Informed by History, Fear of Dispossession Fuels Unrest
Residents were going about their businesses; trucks were speeding by in a hurry to get their loads in or out of Addis Abeba. The only thing appeared to have been out of place in the city of Burayu on that sunny Wednesday morning of December 9, 2015, was a dozen or so uniformed police escorting two young men under custody. There were three police vehicles on the road from Addis to Burayu; residents confirmed that there was unrest the previous day.
Some schools were closed as students were boycotting their midterm tests.
“The students are protesting because they think the lands of their families will be taken and given to investors,” said a resident, citing the urban plan as the cause of conflict around the country, since it had surfaced in 2008. “If that happens, the students fear they will have nothing to inherit.”
It is not unprecedented for students, mostly in high schools and universities across the Oromia Regional State, to protest against what they believe is a coercive way of implementing the Master Plan of the capital. Many of the inhabitants of Oromia Region, the most populous region with over 27 million people, according to the 2007 national census, are defiantly waging protests because of an urban design scheme proposed for Addis Abeba, which is designed to incorporate farmlands in the surrounding towns. Unlike the first round of protests two years ago, however, the protests over the past three weeks have been recurring and cover wider areas.
The protests have not been without casualities. Although not confirmed by officials of either the regional administration or the federal government, no less than 20 people have been killed and more wounded as a result of standoffs between the region’s law enforcement and protestors. With varying intensity, the standoffs continued in different parts of Oromia Region at this paper’s press time on Saturday night.
Unanimously, protestors are demanding that the government call off its intention to implement a Master Plan for Addis Abeba, to be revised for the 10th round, but perceived to let the capital encroach on to the five zones surrounding it.
Addis Abeba’s Master Plan is revised every decade. Ever since the first proposed plan under the Italian occupation in 1936, the capital’s expansion has been made at the expense of its inhabitants who are often evicted. Close to 4,000 residents have been dispossessed of their properties in the four years after 1936, and Italian landmarks such as Merkato, Piazza, and Kazanchis remain alive today.
In the decade following the end of the Italian occupation, Emperor Haile Sellasie’s government had commissioned the design of a Master Plan to Patrick Abercombie in 1956. Abercombie unsuccessfully attempted to emulate the Master Plan of the city of London. However, it was three years later that the first Master Plan designed by Botton Hennessy, was delivered with a plan to form satellite towns surrounding it. It was left to serve the capital for three decades.
The most recent Master Plan expired two years ago, and studies were commissioned to design what is now the most controversial and contentious blueprint for urban planning and development. Aspiring to get help from the French city of Lyon, Addis Abeba’s sister city, urban planners at the Project Office thought it would be useful to consider the surrounding region when upgrading the Master Plan.
“Design must always consider its context,” said a professional designer who worked on the Draft Master Plan. “But the matter was politicized before the team had the time to explain the design. It was just a proposal, both Parliament and the people were going to be consulted before any form of implementation.”
The Integrated Regional Development Plan is a programme launched by the federal government in the middle of April 2014. It is an area structure plan designed to integrate economic and social activities in Addis Abeba with those of the surrounding Oromia Special Zones, in a 40Km to 100Km radius. It is designed to integrate infrastructure, environment, law enforcement, as well as special rights of the Oromia Regional State over the capital as espoused in the Constitution, according to a senior official at the federal government.
Thus, the plan incorporates 36 kebeles in 17 weredas covering 1.1 million hectares of land.
The site of resistance to the plan, Sululta, which has a population of 129,000, was included under a special zone earmarked for the development of hotel and tourism in 2008. Other towns included were Burayu, earmarked for mixed development of agrobased industry; Galan, manufacturing and storage; Legetafo, manufacturing, storage and real estate; Holeta, diary farming and tourism; and Sebeta, for manufacturing and agroprocessing.
Perceptions of the programme by many of their residents, however, differ from the intentions designers and authorities claim to have.
One such resident is Lemma Megersa, 56, a priest working in his field with his sons and two labourers, in Betti village, 300 metres from Gelan which is 25Km south of Addis Abeba. He lost 25kerets, and was compensated nine Birr per square metre. He claimed the government later leased it for 5,000 Br to 6,000 Br per square metre to prospective homeowners; a row of single storey private villas align on a border of his farm.
This is a new phenomenon dominating the outskirts of Addis Abeba. A rising middle class, pushed from the centre of Addis Abeba due to prohibitive land lease prices, is finding it affordable to locate plots in these areas to build residential houses. This development is also encouraged by the road links of these areas with the capital. A survey taken by the Central Statistics Agency in 2008 and 2009 showed that the population size in the Special Zone had increased by 51,373 residents, and 428 million square metre plots were incorporated into the Zone.
These plots were once the productive assets of farmers such as Lemma. He recalled harvesting between 300-400ql of teff and wheat prior to his dispossession. Now he cannot even get a 100ql from a plot he is left with. Although he had bought a motorized mill from the money he was paid as compensation, it does little in a way of returning the value of the land.
“The only thing we’re left with is our residence,” he told Fortune last week, munching shimbera(chickpeas) during his break.
He is convinced that the government is back with more appetite for land, in the guise of a master plan.
“We don’t want it because it takes our land and makes our destination unknown,” said Lemma. “We fear losing our land. We’re ready to show our disappointment with the programme; we’re ready to die in this rather than die of hunger.”
Lemma is not alone in his sense of disenfranchisement. Actually, long before he gets to experience loss of land, farmers in todays Gerji, Lebu, Bole Bulbula, Meri and Ayat were part of the 23 peasant associations in farming communities, whose members were affected by the expansion of Addis Abeba in the 1990s. Farmers in Yeka Tafo, with a population of 1,149, were part of the 6,000 households affected when the Ayat Real Estate project gave way to what is now an affluent middle and upper middle class residential complex.
Of the 231 households then, 98 were left with homes while losing their farmlands in return for modest compensation, while 27 were reported to have lost both their farmlands and homes. They were victims of the land lease policy of the government, which does not consider the interests of rural households and poor farmers surrounding the capital, said Feleke Tadele, who studied the impact of urban development on poor farmers, for his post graduate dissertation.
“Private investors are being invited to expropriate rural land occupied by peasants such as those in Yeka Tafo at the expense of dispossessed households without appropriate policy frameworks,” Feleke had warned as early as 1999. “The insecurity of land use rights has been the main causes of conflict in the area.”
Given this trend in the name of development, Feleke is only one among subsequent numbers of scholars who developed interest in studying the impact of Addis Abeba’s horizontal expansion, threatening the separate existence of its neighbouring areas. They all warned of inevitable widespread conflict as a result of farmers’ disenfranchisement.
For a resident of Burayu in his late 20s, whose name was withheld given the sensitivity of the issue, the Master Plan is nothing but an instrument for land grabbing and a threat to the preservation of his identity as an Oromo. He also questions integration aspect, perceiving it as only about integrating the surrounding towns in terms of economy.
“Why do we need the Master Plan in first place?” he asked. “It must be about integrating the surroundings of the administrative aspect, which will put us under the federal structure. If this is the case, our language will vanish because education will be given in Amharic, the federal working language.”
The professional designer with his hand in the development of the Draft Master Plan, thought it was not about administrative inclusion, but simply development. Addis has developed much further than other cities, noted the designer. Other areas should not be bystanders to that growth when they could benefit from it instead.
“Growth is happening regardless,” he told Fortune. “We’re only going to legalize what was already happening via the Integrated Regional Development Plan.”
Landholders do not agree.
For a farmer and a father of eight who lived his entire life in Legdadi, in the north-eastern outskirts of Addis, having the Master Plan implemented will pose a threat on his and his family’s very survival. He is no exception in requesting that his name be withheld, as a result of a pervasive suspicion and insecurity felt by many farmers in these areas.
He is, however, a well-to-do farmer, with a house guarded with stone fences, a warehouse and the other shelter for his cattle. He owns 18 cattle and two donkeys, a scrap of land preserved for vegetables.
“If this Master Plan was implemented, we are going to lose our land,” he said.
His views are informed by earlier evictions carried out on 135 households, with a staggering 108 of them objecting to their evictions but forced to move nonetheless. A survey conducted between July and September 2012 revealed that more than 90pc of 405 households evicted in Galan, Legetafo-Legedadi and Burayu areas “felt sad and disappointed . . . and worried much about future livelihoods.” Close to 82pc of these households had resisted evictions, according to the study.
“Responses of the households reveal that in one way or another [they] made resistance to land expropriation practices of the government,” said the study. “The remaining 18pc have either not resisted or are not interested to reflect their actions.”
Farming is the only skill these farmers have, and land the only thing they have got from their forefathers. The farmer in Legetafo believes he would have nowhere to go if evicted, and no other way to sustain or leave an inheritance for his family. The promised development, in his perception, will not help him or his neighbours – a notion reflected by Abera and his two friends, who all have tilled the land for years.
Although there are factories nearby, including a Turkish textile company, MNS, the elderly man claims that the factories do not hire permanent staff from the surrounding areas. A recent study conducted revealed that a 9.9 million square metre plot was allotted to 837 investment projects in three of the six zones of Galan-Legetafo-Legedadi and Burayu – of which 46pc is for manufacturing and industries.
In fact, of the 405 dispossessed farmers in these three areas and surveyed in 2012, 84pc said they were not able to get a job with these industries and businesses, which moved into their areas, despite their interest. And nearly 47pc identified lack of skill and poor education as major barriers to their employment. The same survey found out that 52pc of the respondents is illiterate, while only five per cent have college education.
In Sebeta only, close to 710ha of land was taken away from nearly 550 farmers in the four years beginning in 2006. Half this number were evicted in 2008/09 according to an undergraduate study in 2011. A total of close to 40 million Br was paid to these farmers as a form of compensation averaging close to 73,00 Br per household. This displaced farmers in Sebeta, another zone with large numbers of manufacturing plants present, are also unable to find employment in them.
“Although high numbers of industries located and operated in the area, they did not absorb local communities by creating employment opportunities,” another survey by Dejene Negussie reported.
In 2011, Dejene completed his postgraduate dissertation on “Rapid Urban Expansion and its Implications on Livelihood of Farming Communities in Peri-Urban Areaa,” for the Addis Abeba University’s College of Development Studies.
“Local people lack the skill and education required by these industries,” Dejene discovered. “Most industries operated in the area [Sebeta] employed human resource from other areas and most of them come from Addis Abeba.”
But not everyone in these areas is against the Master Plan and its desire to integrate them. Although many in this category are landless and mainly engaged in trading, one of Lemma’s sons, Tefera, who has completed Grade 12, wants to see the programme implemented. Unemployed, he is hopeful that the Plan comes with better infrastructural development and an improved administrative system.
Others residents who do not depend on farming expressed similar views. A trader in the town of Legetafo, who requested anonymity, believes the Master Plan has its own merit. He sees a solution for what he said is the highly developed corruption and maladministration.
“To get any service, we have to pay [bribes],” he told Fortune.
The dissatisfaction equally shared both by those who support and oppose the Master Plan is occurring in a context where frustrations due to unemployment, maladministration, corruption, as well as inadequate infrastructure are being experienced.
“Compared to other regional states such as Amhara and Tigray, maladministration is the worst in Oromia,” claimed an Ethics & Civics Education Teacher working at a high school. But he sees pressing anxiety due to fear of loss of land.
Others expressed similar views.
“I’ have customers who are mostly young unemployed university graduates,” an owner of a pool parlor told Fortune. “Finding themselves in such a life cycle is a frustration for them. In the midst of all this, the Master Plan came and threatened their only hope of inheriting land from their parents.”
For a man who owns a small and micro enterprise near Gefersa, “it is these students who are reflecting the concerns, so far.”
“We’ve not yet raised ours,” he told Fortune.
He has recently acquired a 100sqm plot, nearby Lake Gefersa, from a farmer for 100,000 Br. It has become a common practice for people to migrate from the capital in search of lower prices for plots, to build their residences and business outlets. The push from the capital and the demand for plots has created an army of brokers who go around the farming communities with sales pitches that it is a matter of time before the farmers are evicted forcefully in the process of the integration programme, for compensation which averages 15 Br a square metre. Farmers would rather transfer land on their free will to an individual for higher prices, brokers say.
Way before the words Master Plan surfaced in these communities, 200sqm of farmland with no physical assets on it would have gone for a price of 70,000 Br; this has now plummeted to 40,000 Br, according to a broker who has been in the business of deals with plots in Burayu, with his three partners.
The brokers saw some of the farmers spend the money they get from transfers of land user rights in buying tricycle motors a.k.a. Bajajes, while others paid for the construction of houses for their children. There are also those who spend a significant portion of the proceeds on consumption goods and end up working as security personnel in factories around Tatek, an area in Burayu, 15Km west of Addis Abeba, with 150,000 residents.
An army training ground during the military regime, Tatek is a lush field now, dedicated to the Burayu Special Industry Zone, a.k.a. Desta Sefer. It is mainly occupied by solar panel factories and transformer assembly plants owned by Metal Engineering Corporation (MetEC), and some private ones.
Many of his and partners’ customers come from Merkato, such as one who had paid 135,000 Br for a 160sqm plot located in Kela, a small rural kebele in Gefersa area. The broker and his partners have each earned 4,000 Br from this deal.
“It’s enough to meet our basic needs,” he told Fortune. “But, it’s those who work in the land administration offices or bureaus who get more.”