The administration of Modjo Town, 73km east of Addis Abeba, is at odds with the Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC) over compensation arrangements for the relocation of 2,804 residents settled on 93.59ht of land to be moved, in order to make way for the construction of railway stations.
The Corporation is at an early stage of commissioning studies to undertake a national railway project that aims to connect the country's major cities through eight selected corridors, crisscrossing over 1,833km and projected to cost 173.6 billion Br.
The corridor given priority is the 656km line that starts from Addis Abeba (Sebeta), and passes through the towns of Modjo and Dire Dawa, ending up in Dewale at the Ethio-Djibouti border.
A historical town whose establishment is owed to Ethiopia's first railway of the early 20th Century, Modjo will also be a hub for an additional railway line to the south, with its final destination at Moyale, a border town with Kenya, 771km from the capital.
The Ethio-Djibouti corridor, which will cut through the main highway in front of the Modjo Dry Port on the outskirts of town, will have two stations built nearby: the main station, which will lie on 123.7ht of land, and a smaller station, which will lie on 25.6ht of land, at the spot where the railway line is to split into two major corridors.
This will lead to the relocation of thousands of residents in and around Modjo, a move that compels the Corporation pay compensation, estimated to reach at 36 million Br.
Nonetheless, the Corporation has agreed to provide compensation only for properties of those to be relocated, while declining to pay for the land, according to Muluneh Balcha, deputy mayor of Modjo Town.
"The land that these residents will be moved from was taken from farmers' cooperatives, after the town paid compensation for it," Muluneh told Fortune. "The land to be given to the residents to be relocated will also be taken from farmers in the peripheries of the town, Compensation for the land will have to be given."
The Corporation has slightly different views, both on the number of people that need to be relocated and the type of compensation to be paid.
There are 1,908 people that will be affected from the construction activities of its projects in the town, while only 438 have farmland, the corporation, established as a state enterprise in 2007 with a capital of three billion Birr, believes.
"While these people [with farmland] will be given compensation after the productiveness of their land is assessed, the rest will only be provided compensation for the loss of property as provided for under the law," Fadil Ibrahim, social and rights of way affairs project manager, told Fortune. "The relocated residents will be appropriated space for the construction of houses by the city administration. Hence, we will not compensate for the land."
Relocation due to land use by the state is covered under the proclamation decreed in 2004, and the defined appropriation of land for government works and payment of compensation for properties is found in Provision 401 of the proclamation.
A meeting was held in November 2011 between representatives of the Corporation, senior officials of Oromia Regional State, and the mayor of Modjo in an attempt to resolve the differences. The mayor's administration does not have the budget for the compensation, he claimed, and requested the Corporation to release 16 million Br for the purpose.
"The Modjo Town Administration will work this out with the Corporation and the regional state to provide proper funding and land allocation," Muluneh told Fortune. "The railway project will benefit our town in the future, we realise."
Officials at the Corporation refused to disclose the total amount of compensation to be paid out. The process of registering residents and determining the area to be allocated to them is yet to be finalised, they claimed. Compensation for farmland will be at 16.35 Br a square metre, Fadil disclosed.
Amidst this official brawl, however, residents, such as Alemitu Abebe, a 45-year old mother of four, who is eagerly waiting to be resettled at the new location, are caught in between.
"I was building a house near the dry port when I was told to stop construction in July 2011 and rented a house for 200 Br a month," she told Fortune. "Now, they are asking me to move from the rented house, due to the new road to be constructed from Adama (Nazareth) to Addis Abeba."
This new toll road, set to be completed by the end of 2013, is also part of the government's transformation plan. In fact, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi heralded the coming of his administration's Growth & Transformation Plan (GTP) after laying a stone that launched the eight billion-Birr budgeted highway, in November 2010.
Having to move from two residences, Alemitu wishes this the reappraisal of the land would be conducted quickly, so that she can get compensation and a new plot to relocate to.
"We have been promised these things, but there is no delivery yet," she said.
The deputy mayor conceded to the complaints of the residents. The townspeople understand that these construction activities are in the national interest and will benefit residents of this town later on, according to the deputy mayor.
"The relocation process is a little bit delayed, and residents need time to adjust to the inconveniences of relocation, we understand," said Muluneh. "However, proper compensation should be provided to them. We are doing our best to speed up the relocation process."
On top of complications that arise from relocations, some residents to be moved do not have valid title deeds, even though they have lived for 10 to 15 years around the area where the station will be built. What will happen to these residents, estimated to be a least 98, has been a cause of concern.
"If these people built houses on a land that they were using for agriculture, we will cooperate with them," Muluneh said.
However, if the houses were built without permits through illegal means, the town's administration will have to decide what measures to take, the deputy mayor said.