Right to shelter violation by the Ethiopian government – by Miriam Cheru

February 23rd, 2010 Print Print Email Email

Apartheid style forced removal and marginalization of the people is now a daily occurrence in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in direct contravention of the human rights of the residents. (more…)

Apartheid style forced removal and marginalization of the people is now a daily occurrence in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in direct contravention of the human rights of the residents. Recent victims of the forced removals have been residents of the Lideta area, Kazanchis etc. Others living around Mexico, Senga Tera, Teklehaimanot etc. are awaiting their fate. These places have been declared suitable for business and thus close to 100, 000 families have to be removed from these areas. Some state these areas were particularly targeted because the residents of the area notoriously voted for the opposition during the 2005 elections. These lands are developers dream since they are located in the center of Addis Abeba and thus would fetch millions to the “land owners” which in this case happens to be the government. This is done in the name of slum clearance but does not prevent the government to demolish even houses and neighborhoods that do not fall in the category of slums.

The current land law conveniently gives total ownership of all land in Ethiopia to the government giving property owners only the right to ownership of the building standing on the land. This is in total disregard to the fact that many owners that acquired their lands during the regime of Emperor Haile-Selassie had paid a substantial amount of money for the land on which they had built their property. A repeated violation of land and property rights by subsequent regimes has effectively rendered most of them homeless with no legal title to land. The government sells the land to the highest bidder amongst the land grabbers with no return to the poor man in the street and no questions asked by citizens. Government is selling land through corrupt auction system and the proceeds are used to cover its recurrent city administration costs. A square meter land around Bole area was reportedly auctioned for 6000 Birr. The so called investors have obviously an unfair advantage over the poor residents of the area because not only they can afford to pay for the land but also they can build according to the requirements imposed by the government as well having access to substantial sums through bank loans. The government in power has created oligopolies with very few individuals controlling the wealth of the country which is similar to Apartheid type policy in South Africa. It is to be recalled that South Africa went into turmoil of forced displacement of non-whites residents in Sophiatown in 1955, and the famous District 6 in the 1970s. The areas were identified as suitable for White settlement. Residents were thus forced out of their home and forced to board trucks with their belongings. They were damped far from the city on empty fields or relocated to the notorious Cape Flats township complex. Their houses were demolished by bulldozers. Only places of worship remained standing. The rest as one might conclude is history…

Unlike the colonial cities of Africa, Addis Abeba was built by Ethiopians: Italians had very little contribution to its creation and growth. Though TPLF scholars refer to it as a garrison town of Menelik, the poor and the rich lived together. Life in Addis Abeba is entirely driven by a strong local community life through “Eders”: community funeral associations; “Equbs” rotating credit unions where members contribute a fixed amount of money to a central fund on a monthly basis; “Mahbers”: mostly religious based associations, “Arata Abedari”: the local loan sharks etc. This is because successive governments in Ethiopia have never provided any such support to the public. It is rather a belief that tax money is collected for purely the benefit of the ones in power since public servants’ salary is largely financed by aid money. Instead, citizens have always and particularly at present made ends meet by constantly self-sustaining themselves by providing food, shelter, education, healthcare etc. and overcoming the growing greed of the government. The eradication of these neighborhoods has a negative impact on the community at large, effectively destroying these established community services and self-help centers and the poor overtly and covertly being moved.

In South Africa, international pressure did not allow development of some of the lands that were forcefully grabbed from original owners. We must repeat history in Ethiopia by opposing the forced removal of the destitute, old and helpless individuals in Ethiopia by bringing these actions to the attention of the international community and human rights groups. We must mobilize the community to halt investment and redevelopment in the Lideta and surrounding areas. TPLF is selling land that it never owned to begin with. City dwellers must ideally use the voting opportunity to evict TPLF from power.

Newly built blocks of flats planned to house victims of forced removals

The housing census of 2004 showed a shortfall of houses in Addis Ababa and yet the intention of the government does not seem to address the shortage. On the contrary this recent development has increased the number of the homeless in the city and contributed largely to serious overcrowding. The later are mostly recent victims of the forced removals as well as migrant job seekers who moved to Addis Abeba hoping to benefit from the construction boom.

Addis Abeba city officials obviously believe that their program around these removals is justified and planned very well. The construction of hundreds low cost 4-story flats (condominiums) in the periphery of the city is underway. These housing units are built in the name of the poor but actually sold to TPLF supporters through corruption. Indeed first preference for the “distribution” of these houses was supposedly given to those affected by the removal, it appears in fact that most of the housing units were sold for cash to property brokers, housing rental agencies or those seeking additional housing units. This is due to several reasons the most obvious one being corruption and the other simply being that these housing units are unaffordable by those affected by the forced removals. The reason is because house owners in the affected areas were only compensated an amount equivalent to the cost of the material used to build the houses. This amounts to peanuts since houses in these areas are traditionally built with low cost material (mud, wood and corrugated iron). The tragedy for most of these residents is not only the loss of ownership to their land and home but also the loss of their means of survival as they derive their income from either running a small business from their premises or by renting out some part of their dwellings. Those renting government houses get no compensation at all.

These are usually poor families surviving owing to the charity of their community. Thus let alone having the money to pay for these new housing units they are uncertain about their next meal. They consequently make up the growing number of the homeless. Also this process has worsened over-crowding, those forcefully removed moving in with their relatives, making the existing small living area even smaller. These newly build blocks of flats are slums in the making as the buildings are in a bad state, with very little space that is unsuitable as may be for large and extended families, poor building material, not enough water etc. This in our opinion defeats the whole purpose of the government program.

The development of Addis Abeba has mostly been informal with no proper city planning for over a century. The government current program for the renewal of the city sounds like eating an elephant in one go rather than attacking it in bits and pieces as common wisdom would suggest. Other developing countries were faced with similar problems e.g. Vietnam, Brazil, Nigeria, Angola, etc. However these countries took the plight of the poor slum dwellers very seriously and did not attempt to resettle them at all. They instead opted for creating totally new city centers and new settlements in order to phase out the transition without causing too much instability and conflicts. Why can’t the Ethiopian administration learn from these wise leaders? This of course makes one reflect of why should the inhabitants of Addis Abeba and indeed all cities dwellers must NOT vote for EPDRF. The people must actually protest by voting for Medrek!!!

Newly built blocks of flats planned to house victims of
forced removals

  1. Tesfai Gebre Tsion
    | #1

    Ethiopians have no constitutional right of ownership of land. All land and airspaces are private property of EPRDF and Tigrean cliques. In other words all Ethiopians are chisegna or serf or slave to their land lords. Oromos are not owners of Oromia. Gambellas are not owners of Gambellaland. Without wonershp of land Ethiopians are slaves to their land lords who can evict and render them homeless or sell them to the Middle East or European human traffickers. This is what is going on in the country now.

    Land ownership should be a human rights issue. Every Ethiopian should be entitled to own a piece of Ethiopia with full rights to do any thing they want, sell, trade, lease, give away, etc. All superficial ommunist economic philosophy must stop immediately if Ethiopia wants to advance. EPRDF and social democratic party’s vision for Ethiopia is communitistic and no good for the people. It is good only for the rulers.

    Meles, please change you land policy. The Diaspora cannot invest ub Ethiopia under these conditions.

  2. Germa
    | #2

    Whats your point? Its build for propaganda purpose not for advancement.Its also to buy time to fulfill the dream of building the greater Tegri.

  3. Gashe
    | #3

    So you want them to live in the slum for ever? If Addis Ababa is to transform from the slum capital of Africa to the diplomatic capital of Africa, eviction of slum dwellers to a much better residence like the apartments above is paramount. The only people who are against such measures are those who want to use the slum dwellers to instigate violence like they did in 2005 or anti-development cavemen.

  4. solomon
    | #4

    these condominiums do not take the social fabric of the ethiopians into consideration. we have to prepare our own berbere,shiro,injera our food preparation like any shiro or doro wat need proper ventilation. we have to wash our clothes by hand and sun dry it, some may have maid to help in cleaning the house and keep the kids when they come from school.so how are we going to live in this modern slum?

  5. Anonymous
    | #5

    Gashe, shame I can only blame your ignorance on the poor educational policies of Meles. Let me educate you the slums of America, some part of India and Latin America are made of structures such as those Apartments.

  6. Tesfai Gebre Tsion
    | #6

    Gashe, Did you read my first sentence: Ethiopians have no constitutional rights of land? If you are still evicting (dispossessing) someone you are enslaving him/her. Those are evicted are your brothers and sisters. They are losing their ancestral land for a small apartment. I do not know how they are compensated. It is only a communist government that would nationalize the property of its citizens!

    Second point you mentioned is the very reason why we have ethno-centric and landless-citizenry policy with the communist government. You can easily win your election by threatening the peasant (85% of the population) and the poor in the concentration camp called apartment complexes by saying you would confiscate their land or apartment if they do not vote for you.

    “The only people who are against such measures are those who want to use the slum dwellers to instigate violence like they did in 2005 or anti-development cavemen”.

    Since Addis Ababa is the capital of the United States of Africa dream, well, the states or the current countries must build it up. You cannot sacrifice the poor Ethiopians for your grand vision.

    The slave peasant and the urban poor under seige can now make EPRDF, majority “democratic” government in Ethiopia like in 2005?

    Please, free Ethiopia and Ethiopians! Enough with ‘melti’politica!

  7. Tesfai Gebre Tsion
    | #7

    Germa, don’t be misled by my name. I am not from Tigrai but I wish I was. I would have fought TPLF from its inception! Please, read me again and again. I might have not made myself very clear. I believe this is the crux of the Ethiopian political debacle.

  8. Tizibt
    | #8

    Thank you for your article and the in-depth analysis of land ownership laws in Ethiopia. Around 2004-2005 when the Zimbabwe government under Mugabe removed forcefully some slum dwellers from some part of the city for development, the International Community made such a clamor on how Mugabe was evicting the poor from the shanty town dwellings and that he was mistreating his people, etc., etc. In early 2005 I saw the Meles regime undertake similar actions and the hypocritical International Community did not even utter one word about the plight of the poor Ethiopians whose homes were demolished. Frankly, I don’t think the international community are in the slightest bit concerned about the mistreatment of Ethiopians, as their primary concern is that Meles might refuse to take the billions of dollars they provide in financial aid. It appears that this is the reason for their silence. I presume that the international humanitarian organizations are also at a loss since they no longer have the ear of the international community with regard to the plight of Ethiopians.

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