25 November 2012

Ethiopia: Undeveloped Urban Land Resource Management System Escalates Losses


If there is one thing that the ruling-EPRDF remains to argue fiercely over, it is the issue of land resources. Its long overdue belief over state ownership of the resources had put it at the one corner of the political spectrum, while all the other existing political players, standing at the other extreme, advocate for private ownership. The issue is even said to be one of the edges of the policy sphere where the Party stood against conventional populist agendas.

True, the land tenure structure of the country is not yet consistent. There is still an unclear line between state and communal ownership of grazing lands, especially in arid and semi-arid areas. But, largely, the discourse has shifted away from the old debate on tenure structure as the latter has become a matter of constitutional debate.

What seems to be the new frontier of the debate is accessibility of the resources. By virtue of the constitutional provision, which puts land under the ownership of the state and the people of the nation, the EPRDFites would like to administer it as a public good. But the demand for the resource seems to push for a different way of administration.

The case is even pressing for urban centres. A sprinting economy, which drives a large portion of its energy from a growing service sector, has progressively shifted the demand for land away from rural areas to urban centres. Serving as nerve centres for the economic system, cities have become the new hotspots of the land debate.

There is little surprising, then, about the ongoing debate on urban land administration initiated by the latest measure of clearing illegal constructions on expansion areas undertaken by the Addis Abeba City Government. It is just an extension of the long overdue debate over the models of administering land resources.

Marking the unique nature of the latest debate, however, is failure to learn from past mistakes.

Most of the houses lately demolished from the City's expansion areas have been on site for over five years. They had been supplied with basic utilities, such as electricity. It all has been so although conventional theory shows that squatters often take the provision of services as important signals of legitimisation.

Leaving squatters to grow to illegal settlements would obviously make the effort of clearing them more challenging. It is exactly what happened in the latest clearing efforts in localities, in western and northern Addis Abeba. With homes built over illegally acquired lands demolished, families are left with no option but to live under temporary shelters.

At the base of the problem lies the expanding gulf between the supply and demand for land resources, especially in urban areas. An even more growing demand is witnessed in Addis Abeba for it stays to be the hub of major economic activities.

Compared to a sprinting demand, however, inflexible supply is a major problem. And it directly relates to the way the resource is administered.

In considering land as a public good, the EPRDFites have devoid its supply of essential tradable traits. Hence, it is heavily regulated. This, certainly, has worsened the inelasticity inherent to the resource, which is considered as an important factor of production.

The factor of inelasticity is even higher for a rapidly expanding city, such as Addis Abeba, if it could not be complemented with effective and efficient management of the resource. As it stands, the City has made use of 35.7pc of its total area, which amounts to 52,700ha. The limit is within the horizon for it is left only with 33,900ha of land.

But effective and efficient management of land resources could not be realised without flexible systemic elements. And it is exactly that that Addis Abeba is missing.

An effective land resource system demands comprehensive information. It is only on the basis of such detailed resource information that thoughtful resource administration could be built on. In the absence of information, nevertheless, resource administration only gets traditional.

It has been over seven years that the City Administration embarked on an Integrated Land Resource Information Management system. Though the initiative is a move in the right direction, its lagging implementation remains to contribute to the rampant inefficiency of administering land resources. An unfolding evidence to the problem is the repeated appearance of illegal construction at the outskirts of the City.

Also part of the bigger picture is the inept relationship between the city administration and the public utility monopolies. For the two go in their separate ways, the long overdue hopes and arguments of squatters for legitimisation stay within the sphere. It would have all been avoided had the coordination between the two be scaled-up to a level where service provision is synchronised with tenure status.

Effective administration of physical resources, such as land, is also difficult without smooth interaction between local and regional governments. A widening incongruence seems to exist between the stakes of local governments and the responsibility vested on them.

Whereas the stake of monitoring and controlling the resources resides under their influence, the administration of the same stays in the hands of the regional government. This, certainly, has created a weak regulatory regime.

Putting in place a system that is integrated, both vertically and horizontally, would be important to create a resource management regime with flexible supply. Vertical integration involves the creation of a system wherein effective communication between the different tiers of the government is guaranteed. Horizontal integration, on the other hand, brings systemic cooperation between the City Administration and public utility monopolies.

Such an institutional arrangement could help establish a lean supply side. It is obvious that a lean supply side could embrace some inherent flexibility to respond to growing demand, even when the denomination is a public good.

Yet, a lean supply side could not be as flexible as possible without detailed information and monitoring. No different could the case be for the land management system of Addis Abeba.

It is all political, though. A system that looks land as a public good and an indispensable source of power would have incentives to be tapped from a lagging supply. It aims to obtain as much of a benefit as possible from the ever-appreciating value of the resource base.

Sadly, though, the consequence of the whole gamut of problems has been resource wastage, in the form of demolished assets, and displaced families. Even all the more saddening is the fact that the problems are avoidable, had an integrated land resource management system be in place.

What seems to be at stake for the EPRDFites, then, is to learn from past mistakes and institute such a system as urgently as possible.

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