Monthly Archives: April 2014

Digging up old wounds: new city master-plan ignites old controversy

                                         By Solomon Goshu and Asrat Seyoum

FinfinneElevated at 2000 meters above sea level overlooking most of the country, Addis Ababa remains at center of Ethiopia’s political and economic life for the past 126 years. Historically, handpicked by Emperor Menelik II to administer his expanding kingdom, mainly for its strategic defense advantages, Addis’s preeminence grew, even in the continent, over time. With this comes constant change and development which seems to have caught the eyes of international city indexes like the A.T. Kearney’s Global Cities Index (GCI)-2014. The Emerging City Outlook Report published early last week placed Addis Ababa in third place next to Jakarta and Manila in prospect to become the next big international city. The index measured the progress made by cities between 2008 and 2013 to indicate their prospect of catching up with the major cities in the world within the next decade or so.

As important as the prospect it is showing, Addis is also a city of stark contrast when one digs deeper. Until very recently it was a city where modern vehicles and transportation machineries working side-by-side with pack animals. It was a city where coordination among major infrastructure facilities and utilities was very hard to come by; where installation of one usually disrupted another well-functioning utility. It was also a city where the standards of services and level of urbanization greatly varies as one move to the peripheries and the outskirts of the city. Yet, it is also a city where the presence of international organizations and continental structures is highly visible.

Nonetheless, the level of service delivery and growth of infrastructure is still nowhere near what is required of a city with Addis’s stature. As a reflection of this urbanization pressure, the city suffered from high turn over of mayors and high ranking officials over the years. For instance, since its inception as the political epicenter of the nation, tenure of mayorship in Addis was not more than eight years; while the average years of service for a mayor was just two years. But development has always been at the center of the city administration over the years; and working on its tenth city master-plan, which is expected to serve for the next 25 years, it has been one area of focus since the past two years. Unlike the nine, which came before it, the new city master-plan have taken solid two years to prepare before the administration decided to take it for a spin; inviting stakeholders and experts to deliberate on the plan and some of the new ideas it took on board. Currently, seat of both the city and regional government of the Oromia Regional State, Addis Ababa’s latests plan is concoct of the two entities. The executive board which over saw the master-plan revision work over the course of the past two years was a joint panel of both governments. Just when stakeholders’ consultation on the master-plan began, however, things started to take another dimension, perhaps far more unanticipated one. While making this master-plan public, the city administration may well have triggered an age-long controversy surrounding the special relationship between the city and its enclosing Oromia Regional State (ORS).

Blast from the past

To grasp the controversy one has to understand the unique connection that exists between Addis Ababa and the ORS. Geographically, the capital city is located fully within the territorial boundary of the ORS which is one of the nine parties to the Ethiopian federation. Addis Ababa although not a fully autonomous federal entity, it is given constitutional guarantee to self administer having its own city charter in 1997 and revised in 2003, and a city council elected by the residents of the city. But, it is not recognized as one of the federal entities since it is a territorial unit where wide variety of ethnically diverse Ethiopians live together. As a political and business capital of the country, this semi-autonomous, self-administering unit is a federal city which is directly accountable to the federal government. All this was enshrined in the 1995 Ethiopian constitution, where by the ORS was also given a ‘special interest’ status on Addis Ababa on account of its location and, according to some scholars, its unique historical ties with the Oromia region. The historical point by itself is far more controversial. While a considerable number of scholars actually championed a view that says original inhabitants of the then Addis Ababa (Finfine in Oromiffa), who are majority ethnic Oromos, had to be displaced to make way for the new settlement. Getahun Benti, a researcher, in his article entitled “Nation without a city; Blind man without a cane” advocates this same argument at times going as far as accusing successive governments that came after Menelik II of orchestrating eviction of Oromos from their original homeland and contributing to the ethnically mixed settlement that exists at the moment. Although not as extreme, there also others who support this narration. In that, they argue that the ORS in spite of having a ‘special interest’ guaranteed by the constitution what is in fact happing is the the other way around. Citing some costly externalities on the surrounding towns of the ORS, regarding waste disposal and territorial expansion of the city, they argue that it is the special zone which is taking advantages instead. Abera Degefa, assistant professor at Addis Ababa University School of law, on his part says that notion of special interest is far more than providing a seat for the regional government. In addition to being an official seat of the Oromia Regional Government, having special interest entails an environment in which Oromo culture, language and identity can be nurtured.

According to the vast body of literature on the subject, the full ramification and meaning of the provision ‘special interest’ on the Ethiopian constitution is not yet implemented or even well-studied, two decades later. But, over the course of the twenty years, a lot has been said and much has been written about the subject matter, with a special focus on the challenges if/when it enters into force. As one can imagine, the basic question here is nothing but the meaning of the ‘special interest’. What the provision ‘special interest’ itself means and what the framers of the Ethiopian constitution had in mined while writing this unique article of the constitution is far more controversial. Surprisingly, even members of the constitutional commission had to debate fiercely over the subject matter before it was ratified by the constituent assembly; article 49(5) in particular. Transcript of the minute of the debate of the constituent assembly shows just how debatable the matter was even some twenty years back.

Long over-due

Past the constitutional provision, the technical difficulty in understanding what ‘special interest’ actually entail on the ground is another matter which led many people not to see each other eye to eye. Obviously, what framers of the constitution has in mind is quite important to know what it actually means when applied on the ground. Here only few scholars dare to give interpretations of the notion of ‘special interest’. The majority prefer to emphasize on the need to have further elaborating laws to make it more clearer. Abera is not one them. He in fact elucidates what ‘special interest’ can mean in practices saying, “whenever the city plans to do something significant, it should first consult and if possible gain the consent of the Oromia Regional State in order to say the constitutional article 49(5) is fully exercised.” According to his view, the city should view the ORS as a partner who necessarily have to be consulted on issues pertinent to the city and one whose consent really matters for the city.

In a much different tune, Assefa Fessiha, prominent scholar on Ethiopian federalism, says that it is quite wrong to stretch ORS’s ‘special interest’ to mean exclusive right over Addis Ababa. It is not necessarily the case that Addis Ababa should be a reflection of the ORS, it should indeed be a reflection of Oromia, Addis Ababa and the whole country all together since it is federal city of Ethiopia, he argues. “Rather, as far as the status of a federal city is concerned, Addis Ababa is expected to abide by the principle of neutrality,”Assefa asserts.

The constitution had something say about ‘special interest’ though. It states that ‘respecting special interest’ of the ORS could mean regarding resource use, service delivery, administrative matters and other issues. Nevertheless, the catalog of possible areas of respect of special interest is not exhaustive; not by a long shot if the majority of the legal and constitutional scholars are to be believed. They say that the promised, follow up proclamation to elucidate article 49 (5) is not forthcoming twenty years after the promise is made. Albeit the direction given by the constitution, this explaining more explanatory proclamation has been neglected according to the same scholars, and say, “no wonder the confusion and controversy is creeping back after two decades”. Wondwossen Wakene, from Gonder University School of Law, on his part does not accept the notion that source of the controversy is the absence of constitutionally promised laws which are non-existence at the moment. He says, one could not argue that such laws are totally non-existent. He argues, since both Addis Ababa city charter and the regulation issued by ORS to administer the special zones make mention of the issue of ‘special interest’.

The deal

With the controversy still raging, if one considers the bulk of recommendations by the same scholars, it all boils down to one and only one issue. The issue of cooperation, coordinations and joint efforts. Joint action among the ORS, Addis Ababa Administration and federal government. According to Assefa joint commission between the three entities is one solution that should strongly be considered. It is a widely exercised system among other federal government, he explains, and is the best way out. He believes that all technical problems arising from such intergovernmental relationship will be solved.

Interesting enough is the immediate factor which triggered some of the oldest controversies in the Ethiopian federal system. It is the launching of the new joint master-plan between Addis Ababa and the ORS. According to reports, the master-plan faced some resistance from stakeholders and officials in the past few weeks. Although just at discussion stages, what it entails for the Oromia special zone administrative units, namely Sebata, Sendafa, Suluta, Burayu, Gelan, Menagesha Legetafo, Legedadi, Holeta, Dukem and so on is what was a bone of contention. They fear that the joint master-plan would have the potential to harm towns in the special zone by way of unchecked territorial expansion and eviction of the local farmers. Although the prelude to the master-plan asserts that the whole intent is correct the wrong that has happened in past, which is the city passing on negative externalities but giving nothing in return, is an issue these groups do not accept. They, in fact, argue that it is a pretext to insure unchecked supply of agricultural land for investment. Matheos Assefaw, head of the integrated master-plan project office, do not accept the accusations. In his recent interview with The Reporter he said that the city is not currently facing shortage of space. “As it is right now the city can support some eight million people if it is well managed. Addis Ababa should grow upwards not side ways,” he argued further, and downplays the concerns.

However, Asseffa tries to see things from a different perspective. He say that it is highly common for federal cities to stretch their territorial expanse, what should be of concern is how the neighboring towns of the ORS can get their fair share from this dynamics and how they can strike a fair deal with the city. Towns in the special zone will in fact be at a position to better benefit if they negotiate than offer resistance, Assefa recommends. A rather important fact to notice here is what the master-plan offers; it is a technical solution to the development of the two entities (Addis Ababa and the ORS). Meanwhile, the plan seems to have triggered a different kind of controversy that is political in its nature.


Protests Grow Over Addis Ababa’s Expansion

Finfinnee (Addis Ababa) is growing fast and set to expand further, pitting the government against Oromo activists, seeking to protect their rights. Ethnic Oromo students in Ethiopia are ratcheting up opposition to the territorial expansion of the Horn of Africa nation’s capital, Addis Ababa. Thousands of students at all eight regional universities in Oromia, the largest of Ethiopia’s federal states, turned in recent days to demand an immediate halt to the city’s so-called “Integrated Development Master Plan,” unveiled earlier this month.

Gambia Street in downtown Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, bustles with traffic. Credit: David Stanely

Today, Tuesday 29 April, an estimated 25,000 people, including residents of Ambo town in central Oromia, participated in a city wide demonstration, in the largest show of opposition to the government’s plans to date. A handful of students have been injured and others arrested in protests at the campuses of Jimma, Haromaya, Ambo, Wollega, Metu, Bolu Hora, Adama and Maddawalabu universities, according to local reports.

Once dubbed a “sleeping beauty,” by Emperor Haile Selassie, Addis Ababa is an awakening city on the move. Vertically, buoyed by a growing economy and rural to urban migration, there is construction almost on every block — so much so that locals refer to it as “a city underconstruction.” The country’s first light rail transit which will connect several inner city neighbourhoods, being constructed with the help of the China Railway Group Ltd, is reported to be60% complete. Horizontally, over the last decade, not least due to an uptick in investment from returning Ethiopian expats from the U.S. and Western Europe, the city has expanded at a breakneck pace to swallow many surrounding towns.

Addis Ababa’s rapid urban sprawl is also getting noticed abroad. In 2013, it’s the only African city to make the Lonely Planet’s annual list of “top 10 cities to visit.” In April 2014, in its annual Global Cities Index, New York-based consultancy A.T. Kearney named Addis Ababa, “the third most likely city to advance its global positioning” in sub-Saharan Africa, only after Johannesburg and Nairobi. If it maintains the pace of development seen over the last five years, Kearney added, “the Ethiopian capital is also among the cities closing in fastest on the world leaders.”

Overlapping jurisdictions

Founded in 1886 by emperor Menelik II and his wife Empress Taytu Betul, Addis Ababa sits at the heart of the Oromia Regional State. According to the country’s constitution, while semi-autonomous, Addis Ababa is treated as a federal district with special privileges granted to the Oromia region, for which it also serves as the capital.

The Addis Ababa City Administration, the official governing body, has its own police, city council, budget and other public functions overseen by a mayor. The overlapping, vague territorial jurisdictions have always been the subject of controversy. Now contentions threaten to plunge the country into further unrest.

Home to an estimated 4 million people, Addis Ababa offers Ethiopia one of the few gateways to the outside world. The state-run Ethiopian airlines, one of the most profitable in Africa, serves 80 international cities with daily flights from Addis to Europe, different parts of Africa, the United States, Canada, Asia and the Middle East.

In addition to being the seat of the continental African Union, the city hosts a number of United Nations regional offices, including the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. There are also more than 100 international missions and foreign embassies based in Addis, earning it the nickname of ‘Africa’s diplomatic capital.’ All these attributes require the city to continually grow to meet the needs and expectations of a global city.

City officials insist the new “master plan”, the 10th iteration since Addis Ababa began using modern city master plans in 1936, will mitigate the city’s disorganised growth and guide efforts to modernize it over the next 25 years.

According to leaked documents, the proposed plan will expand Addis Ababa’s boundaries to 1.1 million hectares, covering an area more than 20 times its current size. Under this plan, 36 surrounding Oromia towns and cities will come under Addis Ababa’s jurisdiction. Oromo students, opposition and activists say the plan will undermine Oromia’s constitutionally granted special interest.

A history of problematic growth

Addis Ababa’s spatial growth has always been contentious. The Oromo, original inhabitants of the land, have social, economic and historical ties to the city. Addis Ababa, which they call Finfinne, was conquered through invasion in 19th century. Since its founding, the city grew by leaps and bounds. But the expansion came at the expense of local farmers whose livelihoods and culture was uprooted in the process. At the time of its founding, the city grew “haphazardly” around the imperial palace, residences of other government officials and churches. Later, population and economic growth invited uncontrolled development of high-income, residential areas — still almost without any formal planning.

While the encroaching forces of urbanisation pushed out many Oromo farmers to surrounding towns and villages, those who remained behind were forced to learn a new language and embrace a city that did not value their existence. The city’s rulers then sought to erase the historical and cultural values of its indigenous people, including through the changing of original Oromo names.

Ultimately, this one-time bountiful farm and pasture land from which it draws the name Addis Ababa – meaning ‘new flower’ – where Oromos made laws under the shades of giant sycamore trees, grew foreign to them by the day. It is this traumatic sense of displacement that elicits deep passions, resentment and resistance from the Oromo community. The Oromo are Ethiopia’s single largest ethnic group, numbering over 25 million – around 35% of the total population – according to the 2007 census.

Ethiopia’s constitution makes a pivot to Addis Ababa’s unique place among the Oromo. Article 49 (5) of the constitution stipulates, “the special interest of the state of Oromia with respect to supply of services, the utilisation of resources and joint administrative matters.”

The Transitional Government of Ethiopia, which drafted the constitution, was fully cognisant of the potential conflicts of interest arising from Addis Ababa’s unbridled expansion, when it decided “to limit its expansion to the place where it was before 1991 and to give due attention to its vertical growth,” according to Feyera Abdissa, an urban researcher at Addis Ababa University.

But in the city’s 1997-2001 master plan, which has been in effect over the last decade, the city planners determined vertical growth posed key urbanisation challenges. In addition, most of Addis Ababa’s poor cannot afford to construct high-rise dwellings as per the new building standards. Officials also noted that the city’s relatively developed infrastructure and access to market attract the private investment necessary to bolster its coffers; the opening up to privatisation contributed to an upswing in investment. According to Abdissa, during this period, “54% of the total private investment applications submitted in the country requested to invest in and around Addis Ababa.” In order to meet the demand, city administration converted large tracts of forest and farmland in surrounding sub-cities into swelling urban dwellings, displacing local Oromo residents.

Local self-rule

In 2001, in what many saw as a conspiracy from federal authorities, the Oromia regional government decided to relocate its seat 100kms away, arguing that Addis Ababa was too “inconvenient” to develop the language, culture and history. The decision led to Oromia-wide protests and a brutal government crackdown, which left at least a dozen people, including high school students, dead. Hundreds of people were also arrested. In 2005, regional authorities reversed the decision amid internal pressures and protracted protests in the intervening years.

But the current opposition to the city’s expansion goes far beyond questions of self-rule. Each time Addis Ababa grew horizontally, it did so by absorbing surrounding Oromo sub-cities and villages. Many of the cities at the outskirts of the capital today, including Dukem, Gelan, Legetafo, Sendafa, Sululta, Burayu, Holeta and Sebeta, were one-time industrious Oromo farmlands. While these cities enjoy a level of cooperation with Addis Ababa on security and other issues of mutual interest, they have all but lost their Oromo identity. If the proposed master plan is implemented, these cities will come directly under Addis Ababa City Administration — thereby the federal government, further complicating the jurisdictional issue.

Among many other compromises made possible by Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism, each state has adopted the use of its native tongue as the official language of education, business and public service. In theory, the country’s constitution also grants autonomous self-rule to regional states. Under this arrangement, each state makes its own laws and levy and collect taxes.

In contrast, municipalities that fall under federal jurisdiction, including Addis, are governed by their own city administrations and use Amharic, Ethiopia’s federal working language. For the Oromo, as in the past, the seceding of surrounding towns to Addis means a loss of their language and culture once more, even if today’s driving forces of urbanisation differ from the 19th century imperialist expansion.

As seen from its recent residential expansions into sub-cities on the peripheries such as Kotebe, Bole Bulbula, Bole Medhanialem, Makanisa and Keranyo, the semi-agrarian community, including small, informal business owners, were given few options. The city’s new code requires building high-rises that are beyond their subsistence means. Unable to comply with the new city development code, the locals were pressured into selling their land at very low prices and eke out a living in a city that faces chronic unemployment. As a result, the horizontal expansion and displacement of livelihoods turned a one time self-sufficient community into street beggars and day labourers.

Activists fear that the latest expansion is part of a grand plan to contain a resurgent Oromo nationalism. As witnessed during the 2001 protests, any attempt to alter Addis Ababa’s administrative limits, unites Oromos across religious, regional and political divides. Unless halted, with a steam of opposition already gathering in and outside of the country, the ongoing of protests show ominous signs.

In a glimpse of the fervent opposition that could quickly turn deadly, within weeks after the plan was unveiled, two young and upcoming Oromo artists have released new music singles lamenting the city’s historic social and cultural heritage. One of the singers, Jafar Yusef, 29, was arrestedthree days after releasing his musical rendition — and has reportedly been tortured. Despite the growing opposition, however, the Addis Ababa municipal authority is vowing to forge ahead with the plan, which they say was developed in consultation with a team of international and local urban planners. Federal Special Forces, known as Liyyu police, who have previously been implicated in serious human rights violations, have been dispatched to college towns to disperse the protests. Soldiers in military fatigues have laid siege to several campuses, preventing students from leaving, according to eyewitness reports.

Trouble at the top while those at the bottom lack the basic necessities

The city administration is also riddled by a crippling legacy of corruption, massive inefficiency and poor service delivery. Its homeless loiters in the crowded streets that are shared by cars, pedestrians and animals alike. There are few subsidised housing projects for poor and low-income families. Many of the residents lack clean drinking water, healthcare and basic education. While some progress had been made to upgrade the city’s squatter settlements, the city is full of dilapidated shacks. Despite poor drainage system and other infrastructural deficiencies, studies show that there is a general disregard for health and environmental hazards in Ethiopia’s urban redevelopment scheme.

A lot of these social and economic problems are caused by the city’s poorly conceived but dramatic urban expansion. In the last two-decades, in an effort to transform the city into a competitive metropolis, there have been an uptick in the construction of high-rise buildings, luxury hotels and condominiums, which displaced poorer inhabitants, including Oromo farmers. “No one is ensuring the displaced people find new homes, and there are no studies about what his happening to them,” Mara Gittleman of Tufts University observed.

Regardless, the outcome of the current controversy will likely test Ethiopia’s commitment to ethnic federalism. The advance of the proposed master plan would mean further estrangement between the Oromo masses and Oromia regional government. Long seen as a puppet of the federal regime, with substantial investment in cultural and infrastructural development, regional leaders are only beginning to sway public opinion. Allowing the master plan to proceed would engender that progress and prove suicidal for the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO), the Oromo element in Ethiopia’s ruling coalition. In the short run, the mounting public outcry may not hold much sway. The country’s one-time vibrant opposition is disarray and the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has almost complete control of the political system.

The opposition to the expansion plans does not pose an immediate electoral threat to the EPRDF who, controlling the system as they do, are likely to win an easy victory in next year’s elections. However, opposition, and the government’s possible aggressive response to it, could make Oromo-government relations more difficult. The government now has a choice, violently crackdown on protestors, labelling them “anti-development”, or engage with them as stakeholders representing historically marginalised communities. Ethiopia’s federal constitution suggests the latter course of action; sadly, recent history may suggest the former.

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Oromo Student Protests against the new Addis Ababa Master Plan

                                                                      By Qeerransoo Biyyaa*

After almost a decade of relative dormancy, Oromo students across universities in Oromia return to staging brazen rallies across Oromia and Ethiopia defying the presence of fully-armed EPRDF  troops and security forces.  The students are protesting the new Addis Ababa Master Plan, which aims to expand the landmass on which the city is sitting by unconstitutionally annexing tens of neighboring Oromia state’s cities and rural districts (Aanaalee) within a 140 kilometers range against the will of the Oromo people. Thousands of students participated in the ongoing anti-Addis Ababa Master Plan non-violent demonstrations from Jimma, Ambo, Haromaya and Wallaga  public universities.At the most recent rally at Wallaga University in western Oromia, Ethiopia’s army and police opened fire with live ammunition injuring unknown numbers of students and terrorizing others into fleeing the campus to hide in nearby forests, according to a report obtained from the April 26 broadcast of Oromo Voice Radio, in Afan Oromo.   
The National Youth Movement for Freedom and Democracy, Qeerroo, reported on its website that when the protest began on Jimma University campus on April 22, 2014, government soldiers and police responded with brutality– kidnapping, arresting and torturing over 12 students.
The students called for an end to the evictions of an estimated 8-10 million Oromo farmers in the vicinity of Finfinne (Addis Ababa) from their ancestral lands. Among other human rights, the Oromo students demanded Oromia’s rights to self-government and the right to decide on the fate of its resources, including land and minerals.Ambo University students alongside residents of the town of Ambo, in central Oromia,took to the streets in several hundreds and protested the master plan on April 25,2014.
The students marched chanting slogans such as “Oromia belongs to the Oromo people,”  and “Finfinne is the heart (center) of Oromia,” highlighting a long-standing Oromo yearning for self-government and freedom from colonial oppression. Another contingent of Oromo student staged a similar rally at Haromaya University, eastern Oromia, emphasizing that the Oromo people are not going to “cut and give away” cities and rural districts of Oromia to  Abyssinian colonial powers in Addis Ababa. They demanded the release from prison  of Oromo singer Jafar Yusuf, who released a music video protesting the master plan, which became the cause for his imprisonment. They also demanded Afan Oromo, the Oromo language, be made a federal official language. Haromaya Univesity students demanded an end to killings, imprisonment and torture  targeting the Oromo people.

All the protests have had a common theme of demanding the Oromo right to self-government and ownership of its own country/land. Many of the slogans chanted by the students in all universities viewed Addis Ababa Master Plan as a callous plan by Ethiopia’s minority government to continue committing atrocity crimes [including genocide] against the Oromo people.

The master plan was secretly created by  the inner circle of the Tigire People’s Liberation Front, who announced the implementation of the plan in an imposing way early this April. The people of Oromia, who never participated  in the plan’s making, sternly objected to its implementation from day one across Oromia and the diaspora, and the opposition to it is gaining momentum by the day.

Addis Ababa city officials tried to make the unpopular plan to  look like a popular “development plan” by staging partisan and fake public discussions of the plan for non-Oromos in Addis Ababa who are not the victims of the planned new expansion, but who are the benefactors of the spoils of the city’s expansion currently and historically.


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