The Tale of Sheger

New City Displaces Thousands

Ethiopians have been internally displaced for a variety of reasons over the last couple of years. The security challenges posed by Shene, a group labeled a terrorist organization in Wolega, Western Oromia, or by Gumuz Militants in the State of Benishangul Gumuz, or during the war between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), have all shown Ethiopians the height of social and economic challenges. The most recent reason for displacement, however, is related to the establishment of a city- Sheger, a name previously used to refer to the capital Addis Ababa. In this article, EBR’s Trualem Asmare tries to depict the plight of citizens who are displaced following the plan to establish the new city.

To form one metropolis, the towns of Sebeta, Burayu, Legatafo, Lededadi, Sululta, and Gelan, which encircle Addis Abeba in all directions, have been consolidated under a single mayoral administration. Shimelis Abdisa, president of the State of Oromia, along with notable faces in Oromia, announced the launch of the operations of the new administration on February 26, 2023.

The news of the launch of the new city’s administration in Addis Ababa was not as lavish as it seemed. The news was accompanied by reports of house demolitions, and displacements of people, mainly to Addis Ababa and Debre Birhan in the State of Amhara. Following the demolitions,

Megenagna in Yeka District, Mexico in Lideta District, Ayat in Lemi Kura District, and other areas have witnessed migrants who have been forced to live on the streets. Abeba Kebede (not her real name) is a 45-year-old woman and mother of four. Abeba lived with her children in Tafo, one of the towns where these demolitions were taking place. She lost her husband three years ago and has been raising the children alone by selling onions and potatoes on the street. Having lost her house due to the demolition in her town, she and her children were forced to flee to Addis Ababa and live on the streets. ‘’When my house was destroyed, they didn’t even give me time to take out my belongings,” Abeba told EBR. “I had nowhere to go and no one to support me, so I was forced to go out on the streets.” Abeba claims to be in a terrible situation. Abeba and her children had a good life before the demolitions and the life that followed. She used to send them to school and was able to support them in any way until she couldn’t. Abeba is now forced to beg from bypassers at Megenagna.

At the beginning, Abeba and her children were able to get by on begging. However, the following weeks after she was forced out, the streets were filled with displaced people from her town and others around Addis Ababa competing for the generosity of Addis Ababans. “My children are all girls, and I am very afraid that they might be sexually assaulted,” Abeba told EBR. “I have never thought that I would hate my life this much.’’

Sharing the same story with Abeba is Mengistu Teka. 65 years old father of five who used to live in Tafo. The diabetic elderly man is now out on the streets of Mexico in the Lideta District. When EBR approached Mengistu, he sent his wife and children to beg. He couldn’t do it because his diabetes was getting worse, and he was afraid he’d fall very ill if he got too hungry.

‘’Our situation is very dire,” Mengistu told EBR. “I was forced to stop all of the treatments for my health challenges.’ Mengistu’s children used to work as daily laborers and come home with enough money to keep the family afloat before being forced onto the streets of Addis Ababa. The only challenge was feeding the family, as they didn’t have to rent their house.

Now feeding the family, getting a roof over their heads, and managing their father’s diabetes are all high priorities. As the demolitions have offered no alternative to citizens, first the families go to the cheapest hotel and stay there, pleading with authorities to reconsider their decision. As the days go by and they have sold all the items they had with them, families are then forced to go out on the streets with their children. Slowly but surely, they even sell the clothes on their back when they were forcefully evicted, just to feed their children. This is not the story of just one or two families, but of hundreds currently living in a dire situation after being forced out of their homes.

Even before the displacement resulting from the establishment of Sheger City, a total 2.75 million internally displaced people (IDPs) are reported to have lived in 2,158 accessible locations spread across 11 states of Ethiopia in 2022. The figure at the time did not include those in the State of Tigray. “Procedural and legal irregularities in Sheger city house demolitions and forced evictions leave several homeless,” Daniel Bekele, chief commissioner at the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, said on March 31, 2023. “Forced evictions, even from unlawful occupations, should comply with minimum human rights standards.”

According to research, internal displacement has a wide range of effects on the lives of the displaced, the host communities, and the individuals they leave behind. The most pressing threats are to their physical safety, wellbeing, and human rights. Additionally, it may have a big and long-term impact on how they develop socioeconomically. Internal displacement can have a significant negative impact on the economy at the individual, community, and even national level due to the harm it causes to people’s physical health, psychological well-being, and environment, as well as their ability to secure a livelihood and access to security, education, housing, basic infrastructure, and a social life.

When forced to leave their homes and land, displaced people frequently lose their assets. They may also be unable to continue working, which would result in underemployment, unemployment, or informal labour, as well as a major reduction in income. Loss of livelihood may cause a reduction in access to food, leading to an increase in malnutrition.

Additionally, it may prevent people from being able to afford contraception or force them to use transactional sex, resulting in an increase in pregnancies. Internal displacement disrupts a child’s education by removing them from their regular school setting, teachers, and peers for months or even years. When they are able to return to school, whether in their hometown, the host city, or a camp, they must make up for lost time while dealing with the stress and trauma of their displacement.

Poor housing conditions could be detrimental to the physical and emotional health of IDPs. They are exposed to heat, cold, wetness, and other natural risks while living in tents and substandard accommodations. Because of a lack of water and sanitation, communicable diseases can sometimes spread to other areas. In camps and other informal settlements, poor lighting, crowding, and a lack of privacy can all contribute to stress and either cause or exacerbate mental illness. Additionally, psychosocial trauma, declining living standards, and poor housing circumstances frequently affect displaced people’s health, ability to lead healthy lives, and access to care and treatment. Children, and the elderly, and those with long-term illnesses or impairments, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts displacement. The most common problems for internally displaced people include depression and anxiety, starvation, infectious infections, and a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care.

Education and security in the legal, physical, and psychosocial spheres are all interconnected. Additionally, legal obstacles brought on by the housing is one of the major expenses IDPs have, therefore it inevitably affects their ability to support themselves. Isolation or overcrowding may result in or exacerbate mental illness. Inadequate housing circumstances that expose residents to discrimination, exploitation, abuse, or violence, as well as when their rights as renters or owners are infringed, can also compromise security.

EBR 11th Year • May 2023 • No. 117

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