Urbanization is the future. According to estimations by the United Nations, by the year 2050 around 68% of the world’s population will live in Urban settings. As of 2018 - which was when the above report was issued - about 55% of the world’s population lived in urban settings. According to the same report, most of the urbanization - namely over 90% is expected to occur in Asia and Africa.
Even though country specific assessments are lacking on exactly how much of the country’s citizens live in urban settings - predominantly because the country hasn’t had a national census since 2007 - it is clear that the urban space is growing, especially in Addis Ababa. According to Population Stat, about 4.8 million people live in Addis Ababa’s urban areas while 2.7 million live in the city area. Urban areas represent the city and its surrounding parts while the city area is considered as the main part of the city. The organization estimates that by 2035 this figure will rise to 8.7 million, almost double the current population.
However, claiming that the city has not adequately utilized the natural resources within it, Prime Minister Abiy’s Beautifying Sheger project was introduced in February, 2019. The three year project is intended to run along the rivers of Addis Ababa, developing green spaces starting from Entoto to Akaki as well as increase the green coverage of the city from 0.3 sq meters per capita to 7 square meters per capita.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the objectives of the beautification project are three fold. The first one is elevating Addis Ababa to a site of urban tourism through the rehabilitation of its historic rivers and river bank. The second objective is identified as enhancing the wellbeing of city dwellers by mitigating river flooding and through the creation of public spaces such as parks and other green areas. Finally, the third objective of the Beautifying Sheger project is enabling the country’s aspirations of nurturing a green economy through the growth of green spaces and related service economies in such spaces.
Since its introduction, several projects have already commenced and some of them have been concluded already. The experience was very productive in that it is now expanding to other parts of the country in the Amhara, SNNPR and Oromia regions and through the Dine for the Nation initiative that intends to fund projects in the Gorgora, Koysha and Wenchi areas of the country.
In Addis Ababa, some of the notable completed projects include the Unity Park (which also opened the national palace to the public for the first time in the city’s modern history), the Ambassador Park (which was a restoration project that renovated the one of the few existing Ethiopian parks), the Wedajinet Park (commonly known as the Sheger park and is located near Sheraton Addis Hotel) and the recently inaugurated Entoto Park (which was completed in only one years time). Upon the inauguration of the Entoto park on October 10, 2020, already existing criticisms over several aspects of the project have re-emerged. In light of this, Addis Zeybe has dedicated this week’s editorial reflecting on the arguments for and against the Beautifying Sheger project.
The necessity of the park can be answered from two perspectives. The first one - which should not take too much space to demonstrate - is the general necessity of the park. In other words this is a question that asks if the city and its residents need such initiatives at all. The response to this question is quite straight forward. Yes.
The first justification is the city’s sanitary records. One of the world’s dirtiest cities is a deserved title that is associated with one of the most important cities in Africa. The capital of the country as well as the continent has consistently ranked as one the world’s dirtiest cities in several lists done throughout the years. Sanitary issues are compounded by a very challenging culture of disposing of personal, household and commercial waste, Addis Ababa desperately needed a project that would correct its old ways and make it a fitting capital to a historic nation like Ethiopia.
Another justification - if at all necessary - is the dire need of the residents of the city as well as the millions of visitors that come to Ethiopia for professional and personal reasons for public spaces such as the ones’ being built by the current project. Prior to this, the city barely had parks. It did have several parks operating. But they were not enough and were not well kept. In addition to this obvious gap, the parks are expected to create jobs at construction, operation and maintenance levels. Areas that were once idle can now be enjoyed by the residents of the city. In the interest of addressing bigger policy issues in the current editorial let us move to the second layer of the necessity question which is more nuanced and deserved.
This second perspective behind the question of necessity is related to the contemporary socio-economic and political circumstances of the country and the timing of such a project. Many of the most vocal critics of the project raise this issue as their major concern when it comes to the beautification project. This argument states that considering the current political, economic, social and existential questions of the country which are exacerbated by global and contextual public health and humanitarian crises should take priority over such a project. This is a fair argument. Images of the carnival like inauguration of the Entoto Park that came just days after another ethnic based attack that claimed the lives of dozens in the Benishangul Regional State, do raise such questions.
Addis Zeybe echoes the above premise, but not the conclusion. This is to mean that even though the above argument rightfully presupposes the necessity of peace and security for the sustainability of development in the country. This is a valid point that Addis Zeybe would like to echo because in order for projects to have lasting effects for the benefit of citizens, peace is a mandatory prerequisite.
However, the conclusion following the above premise should not be directed at the Beautify Sheger project or the parks that came out of its implementation thus far. This is because the question of priority is not as simple when it comes to the government. Take funding for instance. While there may be a long line of donors that are willing to fund the Beautifying Sheger project, there may be a few international and non-governmental organizations that are willing to support the government to mitigate the problem of locust invasion or the covid19 pandemic in the country. In these circumstances, the government may rightfully design and implement developmental projects amid political and social crises in the country. This is not merely about funding. Other factors are also in play.
In short what Addis Zeybe is trying to say is that the responsibility of the government to address security issues and humanitarian crises and projects such as this one should not be mutually exclusive. A government’s approach should be holistic. It should put out fires whenever they arise, effectively too. But, it should also work on long term projects that define political, social and economic realities of the country in the future.
According to several studies by 2070 - which is only half a century away - due to increases in temperature caused by climate change, the production of Teff could be impossible in Ethiopia by 2070. That means no injera in 50 years, or at least very expensive injera by that time. Addis Zeybe believes this is a very contextual and efficient demonstration to showcase the importance of initiatives geared at sustaining green development to Ethiopians.
If this is very futuristic and current climate change effects are necessary, the desert locust infestation in several regions of the country is also another example. Not only does the desert locust infestations show the severity of climate change, but also the necessity of global cooperation to avoid it. Addis Zeybe says this because the plague started in Yemen and travelled to the Greater Horn and East African region as well as the Southeast Asia region depicting the global nature of the problem.
Addis Zeybe believes Ethiopia has adopted strong initiatives to guarantee it would have meaningful contributions to the global efforts to curb climate change and mutual demise. The green legacy project, the Dine for the Nation initiative and the initiative under discussion in the current editorial are good examples of this. This has earned Ethiopia as a country and P.M Abiy Ahmed as a head of state recognition from national, regional and international entities working on issues related to climate change and sustainable green development.
Not a question of Priority, But of a holistic assessment
Here is where Addis Zeybe’s constructive criticism to the government comes in. It is a habit in Ethiopia for governments to justify gaps in one realm of administration by victories in unrelated thematic areas. In conjunction with this, there is also a tendency to do this by according disproportional publicity to victories while when it comes to challenges or shortcomings of the administration the governments and its media outlets are quiet. This has proven to be counterproductive from regime to regime leading to a decline in public support and trust.
Let us demonstrate this. In a speech given by the Deputy Mayor of Addis Ababa during the inauguration of the Entoto park less than a week ago, the mayor addressed “certain entities that claim there will be no government after October 6” in explaining the important symbol of victory the park represents. She said the government continues to record important wins for the country despite these “forces”. Addis Zeybe believes this is a fitting example for the point of discussion in the current sub section.
Yes, the inauguration of the park is a victory. However, as much as that is true, it is also true that the current constitutional crises in the country - of which the tensions between the Federal government and the Tigray Regional State is a very visible depiction - is a major fail for the current administration. It is for this reason that Addis Zeybe believes the statement from the deputy mayor was not a correct one to make. Even though the inauguration of the park and the situation vis a vis Tigray are two unrelated realms of administration, if Addis Zeybe was to compare the two, the inauguration of the park is a very small victory compared to the potential threat of civil war with the northern regional state.
Thus, this should be corrected so as to preserve the national public support for such projects that in their own are tremendous victories. This is not to insinuate that the government is not doing anything other than the parks under discussion. This juncture takes us to the second and correlated point in this subsection. This is the publicity accorded to these projects vis a vis the coverage (informative and genuine) given to problems in the country such as the one discussed above. Yes, it is good to do documentaries with the voice over of the prime minister over it about Unity Park. But it is also important to inform the public as much about other real challenges of the country. Addis Zeybe believes this is the responsibility of the government as well as being key for public opinion over the projects.
In conclusion, while Addis Zeybe in line with its strong commitment to the proper urbanization of cities believes Addis Ababa desperately needs such projects, it also echoes the need to address concrete and deep rooted problems within the country. The government must genuinely work to address growing security concerns and humanitarian crises in the country. It must also proportionally inform the public of victories such as the current project as well as the above discussed problems in the country, whenever circumstances allow for such information to be disseminated. Otherwise, such projects will be misunderstood and wrongfully criticized by the public as well as being used for propaganda purposes by its critics.