Addis on the way to renovation

Anyone who comes to Addis today could be completely taken aback by the magnitude of redevelopment of the city that is going on in various quarters especially around the central areas. Looking at how much demolition of streets, houses, businesses and pavements and how many trees have been uprooted, one would just be amazed and even bewildered where it begins and where it might end. In the past, we have seen certain quarters being partially demolished, some roads enlarged or expanded, drainage passages newly built or extended, fences built along certain streets and large green areas developed with large pavements ideal for walking with seats fixed on the sidewalks. But we have never seen an entire neighborhood completely demolished and all the residents redeployed to other localities, so many roadside houses demolished.

To cite just one instance, the old and congested neighborhood around Piassa, commonly known as ‘Doro Manekia’, has been completely demolished to leave way for a new face. It was so densely populated with houses constructed one next to the other, with very narrow streets inside and hardly any sanitation facilities, few will miss it. Given its vicinity to one of the most central and convenient trading areas of the city, people of low-income circles used to go out of that neighborhood and easily engage in informal trading which is of course one of the typical characteristics of the Addis Ababa, a city that is reputed of being ‘the shelter of so many low-income people’, even in the midst of so much abundance and wealth.

Addis is reputed of accommodating every sector of society because somehow people manage to earn their daily bread by peddling something on the streets and put some food on the table for their children.

Many people had thought that the redevelopment activity would be limited to the environs of the newly inaugurated Adwa Victory Memorial. Already there were rumors that the entire area around the memorial would be redeveloped to match the beauty and importance of the center of the city where it was first founded. However, soon the redevelopment scheme was seen extending in all directions from the city center and the houses and shops that were built very near to the sidewalks of the city streets were marked to be removed.

According to the Addis Ababa City council, all the old and out of plan houses, all illegal constructions are to be contained in the redevelopment scheme because they are not worthy of existence in a city such as Addis. The council has repeatedly asserted that it would compensate all those who are legitimate owners of the houses and hand them a new life in front of them. Plots of land and flats in condominiums are availed according to the city council.

Among the demolished houses are notably those in the famous quarter of jewelry around the old Piassa not deemed to be up to the new plan and face of the city. The city council believes that the shops are not up to the newly upgraded standard of the neighborhood of Piassa which needs to be redeveloped and reshaped.

The city authorities have also said that the city’s redevelopment was already declared officially five years ago and looking at it as a surprise now is erroneous and misleading. They said there have been countless meetings with the inhabitants of the areas that were to be affected and extended discussions were undertaken. There were no surprises. The city council says the residents affected all knew well in advance and the plan began to be executed according to the priorities of the project.

Hence, the complaints heard here and there on the part of certain inhabitants are, according to the city council, unacceptable and impractical. The council will go ahead with the project and as it has done with other projects, it will complete it within the time span that is fixed. Any inconvenience to the traffic congestion and the movements in the city should hence be understood and patiently tolerated until the city continues to change its face, becoming a modern city well suited to conduct a healthy life.

In the meantime, residents are heard wondering and anxious which other neighborhoods will now be the next under this vast redevelopment. It is known that Addis has so many neighborhoods full of congested houses and scarce inner roads. Many of them accommodate many residents who rely on their small businesses with small shops, cafes and kiosks. The idea of moving away from those quarters is for them a challenge because they are not obliged to begin from scratch in their activities.

The city council has given several explanations on how things have been planned and that the residents that would be relocated to other areas. It as well has made it clear that the people will receive substitute and adequate houses and places where they can conduct their businesses. The intention is to make Addis commensurate to its name and fame and not leave it with so many illegal and informal settlements and businesses with little hope of expansion. The challenge for many inhabitants is however how to embark on a new life in a new neighborhood. They say they leave behind all their social bonds and they feel a bit uprooted.

They argue that being distant from their usual clients, and bringing new customers would be a challenge. All their social life and habits will be gone. In the new quarter, they would have to reinvent a new life and new social interactions. However, we remember when Sheraton Addis was built, a whole neighborhood had to be demolished and those who used to live there were relocated in a new neighborhood around what is called CMC St Michael and Kotebe areas where they were given new houses. Eventually they were satisfied with the new arrangement because now they got enough space to live in rather than the congested neighborhoods where they used to have.

The majority of the houses in the neighborhoods which have been demolished especially around Piassa do not have any sanitary services nor sewerage for the waste. Residents lived in poor conditions. In fact, many say these demolitions are long overdue because it is impossible to live under similar conditions right in the center of the ‘capital of Africa’.

While renovating the city may be well taken by the majority of the residents of Addis who see a new future for their city, the key issue however is raised by those directly affected in terms of relocation and the potential loss of their daily earnings for their livelihood. This is particularly true for those who are not formally employed and scrap a living from informal trade. Among the relocated are families with children who by leaving their old neighborhoods have to go far away. The municipality has reiterated that it has made things clear with a series of discussions held with these families indicating them of how to go about to face their new life. The city authority has said that all these renovation schemes and the so-called Corridor Development would be over in about six months and the major activities would be over in a couple of months. Most of the spaces liberated would be used to enlarge the roads, plant flowers, grass and trees and make the city deserve the name it has: Addis Ababa or new flower.

The city authorities insist that the plan was meticulously prepared and designed and it was not a sudden decision as many may think. They say they have taken time to do it and all roads that have been affected are to be replaced by alternative roads. But, with the increasing number of the population and above all vehicles, traffic is very much congested and movement in the city is bound to be affected. People are forced to spend a lot of time on the streets trapped in the traffic until the project is completed.

In the meantime, certain utilities such as electricity, water and telecom services may be affected and the council has said that it is doing all it can to limit the inconveniences. However, as Addis tries to join the family of well developed and managed cities, these redevelopment schemes become mandatory. The old houses that have been built across the years without any proper planning and any permits must be rid of and replaced. Certain roads and byroads need to be upgraded and risks for clients reduced. It should hence be appreciated that change was inevitable to readjust the city to the new tangible reality of modern life.



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