The fictitious agreement concerning the delineation of administrative boundaries that was purportedly unveiled ten days ago between Oromia Region and the Addis Ababa City Administration behind closed doors practically amounts to nothing more than what we would refer to as a “contract with oneself” in the strict sense of the term.
A “contract with oneself” is a sort of unilateral agreement entered into by a party with himself for the sole purpose of creating a right for those individuals whom he chooses to inherit his assets and liabilities following his death.
Though technically not illegal, this type of legal act is liable to invalidation whenever it is revealed to have harmed another party who was not involved. The alleged deal governing the delimitation of administrative boundaries was publicized in a rather unique gathering held on August 16, 2022, at the Addis Ababa City Council Hall in the presence of senior federal and regional government officials, religious forefathers, Aba Gedas, and selected community residents from across the city and around Oromia Special Zone, among others.
This agreement does not create equivalent rights and commensurate responsibilities since there are no two or more parties to the agreement in the first place, as required by contract or treaty law applicable to the subject.
After all, how can you tell the difference between Adanech Abebie, Mayor of Addis Ababa City, and Shimelis Abdissa, president of Oromia Region, when both belong to the ruling Prosperity Party’s Oromia branch and are perceived as ‘identical twins’ primarily intent on and standing for the promotion of one and the same interest despite their separate placements and official government positions?
That formidable interest is undoubtedly the Oromia Region’s ill-advised territorial ambition in all of its geographical corners.
Surprisingly, Adanech referred to the disputed agreement as a “historic accord,” referring to the fact that it was reached after seven years of haggling. According to her, it is intended to address all of the long-standing socioeconomic and governance difficulties that residents of both regional and municipal jurisdictions have faced.
Adanech went on to say that the arrangement was finally made in such a way that it would eventually strengthen the unity and peaceful coexistence of the inter-dependent communities on both ends, after being carefully and thoroughly studied by a joint technical committee drawn from the competing jurisdictions.
She even stated confidently that “nothing would change in terms of the supply of social services such as education, which will continue as usual in the aftermath of the proposed territorial adjustment.”
When it comes to the specifics of the changes to the existing administrative boundaries on the ground, Koye-Feche, Jemmo No. 2, and parts of the Tulu-Dimtu areas in the capital, where large blocks of condominiums have already been built by the Addis Ababa City Administration, are now declared to be part of the Oromia Region.
Conversely, the Furi and Hanna Mariam in the (lebbu) areas across the Kersa River, where the Oromia Region claims to have similarly constructed the Kotari condominium structures, are considered to have been transferred to the Addis Ababa City Administration’s local jurisdiction.
All of the above-mentioned locations (as many believe) are entirely within Addis’s territorial bounds as defined by its founding Charter. However, based on what is known on the ground, the sensitive and high-level decision appears to have been made without proper engagement and prior consultation with key residents and stakeholders at all levels.
To the surprise of her audience, the mayor lamented that this ill-advised arrangement would finally ensure the long-term benefit of the people and thus maintain sustained peace and intergroup harmony for all citizens. Unfortunately, this rambling speech comes across as foolish and amounts to an aggressive manipulation of our common sense.
The Locus Standi of Addis Ababa and its official location in relation to the nation’s state structure
The early establishment of Addis Ababa as the permanent seat of the Ethiopian central government dates back to 1886, when Empress Taytu Betul selected and established it with the blessing of her husband, Emperor Menilik II.
Since 1889, it has been officially recognized as the remarkable capital of the contemporary nation, if not the entire African Continent, as of 1963. More crucially, Addis Ababa City’s current autonomous status is not merely cosmetic.
Instead, it is a kind of constitutional innovation. According to Art. 49 Sub-Art. (1) of the 1995 F.D.R.E. Constitution, Addis Ababa is the capital city of the Ethiopian Federal State. As a result, according to its sub-Articles, the city is a self-governing body with complete legal personality, accountable to the Federal Government.
The city has no other name than “Addis Ababa,” which means “New Flower” in Amharic, whether it’s in the Federal Constitution or the Revised Charter Proclamation No. 2003 (as amended).
In fact, under Art 3 of the aforementioned Charter, this name is formally sanctioned to the exclusion of all other informal names such as Addu-Ghennet, Sheger, Berara, and Finfinnee.
Nonetheless, this does not imply that the frequent usage of Finffinnee, for example, as an alternate name for the city, will not be acknowledged as long as the State of Oromia prefers such nomenclature for whatever purpose it may require.
Addis Ababa’s legal relationship with the State of Oromia
From a geographical standpoint, Addis Ababa is undeniably located in the heart of the Oromia Region. Supposedly, with this in mind, Art. 49 Sub-Art. (5) of the constitution foresees the possibility of potential problems occurring between the two jurisdictions that must be resolved peacefully.
Nonetheless, the process it has designed has been judged to be excessively ambiguous in dealing with such conflicts.
Given the constitutional provision under consideration, it was initially anticipated that “the provision of social services or the usage of natural resources and other comparable things” would be governed by a subsidiary law designed to preserve the “unique interests of the State of Oromia.”
Similarly, the shared administrative concerns deriving from Addis Ababa’s location within the womb of Oromia had to be spelled out and disposed of using such an instrument, which had to be deliberated on and passed by the House of the People’s Representatives.
Unfortunately, no such law has yet become a reality on the ground in order to resolve such issues since the constitution was promulgated in 1995.
As a result, nobody knows what exactly is meant by what has been constitutionally referred to as “the particular interest of the State of Oromia in Addis Ababa” when the word is applied strictly. The question of boundary adjustment between the two contesting jurisdictions is arguably of particular importance here.
In this regard, Art. 5 of the Revised Charter Proclamation No. 361/2003 (as amended) of the Addis Ababa City Government specifies how and by whom territorial boundaries between Addis Ababa and Oromia Region, the city’s only neighboring state, shall be delineated.
The above-mentioned provision states that “the boundary of the City is subject to delimitation either by a mutual agreement to be made between the City Government and the Oromia State, or alternatively pursuant to a decision of the Federal Government.” As stated in the provision, each of the two choices is legal and should thus be carefully executed without regard to the limits that existed previous to and at the time of the proclamation’s passage.
Without a doubt, the current arrangement, ostensibly created by an intra-party constellation, does not conform to the charter’s terms and conditions.
Far from being detrimental to the city’s existing territorial structure, it falls short of the public discussions required by Art. 7 of the City Government’s Revised Charter Proclamation, which needs the necessary participation of the actual residents at stake.
It appears to have been conducted by representatives of the ruling party in power rather than a government-to-government conversation. In my opinion, such a contentious decision should have been made by the Federal State in an impartial and independent way, to the relative satisfaction of all interested parties, because this option is also accessible under Art. 5 of the Charter, as previously stated.
In terms of the administrative structure of the State of Oromia, Art 2 Sub-Art (2) of its mentioned constitution provides for any possible adjustment of its existing boundaries with all neighboring regions based on the consent of the people inhabiting the area in consultation and agreement to be reached with the pertinent region.
In my opinion, the framers of the Oromia National Regional State’s 2001 Revised Constitution did not likely believe that Addis Ababa would be the perfect capital of their emerging region due to its initial constitutional designation as the unofficial seat of the Federal Government.
That is why, by then, they had favored Adama to be the primary capital of Oromia, as stated in Art. 6 of their Regional Constitution, referenced above.
If my memory serves me correctly, it was only in 2005, after the now-defunct Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) fatally lost Addis Ababa to the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, also known as “Qinijit,” in the aftermath of the third general elections, that the seat of the Oromia National Regional Government had to be relocated to the city with the advice and encouragement of the Federal government.
The general reaction to this remarkable event endangering Addis Ababa’s territorial integrity is, to put it mildly, varied.
Leading opposition political parties, including Balderas for True Democracy and Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (Ezema), have issued a series of organizational statements vehemently condemning the decision for its lack of transparency and public consultation, claiming that it was made in the backyard.
The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), for its part, rejects the decision for a different reason and urges Oromia to fully embrace and control Addis Ababa City and its municipal vicinities. Unfortunately, this group has long claimed that the city is part of the Oromia Region and must be handled under its jurisdiction. However, an aged and backward-looking worldview like this has no place in the modern world.
Last but not least, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s reaction to the very uncomfortable decision is one of appreciation and affection.
He triumphantly informed a gathering of teenagers in Addis Ababa that “no task more spectacular than this one has ever been successfully performed by the ruling Prosperity Party since the latter’s very formation,” his remarks interrupted by a tremendous and raucous applause. The premier attempted to mislead the ecstatic audience in his enticing reflection by outright alleging that the City Administration had vehemently argued to expand its territorial jurisdiction as far as Adama to the east and Debre-Birhan to the north, to name a few directions, while the Oromia side had by that point demanded to largely swallow up Addis Ababa up to Mexico Square.
He also boasted that “nobody else could have done that magnificent job in the future had he and his supporters not managed to handle it in such a wise and responsible manner” at the time, citing the sensitivity and complexity of the situation. If the Prime Minister’s story is genuine, one has to wonder why Oromia sought to take over Addis Ababa’s territorial resources up to Mexico Square and diminish the city to that level by then.
Is that a quest of the Oromo inhabitants, with proper care to really preserve their fundamental rights and interests, or is it in search of a vast supply of developed urban land conveniently available for unrestricted use and exploitation?
The decision’s far-reaching consequences
According to Art. 49 Sub-Art. (2) of the Federal Constitution, “the citizens of Addis Ababa City” are granted a “full measure of self-government” in the first place. As a result, no territorial arrangement of the city will be credible unless its inhabitants affected by the conclusion of such an exercise participate.
Because the City Administration is constitutionally answerable to the Federal Government, the issue is more than an internal political party matter, as the Prime Minister would have the people believe and preach in public.
Furthermore, as stated in Art 6 of the City Government’s Revised Charter Proclamation No. 361/2003, the working language of the Addis Ababa City Administration is Amharic (as amended). As a consequence, the ill-advised integration of any of its sub-cities and woredas into another region with a different identity and working language would force an alien identity and language, in this case ‘Afan Oromo’ and culture, on those citizens without their prior desire and approval.
Let me conclude by saying that no city, from an urban management standpoint, is doomed to sleep and eventually stagnate for good where it first sprouted up without future expansion regions in all of its development orientations.
As a trend, it is not the rural community in the countryside that is mostly dependent on agriculture for a living that is expanding and expected to expand its territorial scope into the core district of the adjacent city and its surrounding suburbs. On the contrary, it is frequently the opposite way around.
Addis Ababa is not an exception to the law that applies to all competing cities around the world.
Any catastrophic failure on the part of our successive regimes to systematically identify the extent of their physical limits in a rather finalized structural design should not now be exploited to unfairly squeeze its appropriate size based on short-sighted ethno-political considerations.
Contributed by Merhatsidk Mekonnen Abayneh