Tale of Two Cities

The development of Addis Abeba as a metropolitan city has brought with it a version of ‘development’ that is distorted. The interpretations of “development” are open to anyone who would like to create a sense of modernity.

With these definitions, elitism has been on the rise. These states of minds have created divisions among people from their classrooms down to their neighbourhoods.

One can buy or build a dream house. But that dream is often complicated by a particular dream neighbourhood, which only includes others that are similarly lofty.

Gated communities are increasing. Attractive houses line up along asphalt roads and white picket fences while the rest lie behind a big wall separating the haves and the have-nots.

Addis is a city where commercial and residential areas mesh together like an unsolved Rubik’s cube. And as people decide to find their place in the city, many choose to lead a lifestyle that only such houses can buy.

Certain families create a mirage of reality for the children they raise by letting them grow up in the gated communities. They spend time only with the privileged among our society, which is unreflective of the majority’s reality in our country. These children grow up with a slight version of the truth.

They are driven from their pampered homes to the schools of those who reflect the reality they know. These children are groomed to be citizens of the United States (US) or Europe. But while a worldly perspective is a positive asset, they also need to understand and serve the community they are – like it or not – a part of.

When a person is not raised to see the realities of their community they grow up to be detached. They will grow up to have an abstract understanding of Ethiopia, without a clue of what is happening on the ground.

Most of the houses in the old neighbourhoods of Addis have disparate statures. Mixed communities exist in Sarbet, Arat Kilo and Kebena, with many of the old districts hosting both lower and high-income households.

As we make our way in and out of these neighbourhoods, we have to walk in the shoes of the many. When the rich and the poor share a similar street, real change can come. When the roads need to be fixed, it is with the help of the residents. And when the residents are a mix of hierarchical economic classes like this, no one is left out of the spectrum of development.

With mixed neighbourhoods, we have a better chance for everyone to benefit. We have a better chance of creating an Ethiopia we would all like to live in. The dream we have should not be to create islands in the country where some feel good, safe and where there are the best schools available for the children we are raising. We should strive to have the best school be the one around the corner, and the streets should be clean and safe everywhere we go. Our dream should be to create the collective good.

And yet today families groom their children to be less responsible for the community they live in. Children are raised believing that their reality reflects the reality of the many, thus they act like it.

I am not a mother, making my only references to parenthood my parents. I know their lives have been an inspiration for me and how I saw the world reflected in their deeds. Today, I wonder, how the generations being raised inside of the current mind lapse think about this Ethiopia.

I wonder what parts of Ethiopia’s reality seems right to them. I wonder which part of our country’s challenge they would like to solve.

The success of a country’s citizens is a beautiful thing. But Darwin’s theory of evolution, where only the fit survive, should not be taken literally. It should not mean to leave those vulnerable behind. But I believe humankind has free will, and should not be beholden to a theory. We must create comfort for those who are most vulnerable.

Children become the adults their societies allow them to be. And as a community raising young people who will one day lead a nation, let us take notice of what we embed in them.

This is not just about socialisation habits of the economically privileged, but those that are not a majority. When we alienate a version of society, resentment flourishes. It is when we understand that we are not living in two different Addis Abebas that situations can change. It is essential the privileged think of their community, while others are allowed to get more opportunities, information and room for growth. Enough room to escape their realities.

Success should always be applauded. Building the homes we are proud of is essential; creating a safe space for the children we bear is admirable. But more rewarding would be to make a better future for all and sundry. Success carries with it certain privileges that one must not ignore. We can start by building fewer walls and more bridges.

By Hanna Haile
Hanna Haile (hannahaile212@gmail.com) is an Ethiopian writer, researcher and social worker who uses her writing to promote social and gender equality, identity and women’s rights. She is one of the organisers of Poetic Saturday at Fendika Cultural Centre where she performs spoken word poetry every first Saturday of the month.

Published on Nov 04,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 914]



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