City development is good, but there is a better way!

By the beginning of March 2023, the State of Oromia had officially launched the operations of a new city- named Sheger. Having its main office in Addis Ababa, Sheger City brings together 12 sub-cities, districts, and 40 rural kebeles. Sebeta, Burayu, Legatafo, Lededadi, Sululta, and Gelan towns surrounding Addis Ababa from all directions are now parts of the newly formed city.

From its inception until its realization, the new city has been controversial. Even before the commencement of its official operation, officials of the new town and those in the State of Oromia have been demolishing what they called “illegal settlements” within the geography of the newly formed city.

According to the Public Ombudsman, 100,000 complaints over Sheger City’s “illegal construction” have been made; however, the Sheger City Administration claims it has not received that many complaints.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) detailed in its report how the administration is going about the demolition of the “illegal settlement” violates fundamental human rights. The Commission stressed that the ongoing demolitions and forcible evictions in the newly constituted city contravene legislation passed by the federal and Oromia regional governments.

According to the EHRC report, three categories of destroyed homes and buildings exist. Those at least ten years old who adhere to all legal criteria fall into the first category. While the third category of homeowners obtained their properties unlawfully, the second category partially complies with legal standards.

The Commission states that owners in the first and second categories are entitled to all forms of compensation and new dwellings and should get formal title deeds. The Commission further said that the local state is evicting the households without giving them any prior notice. Additionally, the administration needed to consult the populace about this issue sufficiently.

Victims are reporting that their homes are demolished because they belong to specific ethnic groups; they claim this by presenting showcases of illegal settlements but belonging to some other ethnic groups were purposely spared from the demolition. According to the EHRC’s evaluation, selective eviction is common, particularly in Lege Tafo.

Innocent citizens are not the only victims of the newly established city. Mosques have also been a victim. Over a dozen mosques turned into ashes to give way to the new highly expected town, leading to protests in Addis Ababa’s most prominent mosque on May 26, 2023. Two protesters lost their lives in the incident.

There is no denying that the economic value of mega-public projects is immense. They, for sure, create short- and long-term jobs and encourage an environment for small, medium, and large businesses, contributing to the overall socio-economic well-being of communities.

However, the government must learn that there is a way to execute public projects without offending communities. Appropriate discussions with affected communities, compensations, and other due diligence would have saved the administration many faces.

Public projects must not be ways for those in power to flex their muscle on vulnerable communities, nor should they be ways to showcase political differences.

11th Year • June 2023 • No. 118 EBR

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