By Tibebeselasie Tigabu and Mihret Aschalew
The economic and wealth growth in Ethiopia over the last five or six years has been really strong, according to organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
And because of that the country is hailed by pundits as an “African lion”. At the center of this growth narrative is the capital city, Addis Ababa. For over a decade now, Addis is undergoing a major redevelopment. However, this change is affecting the lives of low-income urbanites, write Tibebeselassie Tigabu and Mihret Aschalew.
July 7 is a very decisive date for residents of the Yordanos Hotel area of the city who are counting days for their final notice of eviction. This date also had a significant link with the Ethiopian schooling system for many years as it is the final day of school when students would receive their report cards for the year. It is the day when a student would know if they are going to be promoted to the next grade.
Similarly, residents of the area are anxious about their eviction orders which they knew would be coming soon. The community is wary of what is going to happen to them.
Today, the whole neighborhood of Kazanchis is turning into a concrete jungle with new buildings sprouting here and there. One can remotely observe how the old face of Kazanchis is going to be entirely different from the future. Most of old Kazanchis is composed of shanty houses made of wattle and daub with corrugated iron sheet roofs. The entire neighborhood is being gentrified with the old deteriorated urban settlement being replaced by modern edifices and apartment buildings.
This process, however, has an ugly side displacement of low- income families and small businesses in the locality. This radical shift in the neighborhood is claimed to be destroying the community.
The city government announced a year ago that the entire neighborhood around Kazanchis is earmarked for renovation. Renovation in turn brings a harsh relocation and resettlement process. The community was assembled and told their alternatives: condominium or kebele housing. People like Gizaw Haile chose a condominium house.
He says what he did not know was that the condominium housing they were offered were mostly not fully finished. Soon Gizaw was given his marching orders to a two-bedroom apartment in the Summit area. The apartment, which was on the fourth floor, needs finishing touches for it to be habitable. Well, finishing touches might be a gross understatement, according to Gizaw, who says that the apartment needs a lot of construction. “The roof area still needs construction; its corrugated iron sheet roof leaks. Don’t even get me started on the windows and doors,” he told The Reporter.
The Housing Development Bureau told Gizaw that all the finishing work is for him to complete. I am looking at a 70,000 birr work, he said, a sum of money which cannot be generated either by him or his taxi-driver son.
“There is no kitchenware and the bathroom appliances are not installed yet,” he says. Apart from all these their main issue is that the house they got was on the 4th floor which, according to Gizaw, is impossible for him because he has cardiovascular problems. Later, he filed a complaint to the Bureau and the Addis Ababa Housing Administration and Development Agency, attaching a medical proof from Land Mark Hospital. But, the response was still negative. He said that he was told he needs to have a “visible physical disability” to be considered for an alternative location. Since there is no choice, he is struggling to fix the house. A retiree and dependent on his driver son, Gizaw says that the cost of finishing and the monthly mortgage payments are getting unbearable. “How am I going to get the money to pay the monthly mortgages?” Gizaw asks.
Gizaw lived in the Kebele housing from 1976 onwards The relocation was sudden when they were given only 15 days to come up with the down-payment for the condominium houses. Looking at their precarious situation, one wonders why they did not choose the Kebele housing if they were given alternatives. According to Gizaw, the Kebele houses are also temporary settlements. “There is no point in setting ourselves up for multiple relocation and resettlement; we might as well get it over with now,” he says.
This is not only his complaint; the community in that area also wrote a letter to the responsible authorities.
Some of the problems that are mentioned in Summit one and two and Ayat condominiums include lack of basic infrastructure such as electricity, water, a health center, a sewerage system, and schools. There are, in fact, worse cases where the relocated have been offered apartments without minimum services like a proper toilet or working doors and windows.
In one of the organic cities in world, in Addis Ababa, according to UN Urban Habitat 2010 study, 80 percent of the population live in sub-standard slum housing that needs either complete replacement or significant upgrading. Addis Ababa had a lot of master-plans to structure the city. According to Markos Alemayehu, communications manager at the Addis Ababa city government Land Development and Renewal Agency, the 2003 master-plan has acknowledged 14,765 hectares of inner city slum, which is in need of major renewal.The renewal process in Kazanchis area started 11 years ago. Since then, the local development plan renovated pockets of land around Lideta, 26 hectares; Meskel Square, 3.2 hectares; Wollo Sefer, 5.98 hectares. Sheraton area, 17 hectares, Basha Wolde Chilot number one, 27 hectares. The saw a major face-lift.
However, what is more constraining is the time the evictees are given to come forth with the downpayment for the condominium houses, according to Kidist Bekele.
A mother of two – one in kindergarten and a sixth grader – Kidist lives in a Kebele house which belonged to her mother-in-law who occupied it for the past 50 years. She gets her income from a small restaurant that she runs in her home and a small help from her sister-in-law. With the redeveloping of the area, her main concern is how she is going to get her income. Though they were given an choice between condominium housing and kebele houses, it was not that much of one for her. “We are barely scraping a living. How are we going to come up with 54,000 birr down payment for the condominium house?” Kidist asks.
Nevertheless, Kidist eventually went for the condominium housing. But the lack of basic infrastructure looks to be much worse for her; not as much for its lack of comfort as a living space but for insurmountable cost of fixing new houses. “We know condominium housing is one which has everything but this unit is not like that,” Kidist says. According to Kidist, she knows people who actually have to go out on the street to beg to meet the down- payment for condominium housing.
Elias Yitbarek (PhD), a researcher and director of PhD program at the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EIABC), in his thesis entitled “Slums, Change and Modernity” recommends a careful planning of city renovation programs especially regarding the livelihoods of community that faces displacement.
“Roads in the slums of Addis Ababa are not just for reaching from point A to point B. They are rather vibrant places of multi-tasking. Domestic activities and home-based businesses extend and flow out to the street,” Elias argues.
Though the upgrading and the renovation of these areas is appreciated, Demeke Haile, City Development Study Institute at the Civil Service University, an institute that advices the city administration on urban development issue, says that it should be done with careful planning. “It is not relocating the community that is the hard part but it is catering for their social and economic needs that need careful consideration,” Demeke says. Without planning, it will lead to chaos, he warns. Especially in resettling a community that lived in one area for quite a long period of time, the questions he raises are: when should they be told about their reallocation? And when should they be relocated?
These are the very important questions for him that should be considered before moving people from one area to another. Regarding these implementation gaps, Demeke says that there are visible improvements. According to him, short-notice eviction is not present any more. One reason for this, he argued, is the existence of a specific policy framework and plan for the implementation of the local development plan. Yeraswork Admassie (PhD), lecturer at the Addis Ababa University Sociology department, doubts the renewal program is being implemented according to a pre-specified policy. “Because it exists on paper, it does not mean there is an existence of a plan,” he argues. On the other hand, Demeke also does not deny the financial incapability in implementing the plan.
The UN Habitat study states that during the Derg military rule, two typologies in the housing sector, namely government-owned rental units and Kebele housing, were established in Ethiopia. From this, approximately 60 percent of the housing in Addis Ababa was a rental accommodation and Kebele houses accounted for 93 percent of this rental accommodation.
“A major challenge facing securing affordable housing for low-income Ethiopians has been access to housing finance,” the research states. With the introduction of condominium housing, this picture shifted from government-owned rental housing to private home-ownership.
“But the real question is the affordability of housing units for the low-income society and whether it reduces urban slum prevalence rates in Ethiopia or not,” states the research.
However, affordability looks to be a big issue among the displaced. Asnakech Shimels, who lived in Kazanchis for the past 30 years, is given her marching orders. Previously, the house she lived in, located around Fil Wuha Police Garage area, was a Kebele housing and to be so five years ago. Now she lives in this with her husband and closed seven children. The small three-room house is too small for her. Again they are being told to wait for Kebele housing because she can’t afford condominiums.
Addis Ababa Housing Development and Administration Agency deputy manager, Halima Badgeba, admits that transferring the displaced from one Kebele house to another is a temporary solution. The lasting solution, according to her, will be resolved in the second Growth Transformation Plan. On the other hand, she strongly believes the renewal process is implemented according to the plan.
Regarding the lack of infrastructure of the condominium houses, she argued that it is demand of the displaced themselves which is largely three or two bedrooms, most of which are located in peripheral areas. And they know that infrastructure issues are there in these areas, Halima argues.