Urban Revolution

City life a Ethiopia is under revolution. At the base of the revolution, sits condominium apartments hosting thousands of people, vertically. As space is restricted, the way of life of residents in cities hosting these apartments is evolving. Some similarity with cities in the east and west of the developed world is also arising.

Congested villages are brought down to ruins. Basha Wolde Sefer and the likes have gone into the history books of yesteryear.

Makonnen Gabre, 60, and a father of three was amongst the evacuees who were recently moved to the newly built Jamo Condominium Site, south-west of the capital. Makonnen was born and bred in the vicinity of the Ministry of Education (MoE), in what is commonly known as Sefi Sefer. He had never dreamt of being evicted from the place where he had been comfortably dwelling in his fenced, large compound for the last 60 years. But, he had to; it was for a good cause.

Thousands of families who faced the same fate had no one to console them and stand by them. But, they did have the City Hall. They were given choices – like moving to the new sites or receiving compensation money and trying to find their own place to live. Makonnen opted to move to Jomo, even if his decision might entail unfavourable living conditions, like squeezing his large family into a two-bed room modern apartment.

Makonnen had to sell off his luxury furniture as scrap and replace it with a few makeshift convertibles, which serve as sofas during day time and as beds at night. His kitchen cabinets, which were acquired after years of savings, had to be dismantled and taken to a relative’s residence to be kept as trusts.

All the other junk, like firewood and sacks of charcoal, had to be sold at a nominal price. The two dogs had to be left to fate and stray.

Jomo, like other sites, is a place where thousands of families have settled in one place, ready to accept and enjoy whatever life in a concentrated dwelling infrastructure may entail.

Makonnen had once visited Moscow, Russia, for a short time and had stayed in an apartment building, accommodating the Bycal Hotel, located at the outskirts the city. This was at a time when members of all like parties from across the world had come to the republic to attend the general assembly of the Communist Party.

Many of them were complaining about the inhumane nature of the designs of the apartments. Everywhere one went, they stood as structures manifesting, what the West would call, “totalitarianism”.

The heights of the buildings, 11 storeys, and the colour (grey), were the same. The elite favoured, rather, the French or Japanese architecture.

They were built amidst green trees and ample breathing space. The designs had variety. Some were high rising, while many were villas or mansions.

No European or Asian design equals the Swedes. I have been in Gutenberg, two years ago, and if ever someone was given the opportunity to reside anywhere, Gutenberg would definitely be the place. One would not expect to find green vegetation in between cracks of basalt rocks. Would it not be ideal to find a river winding its way through the middle of the city for the urbanites to enjoy sailing?

The city centre is meant for huge theatres, museums, monuments and business centres. The people prefer to live in the outskirts. The apartments are only three-floors high. The basement is used for laundry and snoring dustbins. Every Monday, a truck comes from the municipality to collect the garbage bins. Each bloc has a watchman, alongside his hunting dog.

There are stone or wooden benches placed here and there for the elderly. The middle of the compounds is a green playground criss-crossed by narrow tracks for children to ride their bicycles. Schools are located, at most, five minutes walking distance from anywhere in the City. Trams are the most favoured transport modalities.

The Swedes discourage individual motorists from using private vehicles. One of the most interesting mechanisms of discouraging private vehicles is the charging system applied on every vehicle that crosses main bridges, where meters are installed.

Every time a vehicle passes by, the meter records it and the driver is charged. At the end of every month, the bills come to the doors of the motorist. What this means is that the roads are less congested and almost constant throughout the day.

Motorists are given other options. They can drive around the labyrinth of back roads, in order to avoid heavy charges. The money is used for maintaining the roads and other infrastructure.

Gothenburg exports granite rocks to other European countries, including Belgium. At the time of my visit, I saw the port of Ostend in Belgium being reformed and rehabilitated with the granite rock shipped from Sweden.

Mekonnen has been elected as a development committee member at the Jomo site. He has a number of ideas, which he hopes to introduce in his new residence.

These ideas include planting trees and constructing playgrounds for the children and resting benches for the elderly. The pathways constructed by cobble stones and “terrazzos” are just beautiful and inviting to walk on. The new apartment sites have indeed revolutionised city life in Addis Abeba.


By Girma Feyissa

Published on May 19, 2013 [ Vol 13 ,No 681]



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