It is said that architecture, music and art reflects the mind of the people and is a sign of identity. This is also what is passed from generation to generation and examples of this are Axum and Lalibela. Mercato has become a concrete Jungle losing the personality or identity it once had, writes Belay Chebssie.
The largest open market in Africa is becoming a closed market; a concrete Jungle.
The Mercato painted by Tsegaye Gebremedhin – the Mercato we all used to know as the largest colorful and open market area in Africa, vibrant, energetic, noisy and wild is not there anymore. Instead we have a Mercato that is boring, I repeat boring!
Mercato Indigino – market of the indigenous – was created by the Italians for the poor or natives while Piazza area was for the whites.
Then came the Arabs, mainly from Yemen, who dominated and turned the character of Mercato to resemble the Arab souk look. It was then taken over by the Gurages who made it more bustling and intriguing.
Mercato was not only a market place; it was a dreamland for the poor and destitute. The poor came from every corner of the country to try and build their lives in Merkato. Today, the poor and destitute go to Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon to fulfil their dreams.
Mercato, until recently, used to have its own social fabric. Different sections of Mercato used to be called ‘Tera’ or ‘Berenda’ according to the type of products they sell. For instance, ‘Kibe Tera’ is an area where cooking butter is sold while ‘Kimem Tera’ is where spices are found. ‘Minalesh Tera’ was the most interesting of all. Here one can buy anything except human organs. The area is known for recycling of all sorts of things like that of paper products, plastic bottles, building materials and pieces of iron, to mention a few. I wish there was a study conducted on the impact of this area on the economy. Leftover foods from restaurants are sold in Minalesh Tera at a price of 10-50 cents. Today this social fabric is ruined and there is no “Tera” or ‘Berenda” or specific areas for specific products. These areas or ‘teras’ have been replaced by buildings accommodating all the products in the same building.
The other amazing culture of Mercato is how both Christians and Muslims worship and work together in the same area. The largest Mosque in Ethiopia – Anwar – co-exists next to St. Raguel Orthodox Church. This is a real life demonstration of how people can live in harmony; a thing that is becoming a major challenge in today’s world.
The ‘old’ Mercato is also called a ‘live expo’ which is a major source of income for the country. It was estimated sometime back that around 20 percent of income from tourism is made from Mercato; an open market where one can find everything from every region including different types of spices, artefacts, etc.
The ‘new’ Mercato
It is said that architecture, music and art reflects the mind of the people and is a sign of identity. This is also what is passed from generation to generation and examples of this are Axum and Lalibela. Mercato has become a concrete Jungle losing the personality or identity it once had. The nonexistence or the confused architecture of Mercato shows what we are. It is not urban planning or local development plan. It looks like the architects and the engineers made it without taking into consideration the culture that has been there for many decades. I do not believe tall buildings alone display the development of an area or sustainability. The development should put the community at the centre, with their participation. Besides the community from Mercato; the involvement of other professionals like economists, sociologist and environmentalists would have been valuable in the development of this big market.
In today’s Mercato you see barrels of oil, tons of sugar, building materials, etc. inside a building. I wonder how much and how long the building can handle this? Can you think of the porters who have to carry these commodities up and down these buildings? What is their fate?
How about the cost of land in Mercato; it has been named one of the most expensive land in the world with certain areas costing close to 300,000 birr per square meter.
We are witnesses that the buildings have no sewerage system (septic tanks only), no parking, no green area, or sitting area, no pedestrian walk or traffic signs…I better stop here.
Do we have any idea where Mercato is headed? With the high cost of land, it is going to be the hub of the financial services sector, high-end Mercato for the upper class or wholesale area for Chinese product?
Will there be anything left of Mercato that can be passed on to the next generation? Where are those academics, planners, home builders and thinkers trained to plan and build market areas? Do we have any plans for secondary market and markets like Shola market, Addisu Gebeya market and Akaki market?
I would say this is the time to perhaps stop and think before more developments plans are put in place in Mercato.
Ed.’s Note: Belaye Chebssie is a businessman and former board member of the Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Associations. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].