In a satirical yet typical report by the government owned mass media outlet Fana Broadcasting Corporate made on 30 January 2021, news that the Addis Ababa City administration had passed decisions on misappropriated land and houses following what the administration called an independent investigation. According to the report, decisions to put up for tender 322 unaccounted for buildings in the city, to redistribute 21,695 illegally seized and vacant condominium houses, given to “vulnerable” members of the community illegally appropriated government houses (administered at a low cost by the Addis Ababa Housing Development Corporation), and to give unemployed youth illegally obtained government owned shops. In addition, all of these assets have been frozen until the above decisions were executed.
Like in many of Addis Zeybe’s editorials - including the one on the lack political representation for Addis Ababans - there is so much to unpack here. The following editorial will discuss some of these issues. The first issue is the apparent lack of accountability displayed by the government. While it is true that housing related corruption and injustice have been part of the city’s history in the past three decades since the fall of the military administration (the Derg) in 1991, most of which was under the administration of the TPLF led EPRDF. However, it would be utterly hypocritical to attach all the blame on the previous administration as was done by the above report and the recurrent rhetoric of the “new” administration. It is clearly documented that immense levels of land grabbing and illegal house appropriation was one of the clear legacies of the Takele Uma administration as well as the current one. Therefore, the first message Addis Zeybe would like to echo in this editorial is the need to guarantee accountability before conducting corrective measures to ensure justice.
For instance, in a report issued by the Ethiopian Citizen’s Party for Social Change, it was clearly documented that during the administration of Takele Uma countless plots of land and housing in different sub-cities of the city a few months before the former Mayor of the city was transferred to the Ministry of Mining and Petroleum and replaced by former Federal Attorney General Adanceh Abiebie. At the time apart from a social media post claiming that the decision was made to support previously harmed farmers in the surrounding parts of the city who had been harmed by unjust expropriation actions under the previous administration by the former deputy mayor, no investigation or explanation was offered by the city administration thus far. It is also true that the issue has not fully been addressed despite a more stringent approach introduced by the first female deputy mayor of Addis Ababa, Adanech Abiebie.
The point here is simply that it is imperative that noticeable decisions by the city administration must be taken against those individuals who passed decisions issuing documents and basic services to assist the land and housing appropriation mentioned in the report. Who signed the land and home ownership certificates to the above properties? Who gave the key to the 21,000 plus illegal inhabitants of the condominium houses and kebele houses? How did the 322 ownerless buildings get basic services such as electricity and water? These actions involved persons who were in a position of power. While Addis Zeybe concedes that a portion of these individuals might have been active during the previous administration, it also strongly believes that officials currently active in the City administration partook in the process as well. So the government must hold public and independent investigations into how and by who these injustices were committed as opposed to issuing vague decisions such as the one announced at the end of January.
This brings us to the second point, the lack of an institutional approach to doing things in Ethiopia as well as the capital Addis Ababa. Addis Zeybe will give two examples here. Namely the decision on condominiums and the decision on kebele houses. More often than not, the vague term “አቅመ ደካማ የማህበረሰቡ ክፍሎች” - which roughly translates to mean vulnerable members of the community - is used by state owned and private media outlets in Ethiopia. Needless to say this phrase is immensely vague aiding the Ethiopian government - both previous and past - in its promise of social inclusion and its bid to escape accountability whenever it arose. Had the city administration been in touch and connected to the residents of the city (even at kebele levels) through a system of proper documentation, the decision was not a bad one by the city administration. However, in the existence of a government structure utterly disconnected to the lower levels of the community, it is extremely naive to think the city administration has a system of identifying who is vulnerable and who is not. In one of the most traditional and obsolete city administrations in the world, the Addis Ababa city administration is not in a position to systematically identify vulnerable members of the community and redistribute kebele houses.
A similar lack of procedural clarity is observed in the case of the decision on the over 20,000 condominiums illegally obtained or vacant in the city. The tendency to make blanket statements on key decisions affecting the residents of the city is existent in this case too. Where are this houses located, who issued keys to those persons who were said to be living in the condominiums illegally, what criterions were used to say residents were illegally living in these houses, why weren’t legal owners of the houses (those refused entry at the Koye Fecha Condominium site during the current administration) restored to their legal status and other questions have not been answered by the report or the “independent study” conducted by the city administration. All these questions are still pending and must be addressed. Are these illegal homes the same homes allocated by the Takele Uma administration? How and with what criterions were the homes allocated by often controversial former deputy mayor of the city? How will the Adanech administration guarantee the equitable and justified distribution of homes in the future? All of these questions are also not addressed by the decision of the city administration.
Finally, Addis Zeybe seeks to show Ethiopian politicians one usually overlooked threat they have. While it is not certain how much of the community shares this view, Addis Zeybe seriously believes that the current studies and statements by both the ruling and opposition parties is mostly due to the upcoming elections in Addis Ababa and the rest of the country. It is vote baiting, an astoundingly obvious one. Granted, better late than never. However, the fact that this sort of promises follow the electoral calendar shows the utter lack of political will to solve the problems of housing and housing injustice in Addis Ababa. It happened in the 2005, 2010 and 2015 elections. It continues to happen. Cherry Picking housing - a priority need in the overcrowded capital of Ethiopia and Africa - as an issue of promise to get votes from the residents of the city is a thing of the past. And it's not fooling anyone. When Addis Zeybe says this it is saying it to both parties like EZEMA who did research on the issue and the city administration which has not shown any clear indication of wanting to really solve the issue.
Therefore, Addis Zeybe calls for genuine and transparent investigation to be conducted against the government officials who participated and benefited in the appropriation of land and housing in Addis Ababa both under the current and previous administrations. Second, the city administration must take clear steps to erect procedural rules and a transparent working culture in the manner in which it issues housing decisions and corrects previous ones. Finally, a call to politicians in office and running for the same in the upcoming elections of the country, to have real commitment that transcends periods of election. Housing is not an issue the public thinks about every five years, it is part of the daily pain of the residents of Addis Ababa who are increasingly excluded from the political and economic discourse of the struggling country.