For any political power aspiring to rule Ethiopia, controlling Addis Ababa is the ultimate accomplishment. Not only does the capital house all essential government organs, but Addis Ababa is mini-Ethiopia. All languages, ethnic groups, and regional states are represented and living in Addis Ababa, making it unique from the ethnic and language-based federalism seen in all other cities bar Dire Dawa to a much lesser extent. However, the very diversity of Addis Ababa has become an obstacle deterring a single party from outshining others. For any political party, it is not simple to craft a policy that satisfies divergent demands and claims on Addis Ababa, especially when the parties themselves are shaped by popular narratives rather than pragmatic scientific principles.
Addis Ababa is crucified across fundamental bottlenecks deterring it from becoming the international city it deserves, and the divisive ethnic politics of parties is infuriating voters of the capital of over five million residents. Vague and clashing articles of the constitution combined with historical narratives and current conditions have led parties affiliated to different groups looking to strengthen or loosen Oromia’s special interest claim on Ethiopia’s capital city. EBR’s Mersha Tiruneh investigates the game-changing power Addis Ababa has on the outcomes of the upcoming sixth national election.
The race to hold the upper hand in Addis Ababa is intensifying among political parties as the sixth national election fast approaches. The importance of winning Addis Ababa emanates from the fact that the city serves as the political and economic center of the country, inhabited by all religions and ethnicities.
Divided into 11 districts, Addis Ababa, the primary gateway of the country and seat of the African Union, undisputedly serves as the major trade, transport, and investment hub of the nation. Currently, close to 60Pct of factories in the nation are located in or around the capital.
The degree to which Addis Ababa is driving the economic prospects of the country has been growing especially in recent decades. The capital presently accounts for half of national economic output. These features make Addis the main hotspot in the upcoming national election. The electoral politics of the capital also set the tone for the broader national election.
One of the major issues, which has been a bone of contention in recent years, is the ambiguity arising from the special interest Oromia Region raises over Addis, which also currently serves as the region’s capital. Article 49 of the Constitution states that the special interest of Oromia in Addis Ababa regarding the provision of social services, utilization of natural resources, and administrative matters should be respected. This led certain politicians to claim Oromia has a particular right over the capital. Some even go as far as claiming ownership of the capital.
Oromia raises multiple demands over Addis Ababa including compensation for the disposal of solid and liquid waste to the drilling of water wells that supply the city. Although a draft law that sought to define and clarify the vague constitutional provision concerning Oromia’s special interest was approved by the Council of Ministers in 2018, it failed to be ratified by Parliament.
The Constitution also grants Addis the right to full self-governance, in contradiction to Article 49. Stating the provision of the Constitution that the administration of Addis Ababa is accountable to the federal government, there is a rejection of the special right and ownership claims raised by Oromo activists by stressing Oromia does not have any jurisdiction in the capital.
Beyond simple rivalry, the issue has been a source of conflict. When the federal government proposed a new master plan which would have expanded the boundaries of Addis further into Oromia a few years ago, without settling the special interest issue first, wide and persistent public protests erupted across Oromia, leaving hundreds dead and injuring thousands. Some would even have it as the beginning of the end of the then ruling party.
It is due to this intense magnitude and importance that the issue has become pivotal for residents of Addis, leading them to eagerly look to cast their ballot and make known their stance. It has also garnered immense attention from political parties that have fielded candidates for seats in Addis Ababa’s city council as well as for its designated national parliament seats. According to the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia, 18 political parties are running for the upcoming election at the national level, with 33 competing at regional levels. All national parties are competing for Addis Ababa alongside Balderas, the only Addis-specific regional party.
One of the parties running only at the city’s regional level is Balderas for True Democracy (Balderas). In its manifesto, Balderas rejects Article 49 of the Constitution. “Article 49 is irrelevant,” says Getaneh Balcha, Political Affairs Head of the party. Addis Ababa should become an independent regional state, as it was during the transitional government between 1991 and 1995.”
According to Balderas’s manifesto, “Addis Ababa’s exact landholding area when the 1994 Constitution was ratified was 122,000 hectares and stretched to Sendafa, Sebeta, Sululta, Gefersa, Beseka, Welmera, and others. “Addis Ababa has lost its right to self-governance provided under the Constitution,” argues Getaneh.
Initially, Balderas was established as a civic society to safeguard the interests of the residents of Addis, a city with more than five million inhabitants, from those claiming Oromia has a special right over the capital. To advance its struggle and enable Addis to secure its autonomy through the ballot box, Balderas reestablished itself as a political party.
To strengthen its position, Balderas formed an alliance with the National Movement of Amhara (NaMA), a political party also arguing against Oromia’s special interest in Addis Ababa. To emerge victorious in the upcoming election, NaMA pulled out its candidates to prevent direct competition with Balderas in Addis Ababa, with Balderas doing the same in Amhara Region where NaMA enjoys strong support. The two parties also plan to form a full-fledged alliance and become a single party.
Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (Ezema) is another political party that denounces Oromia’s claim on Addis Ababa. The party also proposes the reconfiguration of the current ethno-linguistic federal arrangement towards a setup with parameters promoting easy administration, settlement, and distribution of resources, “The claim is baseless, because it excludes the majority of the population,” says Kebour Ghenna, one of Ezema’s candidates running for the Addis Ababa City Council. “Addis Ababa belongs to all Ethiopians and not only to particular ethnic groups.”
Ezema, operating in 412 out of 547 nationwide election districts fielding 1,540 regional and federal candidates, proposes to economically integrate Addis Ababa with the surrounding Oromia special zones to neutralize the tension. “It is only through such an arrangement in which both the capital and Oromia can benefit,” argues Kebour.
Enat Party, with its 605 candidates, the highest next to Prosperity Party (PP) and Ezema, also recommends solving the controversy by taking a financial point of view. “From an economic perspective, land is one of the four factors of production. As such, its allocation must be governed by market forces,” argues Getachew Asfaw, National Planning Expert for Enat. “Based on this, the entirety of Ethiopian land, including Addis Ababa, must be open to all Ethiopians.”
Unlike many other political parties arguing against Oromia’s special interest over the capital, the Oromo Liberation Movement (OLM) underlies its commitment for the full implementation of Article 49. “Oromia has been fighting for generations and has lost thousands of youths to realize the promise of Article 49,” stresses Takele Adugna, Head of Organizational Affairs at OLM.
According to Takele, Addis Ababa accesses public goods like water from surrounding areas but gives back nothing in return. “Even worse, the health of people living in the surrounding Oromia areas is affected due to waste discharged from the capital. As compensation, Addis Ababa should give a portion of its annual revenue to Oromia.”
However, Takele underscores that the issue is not only political, but economic also. “The majority of factories and businesses are located in and around Addis Ababa and there is a huge migration influx into the city searching for jobs, he stresses. In a bid to reduce the pressure on Addis Ababa, additional economic capitals should be created.”
The incumbent PP, fielding the highest number of candidates among the 47 competing political parties at 2,799, is choosing silence instead of taking a stand on the constitutional provision concerning Addis. However, PP has been offering benefit packages to farmers displaced from Oromia special zones in the past two years including provisioning condominium title deeds in Addis Ababa. The ruling party has also opened schools in Addis Ababa that are teaching in Afan Oromo.
The shortage of housing is another hot topic in the upcoming election. Ezema and PP are among the few political parties that have prepared a roadmap to solve this crisis for dwellers of the capital.
Ezema plans to build 200,000 housing units in the coming five years to solve the housing shortage in Addis Ababa, as stated on its manifesto. This is far below the 2 million houses PP plans to build in the coming five years, though at the national level. The backlog of housing demand surpasses one million units in Addis Ababa.
Ezema and PP also have divergent approaches when it comes to kebele houses that are usually provided to poor households at affordable rental rates. While Ezema plans to transfer the ownership of kebele houses to people living in them within the next two years at reasonable prices, PP has stated that it will demolish kebele houses and use the land for other purposes. There are around 153,000 kebele houses in Addis Ababa.EBR
9th Year • May 16 – Jun 15 2021 • No. 98