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Ethiopia housing demolitions cause cracks in Abiy’s regime

By Morris Kiruga
Posted on Monday, 4 March 2019 17:26, updated on Friday, 8 March 2019 15:51

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali speaks during at the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Laurent Gillieron/AP/SIPA

The Ethiopian region of Oromia is set to demolish more than 12,000 houses that it says were built illegally in the town of Legetafo, near Addis Ababa.

The Ethiopian region of Oromia is set to demolish more than 12,000 houses that it says were built illegally in the town of Legetafo, near Addis Ababa.

  • Ongoing demolitions have already displaced more than 1,000 people in what could be a challenge to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s reform programmes.
  • The Oromia regional government, through Legetafo City Mayor Habiba Siraj, says the buildings did not have building permits and that the officials who sold the land have been charged for their roles in the scandal.
  • “I can see that there is no compassion whatsoever. This is happening with the administration of Dr. Abiy”

Reform agenda speed bump? Legetafo is in Oromia region, governed by the Oromo Democratic Party – of which Abiy is chairman. And Legetafo Legedadi was established in 2008 as part of Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Addis Ababa, a plan by Oromia Regional State to stop the unregulated expansion of Addis Ababa.

  • Addis Ababa’s expansion and modernisation is a hot issue in Ethiopia, as the capital city is located within Oromia. The Ethiopian government had to phase out its ninth Addis Ababa city master plan in January 2016 after widespread protests in the surrounding Oromia region.
  • Protests in the region were mostly over what was seen as a bid to displace residents in Oromo to make way for a Tigray-dominated government.

The demolitions have attracted the attention of a United Nations (UN) body and human rights organisations. “The Rapporteur will be investigating this issue and reminds all actors involved that forced evictions constitute an egregious violation of the #Right2Housing”, tweeted Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing.

  • In an open letter, The Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE) urged the prime minister “to issue an order to local authorities to immediately stop mass demolition and evictions, and compensate those families whose houses were demolished”.
  • In his only response to the demolitions so far, Abiy said in an address that he didn’t know about the incident in Legetafo: “I haven’t heard about it, because it’s not my job. However, people chose to call on me.”
  • In an earlier interview Abiy told the Financial Times that “if you can change Addis, definitely you can change Ethiopia”, signalling his resolve to address the city’s multiple challenges.

Back to the future? The new wave of demolitions is revealing other cracks in Ethiopia’s new direction. Two TV journalists covering the demolitions, Habtamu Oda and Fasil Aregay, were arrested by the police and then attacked by a mob as the police watched.

  • The cameraman, Habtamu, suffered minor injuries while Fasil had to be hospitalised after the attack.
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