You are currently viewing In-depth Analysis: ‘Historical Decision’ on Addis Abeba, Oromia Special Zone administrative demarcation: Answers to old questions or more questions?

In-depth Analysis: ‘Historical Decision’ on Addis Abeba, Oromia Special Zone administrative demarcation: Answers to old questions or more questions?

Officials of Addis Abeba City Administration lead by Mayor Adanech Abiebie, and Oromia regional state led by its president Shimelis Abdissa, celebrating announcement of the administrative demarcation identifying districts between Addis Abeba and the Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne which is hailed as “a historic decision” . Picture: Mayor’s office

By Natnael Fite @NatieFit

Addis Abeba: The long talked about administrative demarcation identifying districts between Addis Abeba and the Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne has finally been put in place in what the Addis Abeba city Administration said was following the completion of the new study. The administrative demarcation between the Addis Abeba city administration and the Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne had been the center of political disputes and multiple protests. The administrative demarcation areas center around the city of Addis Abeba and the outskirts on various directions of the city which are administratively under the Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne districts, a special zone established in 2008 with the view to develop a legal framework to regulate the administrative expansion of the city of Addis Abeba which has its main administrative office located in Addis Abeba.

In the decision last week, which the federal government said has involved the participation of half a million residents on both sides, the administration demarcations of some areas were transferred from Addis Abeba city administration to the administration of the Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne, while others have been transferred from Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne to Addis Abeba.

Prior to the announcement last week, citing its ‘trusted sources’ from Addis Abeba City Administration, a local radio reported that detailed instructions have been sent to the ruling party [Prosperity Party] member organizations both in the city and Oromia region respective woreda and sub-city officials on how to implement the administrative demarcation process. Government officials of the woredas and sub-cities have been instructed to hold talks with residents who will be affected by the decision, the report said. It also laid out areas that will be divided between the respective administrative demarcations of the Addis Abeba city administration and the administration of Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne.

Despite the glaring lack of clarity however, on 16 August, the Government Communications Services hailed the decision a decision that answered the decades-old controversy surrounding the issue

Addis Abeb City Mayor Adanech Abiebie mentioned some of these areas. In what she claimed was a “historic decision”, she said an agreement was reached for Addis Abeba city to continue to administer the areas it was administering before, whereas the Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne will administer areas where condominiums were built inside its administrative areas. These included the Koye Feche condominium site, Tulu Dimtu condominium site in half, and Jemo number two condominium site. She also said that agreement has been reached for Qotari Condominium site, or Lebu area, stretching from Furi Hana and Oromia Condominium cites to the Qaarsa River will be administered under the Addis Abeba City Administration.

The Mayor vowed that no government services will be interrupted in the areas; service and security work will strengthened done jointly by both sides; projects under construction will not be stopped, instead, special monitoring will be done to ensure that they are completed quickly. Moreover, the Mayor promised that the teaching process and students’ language issue will continue as it was; and the use of language will not affect the government services provided.

Although the administrative demarcations these condominiums were given to the Oromia Special Zone, the may vowed the “beneficiaries will be the residents of Addis Abeba” who won the lottery, likewise, the beneficiaries of the condominiums that were transferred to Addis Abeba city administration, “will be the workers of Oromia” who won the lottery and are using them.

No other official announcement was made to indicate the clear administrative demarcations as of the publishing of this analysis. Despite the glaring lack of clarity however, on 16 August, the Government Communications Services hailed the decision a decision that answered the decades-old controversy surrounding the issue. “This demarcation has been a public demand for many years” the federal government said, and the process and its outcome was a solution to the long-running administrative demarcations issues between the two administrations’ structures. “There has been no clear administrative boundary between the Addis Abeba and the Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne and the residents have been exposed to many problems due to lack of government services and social services provision,” the federal government said.

“Most of all, it has been difficult to control illegal activities including land grabbing and to enforce the rule of law and ensure accountability. Residents have been illegally displaced from their homes and properties; families have been broken up and exposed to economic, social, and mental issues,” the federal government said while listing the lack of clear administrative delimitation and the consequences.

A committee and all the unknowns

Speaking to a town-hall full of youth who came from all over the country, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took it upon himself and praised the decision. But he also detailed the difficulties of accomplishing such feat and said it one of the major milestones his party, the Prosperity Party (PP) has accomplished.

The Prime Minister has alluded to “a committee” he had formed to handle the matter. It was in March 2019 that his office announced the formation of a committee of eight individuals to work to bring in suggestions and recommendations to help to “sustainably resolve” the administrative demarcation disputes.

The announcement of the committee was made in the backdrop of two days of region-wide protest demonstrations in Oromia regional state against a decision by the Addis Abeba city administration under the then Mayor Takele Uma, to hand over thousands of condominium units built by Addis Ababa City Administration Savings & Houses Development Enterprise (AASHDE) to residents of the city.

Despite the avalanche of public statements however, there is no official statement made available to the general public on the clear steps “the committee” formed by Prime Minister Abiy took to reach at the administrative demarcation decision

The specific flashpoint that triggered the protests were condominiums located in Koye Feche site one and two, which the Oromia regional state said were located “deep” into the Oromia Regional State Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne, unequivocally rejecting the decision.

Oromia region saw widespread protest after a decision in March 2019 to hand over thousands of condominium units located in Koye Feche site

All public statements released last week referred to the works done by “a committee” composed of members from the Addis Abeba Municipal and Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne administrations, and cited the presence of an extensive study conducted by this committee based on the federal and Oromia state constitutions as well as the Addis Abeba city charter.

In her bilingual post written in Amharic and Afaan Oromoo, Mayor Adanch recognized the magnitude of the matter when she said: “this question has been left unanswered for years, huge sacrifices were paid for the issue of the administrative boundary between Addis Abeba and Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne.”

there is no official statement indicating that “the committee” had gone into practice and worked out the details of its establishment. Only four of the members are currently on regular duty.

Despite the avalanche of public statements however, there is no official statement made available to the general public on the clear steps “the committee” formed by Prime Minister Abiy took to reach at the administrative demarcation decision; nor is the list of the members of the committee.

The eight members of the committee from the federal and Addis Abeba city administration were – in their former positions: Muferiat Kamil, Minister of Peace from the federal government; From Addis Abeba City Administration: Takele Uma, deputy Mayor of Addis Abeba, and two of his deputies: Endawek Abate and Dr. Solomon Kidane, social and economic cluster coordinators respectively; as well as Tesfaye Beljige, public coordination advisor to the deputy mayor.

From the Oromia regional state, the members were – (in their former positions): Tayiba Hassen, Deputy president of the Oromia regional state, and Ahmed Tusa, Oromia regional state urban development cluster coordinator with a ministerial rank, as well as Dr. Girma Amente, Oromia regional state rural development cluster head with ministerial rank.

The unknowns of the status of this committee, coupled with the use of language in some of the announcements, including Mayor Adanech’s, alerted many Oromos whoa re closely watching the developments. For instance, in her Amharic post, the Mayor stated that an administrative boundary was drawn between the Oromia regional state and the Addis Abeba municipal administrations. For the Oromos who say the city of Addis Abeba itself is the seat of Oromia regional state government, this raises a question as it demarcates a boundary between the Oromia regional state and Addis Abeba, its own seat and the capital city of the region.

Furthermore, there is no official statement indicating that “the committee” had gone into practice and worked out the details of its establishment. Only four of the members are currently on regular duty.

Beyond administrative demarcation

The presence of such questions point towards a much more complex matte when it comes to the issue of Addis Abeba which goes beyond the question of administrative boundaries, and point instead at the more fundamental issues including constitutional, and political concerns. The 2014 demands that sparked the popular Oromo protests, including the question of the ownership of the city of Addis Abeba city itself, and rejection of its unregulated expansion which have exposed farmers to economic and social dilemmas, are at the heart of these unanswered questions.

Oromo farmers living in the surrounding areas of Aaddis Abeba city had to evacuate their farmlands to make way for condominium sites sprawling in their backyard

The infamous 2013 Master Plan for the city of Addis Abeba which would expand the city into the districts and towns located in the Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne, was met with persistent resistance from all sections of the community: from students to farmers, children to the elderly, years long protests had eventually culminated in the resignation of former Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn and the ascent of incumbent Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

The government had previously prepared nine master plans to provide adequate services and infrastructure for the city’s rapidly growing population. The tenth Master Plan covers eight cities under the administration of the Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne, and would include cities and towns such as Dukam, Sabata, Burayu, Sululta, Galan, Holota, Sandafa, and Laga Tafo into Addis Abeba to create a mega city under a single administration. But it sparked the protests under the slogan “Oromia will not be torn apart, it will not be divided into two”. Countless Oromo protestors were killed by security forces in the four years protests which started in May 2014. From Ambo University to Madda Walaabu University to Haramaya University, many were killed, countless others were injured and thousands were jailed.

Farmers who were displaced to make way for Koye Fache one and two sites and the Bole Arabsa condominium site have repeatedly complained that no one has contacted them

The last two decades, however, have seen a considerable increase in the population as well as in land expansion of the city in all corners. According to the ‘Addis Abeba and the Surrounding Oromia Special Zone Integrated Development Plan’, the city has seen an 80% population augmentation in the past two decades alone, while its boundaries have seen a population increase in the past decades by at least 25%.

The students, mostly farmers’ children, rejected the plan saying it would continue to displace and dispossess the farmers in the area without any compensation, exposing them to economic and psychological shocks in an organized manner.

The master plan has been opposed not only by the people but also by government officials and members of the then ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). There was opposition from those representing Oromia region during the discussions on the implementation of the master plan. The then mayor of Sululta who later on went on to become the deputy mayor of Addis Abeba, Takele Uma, is one who is remembered for his comments: “This is only a development issue, but also an identity issue and the people should discuss it first.”

The protests eventually morphed into regime change when the then ruling party decided former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to resign and be replaced by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Second round of protests

The March 2019 protests by the Oromoo weren’t new in their questions; they were merely the second round centering the same old question. The protesters chanted slogans including “Our land is our bone”, “Koye Fache is in Oromia”, and “we will not accept the master plan.”

The then acting Mayor of Addis Abeba, Takele Uma, who attended the draw ceremony, moved to pacify protesters who he said the families of displaced farmers would be included in the housing distribution without lottery opportunities. “We want to say that your pain is ours, especially those of you who have lost your agricultural land to these [housing] projects and are exposed to economic and social problems,” he said. However, he did not say what has been done by city officials or the regional government to include those displaced with little compensation. Farmers who were displaced to make way for Koye Fache one and two sites and the Bole Arabsa condominium site have repeatedly complained that no one has contacted them from the city administration officials or the officials of the Oromia Special Regional State for compensations.

“Not just a borderline issue”

A legal expert who did not want to be named told the Addis Standard that the current so-called demarcation process was not conducted in accordance with the proper process.

“Administrative boundaries need to be delineated. [But] the demarcation has its own process. The Addis Abeba Charter also states that the Addis Abeba city administration and the Oromia regional government can set boundaries by agreement. However, since the power of government stems from the people, it was necessary to consult the people at all levels first and to consult both houses. It’s not something airborne authorities do by consensus. In the current limiting process, this was not observed. Furthermore, I think it was thought that Koye Fache and Tulu Dimtu had received public attention during the previous protests and that only they were returned to the Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne. As a demonstration, they limited the condominiums built by the Oromia regional government to Addis Abeba because they were not [at the center of] the attention of the people,” he said.

According to him this is “not just a borderline issue.” Addis Abeba is the capital of Oromia regional state and “must first be part of Oromia even if it is to be part of Ethiopia,” he argued.

Although the expert said that the government has “made a historic decision to solve the problem that has been going on for centuries”, he does not believe that demarcation will put the displacement to a halt. “The solution is to legalize and respect the land and property of farmers, not to limit it to Addis Abeba or to the countryside. If possible, it will be the right decision to ensure that farmers do not lose [their] land to Addis Abeba. Inclusion to the Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne is no guarantee to stop the displacement,” he said.

What is Oromo question over Addis Abeba?

Although the constitution states that the demands of the Oromo people for the past several years will be dealt with under the “Special Interests” of the Oromia Region in Addis Abeba, many scholars argue that the demands are not just “special interest” but the status of ownership. Tsegaye Ararss, a prominent constitutional scholar and advocate of human rights, is one of the leading voices in this category. Tsegaye argued in a 2017 legal analysis published on Addis Standard that the demands of the Oromo people on the issue of capital are not only those covered under the ‘Special Interests’ section but also fundamental demands for ‘abbaa biyyummaa’, as he put it.

According to him, in Ethiopian political history, the concept of ‘Special Interests’ of Oromia over the capital was introduced into Ethiopian politics in 1992 G.C. by Decree No. 7/1992. This is also the same decree that laid the groundwork for what would later become the constituent parts of the Ethiopian Federation. Approved in the transitional charter to avoid centralization of power, and intended to value the right of self-determination of ethnic groups, it established 14 national autonomous regions. Accordingly, Oromia became one of the 14 autonomous regions. Addis Abeba, was a city with equal regional powers. The ‘Special Interest’ section of Oromia over the cities of Addis Abeba and Harar was initially recognized in this law.

Article 3(4) states: “The special interests and political rights of the Oromo in the Harari Region and Addis Abeba shall be protected. These regions will be responsible to the Central Transitional Government and their relations with the central transitional government will be regulated in detail by special legislation.” he says. However, there was no attempt to demarcate the city’s boundaries. Consequently, it was unclear where exactly the authority of the Addis Abeba administration ends.

This has led to Addis Abeba being seen in two directions: as an autonomous self-governing region within a federation, and as a city within the Oromia Region. In other words, the city is considered to be outside the administration of Oromia while it is geographically in Oromia, while on the other hand, it has seen as the capital of the Oromia Regional State. Although the definition of ‘special interest’ has a broader meaning than the seat of the Oromia Regional State in Addis Abeba, since the transitional government, Oromia’s only “interest” has remained the same. In the phrase ‘special interest’, the word ‘special’ emanates not only from Addis’s geographical location in Oromia but also from the tacit recognition of the city’s identity as essentially Oromo.

In the 1995 FDRE Constitution, the concept of ‘special interest’ is defined in Article 49(5). Article 49(5) defines the content of the ‘special interest’ of the Oromia Regional State in Addis Abeba as follows: “Interests in matters relating to the provision of social services, or the use of natural resources and other similar matters, as well as matters arising from the joint administrative matters arising from the location of Addis Ababa within the State of Oromia, shall be respected. Particulars shall be determined by law.” he explains.

“It is necessary to ask why a decision was made in this case. Whether it is really to answer the demands of the Oromo people or to establish a border between Addis Abeba and Oromia”

What do the Oromo political parties say?

Dejene Tafa, a member of the executive committee of Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), told Addis Standard that the recent administrative boundary decision between Addis Ababa and Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne does not answer the demands of the Oromo people including farmers who have been deprived of their properties. He said the question of Oromo regarding the ownership of Addis Abeba should be answered first of all.

Dejene Tafa, center, participating in the protest in March 2019.

“It is necessary to ask why a decision was made in this case. Whether it is really to answer the demands of the Oromo people or to establish a border between Addis Abeba and Oromia. If the aim is to separate Addis Ababa from Oromia, then the struggle that has been going on for years will continue. One of the main demands of the Oromo people is that Addis Abeba should not only be the geographical capital of Oromia but also become part of Oromia and come under the administration of Oromia as known by history and law,” he said.

Furthermore, he said he did not believe that the decision would stop the displacement of farmers, unlike the government’s “historic decision to avoid the displacement of farmers and answer long-standing questions”. “It was the government that used to evict, and it can still evict. The main solution is to answer the demands of the Oromo people regarding Addis Abeba and make the city part of the Oromia administration,” he said.

Similarly, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) said that “boundary making alone cannot resolve the underlying segregation and socio-political and economic injustices in a statement it issued on August 19, 2022 regarding the recent demarcation of the border between the Addis Ababa city administration and Oromia Special Region Surrounding Finfinne . It rejected the process saying “it is an act of government loyalists to gain media coverage under the guise of hypocrisy. Such acts are touching the wounds of the Oromo people in connection with Finfinne and undermining the bad memories of the Oromo people and the community displaced from their native villages.”

“demarcating the border alone cannot be the solution to the problems that have been accumulating for a long time.

OLF

“Addis Abeba was built on the blood and tears of the Oromo people,” the statement says, adding that the city has been expanding since the 19th century by displacing people from their land. “Since 1991, farmers have been dispossessed of their land with no compensation or inadequate compensation, despite the declaration of federalism in conjunction with the 1994 Constitution. As a result, people who had large landed property lost their land and their homes were destroyed; others were subjected to miserable lives as guards, laborers and street dwellers. The few people who have endured all the pressures and held on to their land have been denied basic rights and services such as education, health and development infrastructure.”

OLF’s statement said that “demarcating the border alone cannot be the solution to the problems that have been accumulating for a long time. Instead, it will exacerbate the violation of rights and deprive the interests of the people who have been oppressed for two hundred years of being pushed from their homes,” adding that the recent demarcation of the boundary violated the constitution as it allowed the city to expand without the consent and agreement of the Oromo people and the Oromia Regional State. Moreover, it said, the demarcation process did not involve all stakeholders and was based only on the wishes of a certain group. The OLF has vowed to work on “ensuring people affected by the expansion of the city regain their full rights and interests, restore lost justice and ensure that Finfinne is included under the borders of Oromia without any legal or historical violation of its status as the capital of Oromia.” AS

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