Capital Ethiopia Newspaper

Controversy over land aged over half a century

In the eyes of the government legislators the new “Urban Lands Lease Holding Proclamation” published in the Federal Negarit Gazeta of the FDRE on November 28, 2011 is to create the future of the Addis land holding system. The newly introduced regulation by the Addis Ababa City Administration about the floor price for plots is a mechanism to implement that proclamation; no less, no more.
As of May 23, 2012 the newly introduced regulation has been put in to effect. As per the regulation any land auction and property transfers hereafter, fall under this jurisdiction. In the case of land transfers inheritance was seen as the exception, at least for now. But this ‘exceptionality’ ceases to serve in the span of four years because article five of the proclamation states that no one is allowed to acquire urban land other than through the lease holding system. Article 6 also presupposes the conversion of old possession into a lease holding system. But it says the details will be determined by the Council of Ministers which issued a directive to convert old possessions in to the sphere of a lease in four years time.  
This is not the first time the issue of land has been highlighted in the country’s recent history. The first was raised right after the December 1960 coup d’état that failed to dethrone Emperor Hailesellasie. At that time there was a fair amount of anger directed against the Imperial regime in both rural and urban land holding system in which a few land lords controlled the vast area of the country’s land. Considering this there was a ‘land to the tiller’ battle cry among the revolutionaries of the time.
When the military Junta overthrew the Emperor on September 12, 1974 their first act was to put that battle cry in to a reality thinking that nationalizing land will resolve the country’s problem. The February 1975 Rural Land nationalization and the July 1975 Urban land and Housing nationalization Proclamations were the result of the ‘land to the tiller’ cry, a slogan that helped put all anti feudal, secessionist and communist elements together. That was indeed a breakthrough in the country’s land holding system.
What was true was that the next day of the land reform proclamation in 1975 a large portion of the population was beneficial and the small owners were the losers. In the rural areas the tenants became the land owners while the land lords were evicted. In urban setting house rent was reduced by half to those who live in the nationalized houses. To this day the tenants remained beneficial while the owners ended as losers. Urban land was given to the people to construct their houses free of charge in that period.
This is the second time the land issue to take another ‘U’ turn act. But most people didn’t give it a wide reception this time. In fact very many are looking at the dismal future. I found all along the way,  the great silent majority are far more pessimistic comparing to the situation in the first 1975 act. Their reasoning is simple and clear: The former regime nationalized urban land 37 years ago with the full intention to redistribute it for the people who didn’t have it. The term used at that time was the expropriation of the land owned by the feudal owners. But the current proclamation and the subsequent regulation will have the opposite effect compared with the first one.
In a recent discussion about the eviction of the old land possessors under the redevelopment program and the lease policy, at one of the Arat Kilo Kebele, an old woman gave a very short and clear interpretations of the two proclamations: In the first revolution the expropriators were expropriated while in the second the poor are evicted. Meaning: the former regime nationalized the urban land and extra houses to give it to the poor. But now land is given to the new land lords who are now commonly called investors.
What makes this short assessment true is that the price set for the plots of land is just the beginning of the process. The floor price for an auction could go far higher than that. The people I spoke with were not having fixed and boring life in ideology but as far as I know they are open to new ideas. A middle income woman who had been reading papers related with floor price was disappointed by the very notion of auction. “That gives wider opportunities for people who have money. The poor will lose,” she said.
One highly paid official at the international NGO said that the new land lease proclamation they are at work and they felt good. They are inspired by the new floor price set for the plots of land. “We are saving up for the things that money can buy,” the official said.  
Taken together it seems that this one is more favorable to the small minority while the previous one served the interests of the downtrodden.
To strengthen this argument, just see one example. If one wants to retain his old possession which is located in the first level Central Market District Zone with a floor price of 1,686 birr per square meter. This itself is exorbitant.  To make matters worse this could go up to 10,000 birr or above during auction. If that is the case 50 sq meter costs 500,000 birr. Imagine what it means for the poor. Look at other floor prices: The second level is 1,535 birr per square meter, for the third 1,323 birr, the fourth takes 1,085 birr per square meter and the fifth level 894 birr. In auction all this could touch the same 10,000 birr per square meter mark.
For the rich, that is for the small minority, this is affordable. So the new regulation is pleasantly accepted by the small minority simply because they are the beneficiaries of the Urban Lands Lease Holding Proclamation.
There seems to be a general agreement across all the groups I met with. They all agree another round of land reform is inevitable any time soon.