Addis – A City in Motion
Kelemu Smeneh August 14, 2012
A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to visit my home country, Ethiopia. This time around I spent most of my time in Addis Ababa.
The change that Addis Ababa is undergoing is undeniably huge.
The city is in a dynamic motion. It is active, super active. Hustle and bustle characterizes every corner of the city. Modern buildings are rising in the midst of small shacks and recently cleared lands. Hundreds of new building constructions are common sites in and around the metropolis. Construction is everywhere – resembling a creation of a new city.
Business activity is lively and vibrant. Legally established firms or stores, illegal trading activities and commercial activities are booming and blooming. The city is filled with people; especially during the day. Driving is chaotic. There seems to be no respect for pedestrians. Any one person who expects cars to stop and crosses the road on cross walks (‘zebra’ crossings) thinking he/she has a right of way may find his/her action unfortunate.
The few high end restaurants that I saw are filled with ferenjis. They are noticeably visible.
People complain of hard economic times due to sharp increases in prices, inflation eroding the purchasing power of birr. Officially and unofficially the exchange rate (dollar) does not show a lot of variation. Yet, prices are high. Economic explanation of the simple kind- supply and demand – does not seem to be enough to explain the phenomenon.
Prices are indeed high. Even a Diaspora like me who is used to count money in hard currencies will feel the effect of high prices of commodities as well as services. And yet one is left to wonder how and why the so many restaurants and bars, from the lowest priced to the highest are filled with customers. People on the streets look well fed and healthy.
Addis has now more or less streets that connect one corner of the city to the other. The number of asphalted roads, the speed they are being built is really amazing.
As much as one sees the positive development of the city, and the country by extension, one can’t ignore the worrisome attitudes a stranger like me notices in everyday encounter with the people. In general I find people’s attitude worrying.
The bureaucracy is troubling. Even the efficiency and motivation I noticed in banks few years back is no more there. Prepare to spend more time in going through the bureaucracy.
It is not an exaggeration to say that it takes a day, if one is lucky, to accomplish a simple task. The political leadership admits openly that they have a governance issue. Although admittance is a step forward the practical steps needed to correct the inefficiency and bad governance seems to be late in coming to many like me. Frustrated by the bureaucracy I even suggested to some that perhaps the government should contract out some of its work to the private enterprise. I can’t say enough about the inefficiency, unwillingness to assist and inability of the bureaucracy.
The physical change that the city and the country are undergoing is pleasantly surprising. There is great determination, willingness, and commitment on behalf of the government to permanently change the infrastructure deficiencies of the whole country.
I had the chance to visit some of the new settlement areas in the city. I visited Lafto, Jomo, Ayyer Tenna and some few places in the city – places that were either farm areas or plain forests when I grew up in Addis. These areas are very well planned and constructed communities. The area that was meant to house the displaced people is now a settlement of choice for the rich. One notices multi- million birr houses built in and around the settlement areas of Jomo, Ayyer Tenna and other similar places.
I was very much impressed by the buildings and roads built around that area. In fact the roads built in Addis in the last few years are beyond anybody’s expectation. If the infrastructure development and city planning implementation continues with this pace, Addis Ababa and by extension, the whole of Ethiopia will change completely in about ten years.
This time around, on the political front, what I found amazing is the respect that people from all walks of life and all types of political strands that I talked to have towards Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. They claim that he is the only person who is free of any type of favoritism or corruption. They declare him to be very capable person to lead the country and many are not in favor of his resignation at the end of his current term. My arguing otherwise did not find a sympathetic ear.
The federal arrangement of the country seems to be firmly grounded in the mind of all that I had a chance to discuss politics with. In fact I have not been able to find anyone, including opposition members that have any substantive issue about the regional arrangement and administration.
Addis is in the process of renewal. It is lively, chaotic, vibrant and promising. But corruption and maladministration are also threatening her being a place of choice. The people have to develop the habit of saying no to corruption and the government has to develop a mechanism to empower the population, and create a new breed of citizenry that is resistant to corruption