Impunity Continues Unchecked in a Climate of Deadly Unaccountability

Two weeks ago, a landslide in the Repi area of Addis Abeba, commonly known as Qoshe, dominated the headlines in the country and abroad. A mammoth garbage collapsed in the late hours of March 11, 2017, claimed the lives of 125 people and left the nation shaken by the tragedy. Belatedly, Parliament declared a three-day of mourning, the third over the last four years.

Ethiopians here and abroad grieved the loss of their compatriots from the cruel and inhuman acts of those that identified themselves with the Daiesh and operated in Libya. Days of mourning were declared by Parliament only to do the same remembering of the loss of lives during an incident in Bishoftu where thousands had gathered to celebrate the traditional thanks giving day known as Ireccha.

The latter was one of these three events that could and should have been avoided with better preparation and organization by authorities who had failed to act to discharge their official responsibilities of looking after the well being of citizens. Yet, no one among the officials of the Oromia Regional State and the federal government were held accountable for their inaction. Neither was there any prosecution to bring those responsible to face justice despite an inquiry being conducted by the Human Rights Commission.

Regrettably, the series of incidents of inaction from the mishandling of disputes on Wolkait to Kimant from ongoing conflicts in Oromia and Somali regional states as well as tragedies resulting from disasters such as in Repi only exposes the lack of official accountability. No doubt the nation continues to grieve letting its citizens be casualties in statistics.

One of the bigwigs to have visited the site and attempted to comfort those who have lost their loved ones during the landslide was Diriba Kuma, mayor of Addis Abeba. Other than offering his condolences and making promises to move survivors to safer locations, he did not have much to say neither about why the incident occurred nor disclosed who the responsible party was for failure to act in time. The Mayor and his lieutenant may benefit from turning a page or two from the Chinese ordeal on similar incidents.

When a dumpster landslide took place two years ago in the industrial city of Shenzhen, a government official who approved a construction waste dump that triggered the massive landslide was removed from his position; he subsequently committed suicide. Another 12 officials were arrested and questioned over the matter, while the party boss in the area also publicly apologized over the landslide disaster that claimed dozens of lives.

Authorities in Addis Abeba`s City Administration have yet to give explanation on what happened that fateful Saturday night in Repi of Kolfe-Keraniyo District. The information gap has left the public only to speculate and try to put the pieces together. But for a landfill of the size piled up under the authorities` nose to collapse and cause a deadly landslide, there needs to be an explanation followed by accountability. Especially since so many citizens lost their lives that day leaving behind trauma.

The disaster has raised more questions than answers, and the public has been left wondering if maybe the tragedy could have been avoided altogether. Those who have suffered losses deserve to come to terms with the truth.

At the Qoshe dump, which has been around for 50 years, people had been settling their and building small squatters and houses. Although it is not habitable and lawful for people to be living around such areas with fatal proximity to toxic emissions, officials governing the Wereda and the District failed to remove residents from the area. It is clear that the living situation around a dump will not be ideal for the health and well-being of humans, and for the administration to allow this situation to go on shows disregard to public safety. No less is it troubling to see the administration was complicit to their settlement very close to the dump, for they have been provided public goods in the form of infrastructure.

The ruling Revolutionary Democrats often pride themselves on the development the country has been able to achieve in the short-time since they took political power in 1991. They are driven by a self declared ambition of putting the country amongst the middle income countries by 2025. This has prompted the government they run to invest heavily on infrastructure, manufacturing, and social services to achieve this ambitious goal they have set their eyes on. The EPRDF has bent backwards to attract foreign investors and bring in expertise and also to perform highly in the export sector.

But the EPRDFites have not been able to clean up the mess in their own country as they are unable to address the problems of negligence and corruption in their backyard, which should lead to a landslide of questions regarding accountability in the case of Qoshe.

Residents cannot escape the watchful eye of code enforcers who are always out to chase away street vendors and ensure that residents do not even attempt to bypass codes such as building extensions or renovations. Apparently, the residents in the area had basic needs such as water and electricity provided to them, making them contented to stay rather than discouraged to set up around the area with all the risks to their lives. There is a lack of transparency in the way residents were able to obtain construction permits to gain access to utilities.

After the landfill landslide happened, residents that have survived the disaster claimed that they had concerns about the activity of the landfill and had notified the wereda two days before the incident. They noticed that the mountain was approaching the houses, which was out of the ordinary for the area. However, local authorities have failed to act in time, thus remain unaccountable for their inaction. Even complaints two years earlier of flooding in the area made to the Ethiopian Ombudsman were ignored. Ironically, no one from the local administrative units all the way to the city administration and the federal government publicly apologized for letting this tragedy occur under their watch, lest resign with a sense of unfulfilled duty to the public.

It was not because there was no reason to worry about though. Last year, the city administration had shut down the Qoshe site from dumping in hopes of moving the overfilled dumpster to an area in the outskirts of the capital, in Sendafa of the Oromia Regional State, where a facility was built to accommodate the garbage. Not surprisingly, the plan was met with protests from the farmers in the area who felt short changed by the development and were never sought their consent. Left with little choice and unwilling to search hard for solutions, the city administration resorted to reopening the Qoshe site, continuing dumping there even though the concerns were no less pervasive.

No one has been held accountable for the tragedy that took the lives of over a hundred people mostly women and children that were just going about their lives when they were suddenly buried under a pile of garbage. The only thing the city authorities could say was that an investigation was taking place. In an environment where authorities lack accountability and they remain unchecked or held responsible for what they failed to do to prevent such a catastrophic disaster from happening, it does not require a prophet to see similar incidents recur.

Recently, when a building under construction collapsed around Summit area due to lack of supervision on safety regulations, nobody was held accountable. No one was injured in the accident, but it raised alarm in the city but exposed the city administration`s failure to control the activities of the construction sector and enforce laws. However, there is no word on the actions taken on the individuals or institutions that were responsible for the oversight. Ironically, there is a building in Lebu area still standing but can collapse anytime while the District authorities are well informed of its potential causing disaster and claiming lives.

This type of inaction is widespread in the administration. But they are only symptoms of a larger issue of political accountability of a ruling party and its leaders who runs an old nation with as much impunity as their predecessors once had. It is nothing but a depressing ordeal of Ethiopia and its people.

Published on Mar 25,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 881]



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