Homeless at home – An Ethiopian story. by Yilma Bekele
That is not the worst that has happened to my beloved cousin but that is good enough point to start this tragic saga. I know you are the perfect people I can share this sad story with. I can picture you my dear Ethiopian cousins, upon reading the headline you will bow your head a little, tilt it to the left suck on your lips and make that peculiar hissing sound. Knowing that to be the extent of your sorrow and rage I am both touched and grateful.
My cousin is in deep shock. His once big and vibrant household has dwindled to a few young ones with no place to go. The once bigger than life, articulate, graceful head of the family now walks with his head down avoiding eye contact. His wife the most beautiful, generous, vibrant lady God has created has become a sickly woman that spends her days crying and praying. Their children left a long time ago.
Where the children went is another story to be told all by it self. I am not going to burden you with more sad tales. Let us just say no one left that Home in what is considered the proper way…..something like getting married, buying his or her own house or higher education. No, they all left in a hurry. No one was given a proper sendoff. They were dispersed into the four corners of the world. They have become what is known as the ‘Diaspora’ to use a modern phrase to describe those that left out of despair, been pushed out, nudged, escaped or encouraged to ‘leave’ while still alive.
Well because I write from America you are probably thinking that my cousin’s tragedy is a local event. You might think he probably got into drugs, became an alcoholic, was addicted to gambling or he was the victim of the economy or pure random bad luck. I don’t blame you. That does happen. I have seen many lives being ruined like that. I am afraid that is not the situation here.
My cousin became homeless in his own country. He was not a drug user, an alcoholic or a gambler nor did he lose his job. Did I tell you my cousin is a medical doctor? Yes, he is a highly educated, caring and productive member of society if that means anything these days.
He came from a good family. His grand father accompanied Emperor Minilk to the battle of Maichew in Northern Ethiopia. His father, my uncle never got tired of telling us the bravery of our ancestors. When ever we complained his response was to bring out the story of his father marching north walking bare feet, shield and spear as weapon and no food ration but resolved to defend what is his. We used to look at each other and snicker. Upon his return, King Minilk awarded him land to build on. Great uncle settled down and my cousin, the new homeless is his first child. He was the pride of the family. He never disappointed the clan. He lived up to expectations.
He acquired scholarship to a foreign land and returned back educated, handsome and a credit to his country. You should have seen the pride in my uncle’s and his mothers face when they saw their son wearing his clean snow-white jacket with a stethoscope hanging around his neck. They died happy. Their job was done.
My cousin inherited the house he was born in and started a family of his own. I am blessed with two nephews that I keep in touch with sporadically. They are the ones that left their home in the middle of the night. One traveled north to Sudan and now lives in Europe. The girl was accompanied south to Kenya and now lives in New Zealand. That sounds far. That was the day their mother died. Not physical death, but such agony that could only be understood by those that have children of their own.
My cousin and his wife settled to a life of getting old in an empty house. Migrating was not their style. They just wanted to die quietly in their own home. Well, they were resigned to it until now.
They are going to be homeless. The Ethiopian government is going to displace them from their home. The UNHCR will refer to them as “Internally Displaced Persons.” According to the UN the definition consists of two elements. 1) Coercive or otherwise involuntary character of movement 2) Such movement takes place within national borders. They fit both descriptions.
Even during the wholesale Nationalization without compensation crimes of the Mengistu era their house was spared. It was their castle. Their own liberated free zone. The Meles regime first demanded over $20,000 Bir to upgrade the Title and blueprint. They were forced to borrow to pay this arbitrary figure. There was no place to appeal. That was a few years back.
Today, as you read this my poor cousin was presented a bill for $350,000.00 Bir the price of the new lease. Ato Meles and his politburo have decided that amount to be the price of the land his house is sitting on. They have given him the choice to pay it or vacate. How these two retired elders will be able to come up with such outrageous amount of money apparently is not their concern.
The Mayor of Addis Corporal Kuma Demeksa and State Minster Mokria Haile were sent out to explain this new concept of leasing your own freaking property. The two TPLF errand boys have been trying to convince the people of Addis how this new Government sanctioned robbery is good for them. They have been wrecking their brains to convince the public to show enthusiasm while being raped by the TPLF mafia.
What gives the Government the authority to confiscate private property at will is a good question. The simple answer is it is legal. The laws of the land states so. Mengistu started the ball rolling when he was converted to Socialism and made taking what is not yours seem so natural. Ato Meles built on that foundation and added his TPLF’s Home grown enhancements. Callous regard for fellow human is the corner stone. He foresaw the possibility and made sure that the Judiciary he created would not one day mess with his plans. That is why the law prohibited the judiciary from looking into land issues. One can go to court to complain regarding the compensation amount but the Court does not have the authority to rule regarding ownership of land. The Law is clear on that. All land belongs to the Ethiopian Government. The TPLF Party runs the Government. Ato Meles is the de facto owner of the TPLF Party. You can fight all you want on what is on top but the bottom belongs to Ato Meles and his people. You Sir/Madam is subject to evection without notice. There is no appeal process, what Meles and his Party say is the law. No need to split hair, this is a fact.
Hold a minute, how about the Parliament you might ask? That has been taken care of. Kinijit almost rocked this important leg of ‘Revolutionary Democracy’ in 2005. Today it is working like a well-oiled machine. In fact it is ready to handle most situations without overt supervision. Ato Meles is in control of the Judiciary, the parliament and the Executive. He is three rolled in one!
The new Proclamation Land Lease Law 721/2004 is what gives Meles and TPLF Politburo the deeds to all land in Addis Ababa. How it came to be Law is a beautiful story all by itself showing us the workings of a Revolutionary Democracy up close. The Ethiopian Parliament returned from summer break and the President of the country gave a lavish dinner to members to welcome them from their vacation. While the exotic food was being served and liquor flowing like the Nile TPLF cadres were seen distributing the new proposal regarding land. The members were urged to study the brief.
They studied it overnight and the following day’s session of Parliament passed the Law with minimum fanfare. The people of Addis Abeba including my cousin were made home less by Parliamentarians that have not recovered from their hangover. Fifteen hours is the time it took our esteemed Parliamentarians to decide on such an important matter. That is Ethiopia in a nutshell.
I have been trying to come up with rational reasons why Ato Meles will risk getting the population angry at his Party. He has no choice. Running a criminal organization like the Ethiopian Government is a very expensive venture. Everybody has a handout. Most survive by corruption. The party needs money like a drug addict needs his fix.
We just have a very short memory. If you look back you will find so many instances where the search for more money has shown us the dark side of TPLF. To site a few: 1) switching lead and gold in the national Bank. 2) The disappearance of Coffee 3) the sale of part of Gondar to Sudan 3) the ‘Orphan’ adoption scam that generates millions 4) the maid trade to the Middle East 5) Lease of fertile and virgin land to foreigners. So on.
Regarding the new proclamation about Addis and other cities, according to Ato Israel Tesfaye a bureau chief in the Ministry of land Development and Administration the TPLF regime is free to give the land as gift, hold a lottery, ask for bids and lease the land they way it sees fit. You see my poor cousin’s land is in a desirable neighborhood. It became a curse.
The people of Addis were not consulted. The so-called ‘independent’ Kilils or Bantustans were not part of this discussion. The errand boys no matter how hard they tried they could not make the medicine go down easy. No one can explain how your own government can make you homeless in your own land. It is sort of surreal when you are told the house you father inherited from his father and you inherited from him is still not paid for. In fact today in fast growing Ethiopia you cannot afford your own house.
The regime got a few buyers in mind. The first in line is the dear Diaspora. They are the gullible that will pay real cash for stolen property. The local cannot afford any of that. Out of eighty million Ethiopians Seventy million cannot afford this insanity. Be it greed, ignorance or low self esteem those that left the country to make their life better are now destroying the life of those that stayed behind.
The abuse has become so much and frequent that we are completely desensitized to all kinds of atrocities. We feed the monster but we complain about it. We buy stolen property but when he sells it to the highest bidder we complain. Instead of building and strengthening our Associations and Civic Organizations, Churches, Mosques we break them apart and complain about the lack of unity. We make decisions based on Zer and Gosa, marriage, kinship, friendship and other trivia exposing our lack of convictions and stiff spine and we still complain and deny our role in this tragedy.
Hey the view that the sun revolves around the earth is just an alternative theory, right? You can add that selling land, selling people and selling country will bring peace and prosperity to that.