Every mayor of a city worth its name would die to write policies and design programmes that define them and leave their good legacies. Addis Abeba, one of the youngest cities in the world so to say, should be no different. Since its accidental founding and haphazard planning, and its first mayor in 1910, Woldetsadiq Goshu (Bitewoded), it has survived no less than 29 mayors.
While the longest serving was Zewde Gebrehiwot – for nine years – most were known for their patriotic duties such as the Rases of Abebe Aregay and Mesfin Selieshi as well as the Dejazmaches of Takle Woldehawariyat, Kebede Tessema and Zewde Gebresellasie.
These and many of their predecessors unlike their successors were known to have the city’s and its residents’ interest at best of their efforts. Of course, anomalies were evident in Addis Abeba’s history, such as during the five years under the Italian occupation where seven governors had ruled.
Alemu Abeba (PhD) was known to have governed the city during its most gruesome and traumatic period in the history of the city between 1977 to 1985. His government unleashed the Red Terror where tens of thousands of Addis Abeba’s young and aspirant population was massacred in cold blood.
Two decades later, if anything defined life in the city in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was Ali Abdo’s period of regression and neglect by the political order at the time.
Arkebe Oqubay’s (PhD) tenure for three years beginning 2003 was the finest for the political and diplomatic capital of Africa. Most of the signature policies from public housing to expansion of infrastructure, from promotions of small and medium enterprises to restructuring the administrative structures of the city, were carried out then. Indeed, the successive administration has only followed up these policies with various intensity and clarity.
The years that followed under Brehanu Deressa (a caretaker administration) and Kuma Demeksa were characterised mainly by periods of confusion and inconsistency. No less incoherent is the current administration of Mayor Diriba Kuma, and his cabinet.
Under the regrettably customary conditions of the Ethiopian politics, where incompetence is but a small sin, it may perhaps sound radical to call for Diriba and his cabinet members to tender their resignation.
An administration that has served for the last four years, there are very few indications it has had a footprint in policies, at least where the most critical facilities that are prerequisites of a city of Addis Abeba’s stature are concerned. There may be a new light rail service, but public transportation is still far from living up to demand. Streets and roads may find themselves regularly ploughed for the sake of assuring necessary infrastructure, but the provision of services from telecom to sewage disposal, clean water and electricity leave a lot to be desired.
For all its shortcomings, Ethiopia’s capital is one of the least worrying places at the moment, where its citizens remained come but collected, considering the loss of law and order in its immediate vicinity and beyond. The city is not without causes for public discontent though. All the erosions of the rule of law and bad governance that affect citizens of other regions affect Addis Abebans no less.
It takes an Addis Abeban commuter over an hour to cover a little over a seven-kilometre-long trip during the morning rush hour. The city’s traffic appears to have been left to its own fate, while it has departments of transport, traffic management and police financed and paid by taxpayers’ money.
It should be annoying that the lowest lease price for a square metre of land has recently fetched 4,105 Br during the last auction in a country where the average monthly salary is a little over a third that amount.
Addis Abeba, despite everything, is the political capital of Africa, seating the United Nations Economic Cooperation for Africa (ECA) and the headquarters of the African Union (AU). It also plays host to over a hundred embassies and regional offices of international organisations. Similarly, it is a major commercial hub where firms in the financial sector have congregated their headquarters.
Perhaps more crucially, the city is a melting pot of people and cultures. Home to a more freethinking and literate society where even a decade ago – the last time the Central Statistical Agency (CSA) conducted a census – over 85pc of its residents could read and write, the city is unique in an undeclared way. Thus, it deserves to be managed better as it is detrimental both to the continued success of the city, the country and its people.
But proper management has become just the thing the city lacks at the moment. Plain inefficiency and an unoriginal, by the books, approach have overshadowed what was otherwise a mayorship that promised to reform. In his very first year of taking the reins of the city, Diriba’s initial ambitions to revamp it by spending 154 billion Br during the entirety of his term may have betrayed a purpose and aim. But as his and his cabinet’s term life come to a grind, there is nothing to show off but a city that, by and large, fails to live up to its name.
If it is not greatness, then the Administration has not accorded the prerequisites of livability, a concept that has become popular when measuring cities. Indices include the provision of different modes of transport, affordable housing, economic competitiveness and the faculty to work with and around the federal government’s initiatives, according to research by the University of Oregon.
Measured against this feat, Addis Abeba has quite a distance to walk, with transportation the most lacking, not to mention a constant source of public discontent. While public buses for civil servants have been introduced and the Addis Abeba Light Rail had begun operation a couple of years ago, demand still far outstrips supply.
Never mind the scandalous failure of city authorities to ensure the safety of pedestrians by commissioning the constructions of under and overpasses alongside the light rail. Congestion has now become dangerous for those crossing as it is a nightmare to motorists.
Long lines of people and a slow-moving traffic are but a common sight in a time when the nation is desperate to boost its productivity score. Paved roads in the city may be increasing by 11pc every year, but weak drainage systems have meant that they are susceptible to degradation and ruin within few years of construction. And traffic management, and most importantly enforcement, is next to non-existent.
Affordable housing is another issue the city has failed to address adequately. With ever-escalating land lease prices, especially in the city’s centres, as a result of limited supply, sightings of undeveloped land have become sensational in a capital that is urbanising by the day. The middle-income housing schemes prescribed as a cure – even if one was willing to overlook their extended delays – have instead become emblems for shoddy construction.
It does not end there, with waste management in its ever-sorry state. Just this past month, refuse from some of the capital’s neighbourhoods was unattended for lack of an authorised officer to sign some forms. The sole dumping site, Repi, a.k.a Qoshe, which served in this role for the past half a century, has been a nucleolus of failure. The current Administration’s own efforts to either have it relocated or improved have borne no discernable fruit.
And there are no reasons such drawbacks would abate on their own. With a relatively moderate fertility rate of 1.8 births a woman and the 15pc rural-to-urban migration that will be compounded by the unrests in some parts of the country, commuters, waste and demand for housing will only swell. It will drive upward the need for other essentials like power, clean water and telecom services that are already in short supply. Such a city then needs to continue to create jobs, be more livable and competitive to uphold its international standing.
Diriba and his entire cabinet thus need to own up to their failures and step aside. Their unwillingness or inability to reform excessive bureaucracy and top-down strategising has allowed Addis Abeba to serve as a microcosm of what is happening on a national level. An EPRDFite answer to all things public discontent, a change at the top, in this case, the nomination of Diriba as Mayor, has never really meant change at all.
Addis Abeba may have many problems for a single administration to address in a single term but provision of poor public services, increasing incidences of corruption, and deteriorating level of security, are all but hallmarks of failure in leadership and municipal management.
What the capital thirsts, much like the rest of the country, is leaders that know how to do much with little and are willing to be held accountable – both of which are yardsticks that testify against Diriba’s Administration and the political party that has installed it.
If Diriba and his party leaders have anything left in the courage of their conviction, they would rather step-down, ushering the road for a provisional administration installed by the Prime Minister with the mandate to prepare the city for a competitive and legitimate election next year. In any case, the city has little to lose from their departure as it seems it is now run under a default mode.
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