The use of cobblestones to pave access roads between woredas has become the latest trend in Addis Abeba. This compares to the historic use of “Care stones” for paving roads during the imperial era. As much as the latter is being retired, the former is giving the capital of Africa a totally new face.
Ethiopians like to express their feelings through sayings and songs. There was one unforgettable song, expressing the feelings of the people on urban redevelopment.
The song has lyrics that go something like – “All the fascist are chased out, except one who remained behind to demolish our houses.”
This was the gist of the idea the singers were trying to put across about a certain Italian engineer, called Minas, during the post-war period in Addis Abeba.
Addis was at its embryonic stage of introducing roads for motor vehicles and horse-drawn carts. It was growing rather haphazardly. Minas and his crew of surveyors had to walk around the nooks and crannies of villages, throwing out orders to demolish or move houses that were obstructions to their plans. Hence the satire in the song.
Later, when master plans become the norm, the same story of demolishing was repeated. Each master plan would be revised to fit with the new demands of modernity. The revision and the process of rehabilitating the villages has become almost perennial to this day.
With the passage of time, land became an economic commodity. In the absence of a modern tenure system, land owners developed the habit of fencing off their holdings, sometimes bribing government officials.
Greedy land owners went as far as blocking paths and backstreet labyrinths, in order to optimise their accruals from the plot of land. They were narrowing down passageways. In the old days, Minas and his crew would show up time and time again to demolish the fences or the houses, if needs be.
The routine went on for years. Then came the cholera epidemic. Ambulances and damping trucks had to find roadways, in order to access the victims of the disease. The “Cholera Demolishing Campaign” of widening paths and constructing new access roads was officially launched by city officials. Fences had to be demolished again to be re-fenced once more, after the dust had settled.
Then came the “Carestone” project. This was a project that involved members of the community and an NGO, conveniently known as “Care”. This organisation was contributing the lion’s share of the costs and involving men and women living in the respective villages, who were able to earn wages in lieu of their manual labor.
Muddy paths and village tracks were dressed with big stones and rock quarries, following the standards passed down by district engineers. Carestone passages and access roads were best known, not only for protecting pedestrians from walking through muddy alleyways and paths, but also for their services in keeping away fence shifters and forcing them to remain put.
Time has changed. Carestones are now being retired and put to use for other masonry purposes. They are being replaced by cobblestones. The Addis Abeba City Roads Authority (AACRA), in collaboration with development committees – established voluntarily – is doing a very commendable job in running cobble stone road projects in many parts of the capital.
Cobblestones have been recently nick named “bread earning stones”. At first, constructing cobble stone roads was taken as a downgrading engagement.
There has always been a misconception, or an unfair outlook, towards any manual work in our culture. There were even times when the students joining the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) centre, around Mexico Square, were looked down upon.
Nowadays, attitudes are changing. Cobble stone layers are earning good money. There are also those working at the quarries, breaking down rocks to the desired size and shape. Others are engaged in loading and unloading them. Before cobblestones are finally laid down in the villages, some grading and leveling work is done, to be followed by constructing drainage ditches and spreading gravel.
This will then be compressed by rollers, in order to keep the material intact and in good shape. The laying of cobblestones is done artistically, if you will. The layers follow certain designs and patterns of symmetry. Sand is spread over the cobblestone to serve as a binding material, in case the rain falls to flood them away.
Where cobblestones have now been laid, every villager, pedestrian and motorist is able to walk on clean shoes. Erosion of soil in these villages has become a distant memory, and all of this comes courtesy of the engineer, Fekade Haile, the general manager of the AACRA, and his colleagues. Addis Abeba is nowadays living up to its name – new flower.
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