Thursday, July 25, 2024
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Resonating Echoes, Unheard Voices: Addis Ababa’s Final Act

The rapid demolition of our historical buildings and walkways, once graced by our forefathers, has surely caught everyone’s attention. In a brief press release on March 7, the Addis Ababa mayor claimed that these actions are aimed at making the city befitting of its name—a sort of facelift, if you will. But what if Addis Ababa was already beautiful, and it is simply a matter of you not grasping its allure?

The consistent pattern of deconstructing the city is marked by a lack of public discussions, effectively silencing the voices of the people. Dear Mayor, the least you can do is inquire about our desires; after all, you are meant to serve the people.

For those of us who were born and raised in Addis Ababa, the significance of partaking in Baklava at G/Kirstos and Mekonnenhall, waiting in line at Enricos, strolling through the corridors of Piassa, witnessing couples shop for silver and gold, sitting at the Tea Room Cafe to savor a cup of coffee, or unwinding at Jolly Bar during the night cannot be understated. When you think of Arada, we think of Piassa. Yet now, all that remains are the remnants of our past. To you, it may seem like slums, but for us, it is home. Nevertheless, we find solace in preserving our cherished memories, culture, and heritage through mediums such as music, art, and photographs; this is our last refuge.

Great cities are born from a reverence for history, not the destruction of it. Just look at Italy, France, Britain, and Egypt, where heritage is highly esteemed, attracting millions of tourists and generating substantial revenue. However, the Ethiopian government, fuelled by an excessive zeal, is fixated on erecting shiny new structures in the name of modernity and creating a city worthy of the title ‘Addis Ababa.’ Historical buildings should not be viewed as obstacles to progress but rather as opportunities for the state to entice foreigners to embark on a journey through the intricate and vibrant cultural tourism nestled in the heart of the city.

Our city encompasses more than just its aging houses, “dirty” sidewalks, and worn-out poles. If one looks beyond the physical structures, they will discover the essence of our city—the unity of the poor and rich, their shared sorrows, their collective resilience in tough times, and their celebrations of each other’s happiness within the framework of our old, history-rich, and captivating urban landscape. Piassa, in particular, offers a glimpse into the Italian occupation, evident in the architectural designs of the Piassa corridor.

Regrettably, the administration has proceeded with complete demolition, arguing that not all buildings hold historical value or heritage significance. However, it is important to recognize that beyond their emotional worth, each of these buildings and the communities they housed held memories that would have been passed down to future generations as part of Addis Ababa’s heritage.

Numerous books have been written on the preservation, restoration, reconstruction, reuse, and revitalization of historical buildings, emphasizing the need to maintain cultural richness while ensuring an ecologically sustainable and socially just future. Instead of outright annihilation, the administration could have explored repurposing these buildings, thus preserving their historical and cultural significance.

The administration still has the opportunity to embark on community-led development initiatives in Arada and other districts by making the decision-making process inclusive. By including representatives from multi-sector professional associations and community leaders in the planning process, a more equitable decision-making framework can be established. This approach would minimize the displacement of long-time residents, preserve the authenticity of the city, and revitalize it, leading to a win-win situation for all stakeholders involved.

What about the green legacy? City officials have the opportunity to incorporate environmentally friendly practices such as green roofs, rain gardens, and pedestrian-friendly streetscapes. These initiatives can create spaces where society can come together instead of being pushed aside in the name of progress and prosperity. Additionally, it is crucial to highlight the cost and environmental impact of constructing new buildings and demolishing old ones. Preservation and refurbishment not only align with environmental sustainability but also prove to be advantageous for the administration. It’s something worth considering.

We need to foster a culture of dialogue. Officials should not always resort to using force or coercion to gain compliance. Addis Ababa city officials must engage in genuine conversations and actively involve the communities they serve. This approach would help reduce antagonism and create a more cooperative environment.

Moreover, there should be a well-defined due process and bureaucratic procedures to follow before asking residents to uproot their lives and leave their homes of many years. A fair and transparent due process would provide residents with the opportunity to prepare financially and emotionally and offer them a chance to appeal administrative decisions they deem unfair. These rights are guaranteed by the parameters of the Ethiopian legal system.

Lastly, transparency is key. Providing information after the fact only deepens existing antagonism and mistrust within society.

To those of us born and raised in the heart of Addis Ababa, I empathize with the feelings of hopelessness that can overwhelm us as we witness the destruction of our city in the name of modernity or beautification. Let us resist the temptation to do nothing and wait for change to happen. Each of us must leverage our own expertise and take action to ensure that the voice of protest is heard as our home slowly fades away.

Contributed by  Lelilt Tsegaye

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