The Week Before In The Horn of Africa

The previous week was attention captivating. Emperor Haile Selassie and the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi were recognised by the heads of state of the African Union (AU), making a historic decision at the 29th AU Assembly to erect statues in the headquarters compound to honour their contribution to the continent. The recognition of Asmara as a World Heritage Site and the loss of lives and destruction of factories due to torrential rains and floods were another.

Two big events that were reported to have taken place in Addis Abeba and Asmara captivated all my attention last week. The African Union (AU) has concluded its 29th assembly at the headquarters in Addis Abeba. And it was last week that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognised Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, as a World Heritage Site.

The 29th Assembly of the AU discussed a myriad of issues concerning the continent as usual, and perhaps a relevant agenda was the discussion about the institutional reforms of the AU commission based on a report presented by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

What was surprising, however, is that the heads of state made a historic decision to erect a statue for Emperor Haile Selassie and the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. For the former, for his irreplaceable contribution as one of the founders of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and the latter, for his effort to represent Africa’s global presence, particularly in the fight against climate change. The decision of the heads of state is heartwarming, and now, it is for the AU to take the next appropriate action, building the symbolic statues with architectural designs representing their contributions.

While Addis was busy hosting its guests who came to attend the AU summit, Asmara, against all the odds, acquired a more positive image by being selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city of Asmara, with a population of more than 800,000, has many buildings with beautiful architectural designs built by the Italians in the 1930s. UNESCO called the city ”an exceptional example of early modernist urbanism”, and the Eritreans, who are historically and culturally more similar to Ethiopians, call it ”The City of Dreams,” writes the Financial Times.

Of course, the week was not stocked with only jubilant events. Other unexpected accidents have also occurred. One of the oldest and perhaps the biggest sugar factories, Metahara Sugar Factory, has been forced to seize its functions as part of the plant was hit by the intense turbulent rainy downpour that dismantled parts of the frameworks. It has also been reported that some people who were working in the factory were injured and taken to Adama hospital. The management is now forced to send sugar cane to Wanji factory.

The incident has a lot to tell about the way things are done in the country. Needless to say, sometimes unexpected heavy rain will come; especially with the effect of climate change, it should have been expected. However, necessary preparation should have been made with early warning systems. Most importantly, factories of national significance like Metahara should have been built to overcome such challenges.

The issue is very different though. It indicates the corruption in the construction sector and its substandard works. It is shocking that a big factory gets demolished by torrential rains while a farmer’s straw hat sustains that very similar incident.

As if the landslide last year that took the lives of hundreds of people is not enough, there was also a flash flooding accident in Addis Abeba two weeks ago that took the lives of not less than five people and where many others sustained serious injuries.

It has been reported by the media that four people were intercepted by a heavy flood while crossing a river when a fifth person fell into the river and was taken by a raging flood. It was said a father and son are still missing while seven people were saved from a near death situation.

Addis Abeba is being hit with heavy rain and flash flooding since recent times causing the destruction of property and the loss of lives. The unsafe riversides, substandard roads and poorly constructed drainage systems are causing problems to the city residents.

As if rubbing salt into a wound, Addis Abebans also have a big problem. They dump their waste, particularly Khat residues, plastics, water bottles, and so on into the rivers and drainage systems. The flood water having been choked in the drainage ducts has no option but to use the road surface as a provisional river bed, and demolishes vulnerable homes along the riversides.

Life is a mixture of good and bad. While I have been happy about the recognition of the Emperor Haile Selassie and the late Prime Minister Meles for their contribution to the continent by the AU, and Asmara as a World Heritage Site, I have also been sad about the loss of life in Addis Abeba and the destruction of the sugar factory in Metahara, from avoidable causes.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on Jul 15,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 898]



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