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The City of Addis Ababa concluded celebrations of its 125th founding anniversary last week, Saturday, November 24th . It seems however that the city was missing its essential ingredient that it was founded on and whose Amharic name directly translating to “new flower” alludes to according to some residents, with a particular mention made to the city’s housing problems.
A discussion was held between city officials, scholars, and representatives from the various districts within the city, at Harmony Hotel on November 22nd. The meeting was chaired by Addis Ababa city General Manager, Getachew Ambaye and organized by the Addis Ababa 125th Anniversary Program Coordination Desk, and WAFA Promotions. It began with a PowerPoint description of the city’s evolution during its 125 years existence, from the beginning when emperor Menelik II and his powerful wife Itege Taitu founded the city in February 1887, choosing the site because of its abundant water resources and highland position ostensibly to protect against invaders.
The presentation revealed that Addis Ababa’s population which stood at 1.8 million by 1991 has grown dramatically over the last two decades to reach more than three million residents, with most people living in old, dilapidated, unplanned structures, lacking in basic infrastructure, about 35 percent of the housing alone is estimated to be on illegal settlements, with the city’s housing needs standing at more than 350,000 houses currently.
One interesting fact about illegal settlements is that they were virtually non-existent until the mid-1980s. Under the reign of the late emperor Haileselassie I who ruled until 1974, 85 percent of the city’s land was owned by the nobility and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewadho Church and its clergy, despite the fact that they made up less than 5 percent of the city’s population. However the imperial era also saw progressive legislative changes with regard to housing and land ownership, with the 1960 civil code, declaring a property registration and protection regime; although the concept had been there since the time of the city’s founding father Menelik II.
According to the presentation illegal settlements were minuscule for about a decade after Haileselassie’s downfall, because of the military’s severe law enforcement and the effects of the red terror of the time.
The mid 1980s, saw legislation of a proclamation on housing ownership certificate regime, with an accompanying construction on a small amount of kebele houses by the government and private owners as well as the construction of 12,239 houses by social associations with the help of the Ethiopian government and the World Bank, with the scheme continuing until the latter part of the 1990s.
However according to research, in the early 1990s, just before and just after the end of the military junta, there was a rise in illegal construction with more than 60,000 housing units being built.
The post 1991 period witnessed a better provision of housing units with strong growth shown in the late 1990s and post 2008, with the particular focus on condominium housing. There have been more than 87,000 housing units transferred and more than 97,000 housing units under construction.
Nevertheless the presentation’s findings, based on a small sample, showed about 95 percent of respondents were happy or somewhat content with the condo constructions. However, the condominiums were not shown to appear much appreciated by some of the residents of the housing units who participated in the discussion.
Some complained about shoddy infrastructure, their distance from city centers, nepotism and other abuses in allocation of housing units, impractical affirmative action for low income populations, as well as what they said were social and economic dislocations which were the direct result of people moving to the condominiums after their previous homes and communities were demolished.
Officials present at the meeting admitted some of the above mentioned problems, even mentioning some of the problems in their own presentations. The many problems include the poor quality of construction materials and the resulting houses, the lack of planning in construction, the delays in delivery of projects, the participation of low capacity contractors, and their failure to follow up on their activities, a lack of education on how to live in condominium housing, and the lack of participation from the private sector.
Particular mention was made with regard to what were said to be the contrasting fortunes of those who were displaced for the construction of the Sheraton Hotel and Bole Dembel City Center. It was held up as a positive example, with social and economic cohesion said to have been kept intact. Meanwhile at the other end those displaced for the ring road project with only 12 months of compensatory rent fees amounting to 1200 birr, while those who had trade houses in their previous plots were left with no compensation at all.
Other problems raised by participants at the day long discussion was what they said were the city’s worsening transportation problem, and the numerous road projects which have wreaked havoc on the city’s population, Addis’s serious sanitation problems, and the seemingly stagnant status of those who collect rubbish as part of an enterprise, in contrast to those of the cobble stone workers who are said to have become affluent because of their job.
Addis Ababa was named one of the dirtiest places on earth by Forbes Magazine in 2008 ranking 6th out of 25 world cities surveyed.
The city lies on about 540 square kilometers of land, with about nine percent of a family’s average median income going to transportation costs, underscoring the city’s perennial transportation problem.