Ethiopia: Does Relocation Spell Relief or Recede?

July 21st, 2010 | by addis portal |

Mulu Mekebib, is afraid that she will lose her customers when she moves and with it her livelihood from selling boiled potatoes; Amarech Amelawi, on the other hand, is happy to be gone from the place she occupies now and is confident that she can make a better life for herself and her children at the new location.

Elfenesh Negusse, a single mother of 40, lives in Arat Kilo, Kebele 13/17, in Arada District in a room that can hardly fit three people. The area where the house is located, Basha Wolde Chelot, behind the Ministry of Education, is set for demolition for redevelopment.

Elfenesh has lived in the house with her three daughters for 30 years, ever since her husband died in the civil war between the Derg and TPLF.

At around 9:00pm on Wednesday night, July 14, 2010, the residents of Arat Kilo are going about their usual activities. Although it is night, for the people here it seems as if the day has just begun. Loud music and constant chatter flows from the bars, butcheries, and the street markets with people walking about as if it is still day time.

Despite the reality, which is that the whole area is to be demolished in a few months’ time, the way in which the residents go about their business could make one think that they were unaware of the fact.

Elfenesh makes a living selling makeshift charcoal which she manufactures from a mixture of ash, powdered charcoal, and water. The money goes towards supporting her family and to pay the 6.50 Br rent for her kebele house.

She makes an average of 10 Br by selling the charcoal at one Birr for three pieces. She also makes additional money by renting her bed out to people who get drunk in the bars around the area and are too inebriated to go home, while she and her daughters sleep in another bed. She earns another 10 to 20 Br from this.

Elfenesh first heard the news about the demolition in 2005. Back then she did not believe that it would happen. However, it seems all too real now that she and the other residents in the area have been told that they will be relocated in a few months’ time, once alternative kebele housing becomes available.

The thought of relocating is a dilemma for Elfenesh, whose livelihood is closely knit with the area she lives in now.

“My children [and I] are going to starve to death when I leave … because my survival depends on this place,” she said, wiping the tears from her face with her long dress.

She believes the business she is engaged in now will not be as fruitful when she leaves, as most of her loyal customers, who rent houses from other people, will not be relocating with her.

The Arada District had asked the people who are to be relocated whether they preferred kebele or condominium housing.

“I chose kebele housing as I cannot afford to pay the down payment required for the condominium houses,” Elfenesh said.

The district administration will demolish the houses in the area where Elfenesh lives to clear 25ht of land for the construction of new buildings based on the local development plan.

The residents will be relocated from Arat Kilo, Kebele 13/17, and will resettle on 42ht of plots in Bole Ayat; in condominiums or plots on 16ht around Ayat Village; and condominiums on 4.9ht in CMC and Jemu Gofa, Anteneh Assefa, land development bank and city renewal project director of Arada District, told Fortune.

These places were originally meant for people to be relocated for the Sheraton Addis expansion project, but due to the large size of the land it will also serve as relocation site for those displaced from Basha Wolde Chelot, and from the area in front of the Parliament building, according to Anteneh.

The relocation project, which was meant to happen in 2005, has been delayed, something the district blames on a shift in administration and budget. The delay has been a cause of confusion for the residents.

There are 917 kebele houses, 299 private houses, and 35 houses which belong to Rented Houses Administrative Company, in the Basha Wolde Chelot area.

Residents who own their own houses are to be compensated, the amount of which depends on the type of houses they own while those who are living in kebele houses have an option between a condominium or a replacement kebele house.

“So far, 800 of the residents have registered for the condominium houses,” Kedir Arebo, manager of Arada District, told Fortune.

Some of them have already received the condominiums after paying the 20pc down payment, he said.

Mulu Mekebib, 55, who earns her living selling boiled potatoes, wants to live in a condominium house if she has to move, in spite of not being able to afford the down payment. She has lived in Basha Wolde Chelot since Emperor Haileselassie’s regime.

“I feel like dying because I will have nothing to do once I leave this place,” she said, trying to shield her face from the flame she used to boil potatoes.

Mulu’s customers are shoeshine boys, commercial sex workers, and people who come to the bars for drinks. She believes she will lose her customers because the place where she will be relocated to is very far.

Despite her feelings about leaving the place she has lived in for so long, she registered for the condominium houses offered by the district, without knowing how she would be able to pay for it.

“This is an inevitable reality, sooner or later many kebele houses will be demolished,” a district official, who did not want to be named, said. “Around 140,000 kebele houses from all around the city will be demolished, according to the city development plan.”

The relocation project has not taken people like Mulu, whose livelihood depends on the activities she performs in the area she lives in, into consideration, she said.

“I have tried to voice this concern to officials of the district many times,” she said.

“The district is always open to address the problems of the residents who are going to be relocated,” Anteneh said. “We will not just leave those who would like to live in condominium houses but cannot afford them; we will provide them with other kebele houses.”

“However, the kebele houses will [only] be given to them once [they] become available and the residents will get to stay in their current homes until such [a time],” Anteneh said. “We are trying our best but it is impossible to please everybody and there may be some who will be disadvantaged due the relocation process.”

For instance, people who used to have two or three bedrooms may not get what they used to have because they will be given random kebele houses without consideration for what they lost, since it might be difficult to find them a similar house, he said.

Aynalem Ayele, 25, who works as a commercial sex worker, agrees with most of her neighbours. She rents a bed with a curtain partition from another person who sublets the makeshift bedroom in a kebele house. Aynalem pays 20 Br a day to rent the bed.

“On most days, my only daughter [and I] go without eating just to make the daily rent,” she said. “I cannot afford the rent in other places; the district should at least provide us with kebele housing.”

However, the district cannot do anything for people like Aynalem as they do not rent the kebele houses directly, according to Anteneh.

“We are having a hard time finding houses for those who rent directly, let alone for those who sublet,” he said.

The Addis Abeba City Administration has relocated residents who were compensated and cleared from 26ht of land in 2009 for its redevelopment projects in the Lideta area.

“Although there were some complaints about the amount of compensation, the district’s relocation was said to be one of the most peaceful relocation processes done so far,” Anteneh Enchalew, general manager of the Lideta District, told Fortune.

Although many residents complain about the relocation process, Amarech Amelawi, 35, who has lived in Basha Wolde Chelot with her two children for more than two decades, has a different opinion. She feels the area is not suitable to raise children in and blames the circumstances, as well as peer pressure, for her 16-year old to have become HIV-positive.

Amarech sells boiled potatoes with mitmita (crushed red chilli) at 1.50 Br. It has been her only source of income since her husband left her. As a single mother who is HIV-positive herself, everyday comes with its own challenges to survive and to provide for her daughter.

Amarech stays out until the small hours of the morning selling her potatoes.

“I make as much as 50 Br a day over the weekends, but it is lower on weekdays,” she said. “I am looking forward to a better life. My children [and I] are going to live a comfortable life.”

Despite her low income, she has taken loans from relatives and neighbours to make the 20pc down payment on a condominium house.

“I know I am not going to continue this business when I move from here, but I am planning to start baking injera and preparing spices,” she said.

“As part of the redevelopment plan, we were told that we can form an association and construct a building to continue our businesses,” said a bar owner and butcher who wanted to remain anonymous. “We are required to come up with 10,000 Br, within three months, to be a shareholder in the association but we do not have that kind of money.”

Even if they had that kind of money, they feel that it would be risky to give it to an association which is not a legal entity at the moment.

The Addis Abeba city administration investment law gives priority to occupants of any urban plot to develop the site according to the master plan. Other investors get access to already occupied plots only in situations where the occupant failed to develop the site.

“If they establish the association, they will be provided with an opportunity to lease the same plot,” said Anteneh from Arada District. “However, the district will strictly follow the law and force them to leave the place they occupy within 60 days if they are not able to lease the land through an association.”

All of the residents have to wait with their conflicting views until the actual demolition comes into effect in the coming months forcing them to leave the place where many of them have spent almost half their lives.

The very anticipation for this move leaves them wondering what to do next and how to make a living.

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