that we do not replicate the mistakes of other cities where the rich are segregated from the poor due to past ill-intended policies or current well-intended but badly executed government projects.
Mrs. mayor, leaving all the politics aside for a while, let me make it personal:
My grandparents came to the city following their farm produce to the market. They ended up settling in the outskirts of the city and later moved into the center to take advantage of public schools and amenities for their kids. My mother lived and died in this very same house she was born; and I also am now living in it. I cannot guarantee that my only son will have that chance I had; as my home happens to be included in a special Business zone for Financial HI-Rise buildings; hence part of what the city calls the “LAND BANK”.
As much as I am encouraged and proud of the exemplary projects our prime minister has initiated and executed in warp speed for the city, I and my son are still not sure of what our own city’s future is. Will we be thrown out to the remote edges of the city giving way to some deep-pocketed foreign developers? Do we even have a fighting chance to put our life savings into it and build as part of this new ZONE requirements? Will the new city administration hear us? Or we are still marked for Erasure?
Mrs. mayor you do not have to go far to notice this as the evidence is all within your municipality walls. If one opens the so-called “LAND BANK” documents and look-into each a square meter of land that is annexed in this scheme, the atrocity and unfair the practice of disenfranchisement can be glaringly seen.
Drawing a line on a map and annexing swaths of the city for a so-called development; resulting in erasing lives and livelihoods regardless of the city’s citizen’s individual and collective circumstances is nothing but a clear definition of disenfranchisement. Until this wholesale social engineering is stopped, and a reasonable plan is put in place, the very same practice will not cease or change.
I personally do not think that the Prosperity Party will continue to support such a practice, but they need to be informed or have to address our grievances as the city’s dwellers in our desperate attempt to have a say in what happens to our lives and livelihoods. That starts with having a say in what we choose to do with our holdings and be given a chance to participate in its development; rather than being told to abandon our generational holdings and be thrown out of our neighborhoods just for the sake of changing the city’s skylines.
Mrs. Mayor, before you settle in your new seat, we hope you will at-least compare notes with the prime minister on fairness, equity and sustainability and follow up with concrete and timely actions; unless of course you already have other intentions.
This Article is written by one of the many Addis Ababa citizens whose home has been annexed into some undefined/unknown dispossession scheme AKA (“LAND BANK”) and who has been in a limbo for the past 9 years.
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