ADDIS ABABA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ababaker sat in his car staring through the window at the remains of his family business across the road.
“It was my father’s,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “He lived here for more than 40 years. We used to have cafe, a hotel and restaurant here.”
By the time the demolition in this part of central Addis Ababa happened Ababaker’s father had retired, leaving the business to his son who maintained it as a souvenir shop.
Business was good, he said, but he and his neighbors had been counting the clock with the area around being demolished.
Nonetheless the razing of his house and shop, both in same week last month, came as a shock.
“We just heard rumors. There was no communication from the officials,” he said, one of a rising number of people voicing concerns over the way the government is rebuilding the heart of the Ethiopian capital.
For as a revised master plan for Ethiopia’s capital enters implementation stage, slum clearance has stepped up a gear and the focus moved away from the city’s peripheries after mass protests against evictions and displacement there last year.
The new plan is restricted to city boundaries and focuses on the city center where some 360 hectares and over 3,000 homes are slated to be demolished over the next three years, said Million Girma, head of the city’s urban renewal agency, the Land Development and Urban Renewal Agency.
“All eyes are now back on Addis,” said Bisrat Kifle, an architect and urban planning expert based in the capital.
LAND VALUES BOOM
According to UN-Habitat more than 80 percent of Addis Ababa’s inner city is slum, the majority of which is government-owned ‘kebele’ housing dating back decades.
In 2011, the municipality decided to clear all government housing in the city center to make a modern business district.
The government also extended the nationalization of urban land and eliminated all remaining forms of transferable and inherited private property in the city.
Renovation programs intensified in the subsequent years, often with the demolition of entire neighborhoods.
From 2009 to 2015, the city expropriated about 400 hectares of inner-city land and tore down a total of 23,151 dilapidated houses, according to UN-Habitat.
At the same time land in central Addis Ababa shot up in value, providing an added incentive for rapid re-development, with a lease in the commercial center of Addis Ababa now costing up to $15,000 per square meter, making urban land in the capital some of the most expensive in Africa.
“There is a high demand for land from private and government investors,” Girma told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We have to prepare Addis’s land to deliver this.”
In one area, located in the shadow of the new AU (African Union) building, residents evicted in April said their entire neighborhood was cleared in the space of days.
“At first they told us we could stay until after the rainy season,” 19-year-old Tsegaye told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “But suddenly they arrived and said there was an ‘extraordinary situation’ that meant we only had three days.”
Residents in several districts across the inner city complained to the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the process had been sudden and disruptive.
“There was no warning,” said Fedlu, 30, who had been privately renting land near the five-star Sheraton Hotel.
“There was no consultation ... They just tell us to leave the area, but we don’t have any replacement or compensation. We feel like second-class citizens.”
According to federal law in Ethiopia all evicted private landowners are entitled to a new plot of land and financial compensation to build a new home.
Tenants in government housing are offered priority access to apartments in new government high-rises for those who can afford mortgages or publicly-owned rental housing for those who cannot.
Those affected should be relocated within a one kilometer radius, according to the revised master plan.
Since all land in Ethiopia is officially owned by the state, financial compensation for private homeowners is based on the physical worth of the property, which is often old and undervalued compared with the informal market.
“It’s absolutely not enough,” said Ababaker, who told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he had received 340,000 ETB ($14,733.41) and land 15 km away. “I’m not willing to go there. It’s too far and the electricity and water isn’t ready.”
Other affected residents, most of whom were public tenants, complained that they were still living in the area because they had nowhere to else to go.
“I’m waiting for a replacement,” said Tsegaye, who was living with his brother. “After living here all these years we were told to leave in three days without any compensation. Of course I’m angry.”
In the face of such complaints the city authorities have “identified the problems people face and we have a plan to make compensation better”, said Girma, the official. “We have seen it is not good enough.”
In its latest report on Addis Ababa published last month, UN-Habitat noted “significant improvements” from the first generation of urban renewal programs in the city.
But it added that evidence of the process of relocation and compensation remained “less than flattering”, and highlighted in particular the plight of informal and unregistered residents for whom compensation mechanisms remain unclear.
According to Felix Heisel, an urban expert at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, ‘kebele’ housing in Addis Ababa was left neglected for so long that there is now good reason for demolition.
“But the question is not whether you demolish these houses, it’s how you go about demolishing them and what you save by doing it right,” he said.