Justice for Addis Ababa campaign demands for an elected mayor

Triggered by the land and condominium scandal under Takele Uma, Justice for Addis Ababa demands answer from government.

Justice for Addis Ababa campaign

September 3, 2020

Ethiopian activists launched a two-day-long digital media campaign in what seems to be a response to the revealed land and condominium scandal.

Hashtagged as #JusticeForAddisAbaba, it demands justice for the residents of Addis Ababa whose entitlement for residential condo units was robbed in broad daylight.

What triggered the campaign, however, has something to do with the recent development.

A report released on Monday by Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice Party (EZEMA) revealed that 213,000 square meters of land were illegally appropriated in the capital Addis Ababa in the form of land grab, and more than 20,000 condominium units were transferred to people who are not believed to be residents. Those condo units were supposed to be transferred to residents on the waiting list that had been saving for well over a decade to purchase them.

The former Mayor of Addis Ababa Takele Uma – who is appointed as the Minister for Mining and Petroleum last month after serving in the city’s top position for nearly two years – is said to be a key player in the scandal.

He was not an elected mayor which is where the problem starts. And he was appointed at a time when what was then Oromo Democratic Party (he was a central committee member of it) officially claimed exclusive ownership over the city of Addis Ababa. The claim is based on a politically charged historical narrative that depicts Addis Ababa as a land snatched from ethnic Oromo speakers soon after Menelik II became the Ethiopian Monarch. A book recently published under the title “berera” deconstructed the radical Oromo claims over the city. It argued that there was already a settlement in what is today Addis Ababa before the Oromo expansion and settlement in the area.

Leaked information sometime in 2018 revealed plans to alter the demography of Addis Ababa through a massive settlement of Oromo speakers in the city, something Lemma Megerssa, then president of Oromo regional state denied.

The land and condominium scandal that became public this week, however, seems to suggest that the claim about demographic change could not be dismissed. 

The former Mayor defended his actions saying it was meant to address the plight of farming communities surrounding the city as they were displaced from their land holdings for development projects.  He claimed that the Condo units were transferred to the “descendants of displaced farmers.” 

The #JusticeforAddisAbaba campaign, among many other points, gets across the message that displacement of the farming community was a government program – and that the residents of the city should not pay for the government’s crime. In fact, many of the activists who are not harbingers of #JusticeforAddisAbaba campaign were at the forefront opposing the displacement of farmers when it happened several years ago.

A city with more than five million residents,more than the population of Toronto, is not electing its mayor. That is also something that activists want to see changed.

For radical Oromo nationalists, both within and outside Federal and regional government structures, altering the demography of Addis Ababa favoring the ethnic Oromo population is a sort of prerequisite before Addis Ababa is granted a right to elect its mayor.

However, that position does not seem to be tenable as more and more residents of the city are alarmed about the project and asserting rights, as they should.

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