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

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