Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)

Ethiopia: Fault Line

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The century-old railway station may have disappeared into oblivion. Light train, or inter-city tramway, lines are currently under construction, at a cost of billions of Birr. The old railway site, however, is still serving as a city transport terminal, if not as a marshalling area for the tramway lines.

City buses and minibuses use the site, which borders the Lion of Judah Monument, as a terminal, which passengers generally use as a transfer junction.

Travelers coming by bus from Kaliti, and other such areas, get off at Leghare to take a taxi somewhere up town. The corollary holds true.

There are also other transport terminal sites in; Piazza, Megenagna,Mexico Squareand Lideta, not to mention Merkato, the shopping centre hub of the metropolis.

Queuing patiently to get service has become a growing reality, ever since the so called Socialist Revolution of 1974. Wherever scarcity occurs, people are bound to wait for their turn in an orderly fashion; as they do inEuropeand the Western World in general.

Queuing for a taxi, however, is becoming more prevalent at transport terminals. This is not only a sign of civility, but also a relief for many passengers, especially; pregnant women, the elderly and disabled travelers.

Younger passengers also try to make the most out of standing in line. As time passes, queuing becomes a useful ubiquity. So much so, that many passengers move from making simple eye contact, to a higher level of acknowledgment, by nodding towards each other. This promotes stronger bonds and builds relationships between people.

Nevertheless, there is another side to the story. Whilst queuing is creating order out of chaos, it is also presenting rare opportunities to thieves and pickpockets. A situation I witnessed last weekend could well be cited as a case in point.

"Hey you with the red cap, over there," shouted the seemingly arrogant, self-appointed controller of the line. He wore a wide-brimmed straw hat and dark sunglass. The wide shouldered tough guy held a piece of paper and a pen in his hand, which he sported as a trademark for all to see. "Keep in line, do you hear me?" he yelled.

"Go and line up your wife and maid, you rascal," retorted the young man with the red cap, in anger. Those waiting in line looked around to see who the two parties were.

Most waited apprehensively to see what would follow. The controller put his piece of paper and pen in his pocket and advanced forward, in a menacing way. He rolled up his sleeves and held up his fists as if ready to fight. The red-capped young man stood cool and waited for 'the controller'.

No sooner had the controller raised his arm than the red-capped man swiftly landed left and right hooks to his face. He fell flat with his nose bleeding. The victory was hardly ambiguous. Many onlookers thought it was a clean job that left the controller in dishonor, but the encounter begat another incident.

Whilst everybody's attention was focused on the bout, one individual was fishing deep into a bystander's pocket. As he tried to pluck out a mobile phone, he was caught red-handed. The mobile phone owner began punching the pickpocket, as nearby women screamed out. Before long, police officers arrived on the scene and took both parties away.

While some people have sought to take advantage of queuing for dubious activities, others are using it as a source of amusement. Many men choose to stand close, if the person in front of them happens to be a young woman, hoping to get a reaction. They almost lean on them, inhaling their hair ointments and the perfume on their clothing.

They maintain this closeness, even on board the bus. They seem to enjoy the exchanges they attempt to establish through physical proximity. Some women impulsively reject the motions and express their rejections audibly, putting the men to shame. The dishonored men often find themselves getting off at the next bus stop and queuing again.

Transport analysts attribute a wide range of facts and figures as causes for the City's transportation shortage. They mention demography as one of the highly critical factors. There is a mounting demand for transport, largely due to the alarming growth of the population.

Lack of a strategic transport master plan for the capital could also be taken as a serious factor. Most government offices and business centres, including Merkato, are located at the city centre or in close proximity. Residential areas are seemingly located at random.

The traffic flow simply cannot be sustainable in such situations.

The slapdash structure of the city also prohibits the use of bicycles or tricycles, or even horse driven carts within the suburbs. Many road construction projects currently underway in different parts of the capital, including the Meskel Square-Bole project, exacerbate the problem further. Thus creating frustrating traffic jams.

Recurrent traffic accidents often caused by reckless drivers and the increased volume of imported second-hand vehicles also adds to the traffic jams and further lengthens the queues.

There is a hope that current major infrastructure projects may be able to go at least some way to improving this situation. Awareness of those queuing, regarding the danger of pickpockets, could also help to improve the nature of the process. In reality, however, calm and quiet roads, at least for now, seem a long way away.

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