Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)

10 February 2013

Ethiopia: Fineline - The Revolutionary Democrats

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To their credit, the Revolutionary Democrats have been hard at work and building the nation's physical infrastructure. From road to telecom infrastructure; and from dams used for electric generation or irrigation to housing, they seem to have achieved a considerably impressive record over the past two decades.

Their housing program in particular - designed to serve multiple purposes all at the same time - has not only changed the urban interface in Addis Abeba and major towns across the country. The introduction of life in condominiums has transformed urban lifestyle in more ways than their critics are prepared to acknowledge.

Initially intended to primarily benefit those in the low income bracket through accommodations, the unintended outcome of transfers of condos to middle income groups through either rent or sale has ended up being a de facto instrument of wealth redistribution. Perhaps pleased with what they have accomplished so far, they seem to be determined to continue building state financed housing projects, but with a mix of condos to low and middle income groups.

So the 60/40 ratio idea was born, where prospective home owners pay 40pc of the cost of flats they would own while the balance comes from bank financing. Interestingly, this time around, the condos are designed to respond to the needs of an otherwise neglected group in the income hierarchy: the emerging middle class. Up until last year, this was a project on the drawing board, with technocrats figuring out the finance modality and eligibility criterion, gossip disclosed.

With so much public anticipation and half the preparation by the state functionaries, the launching of the program was announced earlier this Ethiopian fiscal year. Gossip recalls a bit of a feud among federal authorities on the responsibilities of identifying and registering prospective buyers.

Nonetheless, the dust on this front appears to have settled now.

Yet, another concern of a serious nature has emerged over the past few weeks, gossip disclosed. Despite the promise the Addis Abeba City Administration has made and several thousands of people lined up in kebele bureaus to get issued clearance for possible registration, the trouble is city authorities have yet to identify the plots where these condos are to be built, gossip disclosed.

A high level meeting called two weeks ago to find a solution to such a snag was held among intra agency heads, including those from city administration and the Ministry of Urban Development & Construction (MoUDC) as well as the Ministry of Defence and Federal Police. The latter two are believed to have vast tracts of plots in the capital. But none of their leaders budged to demands from the first two to surrender their holds, claims gossip. They rather argued that they too have construction needs for their forces, including for instance a Quadragon shaped headquarters for the Ministry of Defence now under construction in theOldAirportarea, gossip disclosed.

Other federal entities with vast hold of plots in the capital are state owned enterprises under the supervision of the federal agency run by Beyene G. Meskle. It was this agency that had made plots available for low cost condos during the reign of Arkebe Oqubay, predecessor to the current mayor, Kuma Demeksa.

Kuma and Mekuria Haile, minister of MoUDC, are now eyeing a large tract of land near Megenagna area which Beyene's agency uses to process food for university students, gossip disclosed. They want him to give up this land for the construction of condos for the middle income group in the 60/40 formula within the shortest time possible, claims gossip. Some suggested within a period as short as 20 days, claims gossip.

It is not that Beyene is resistant to this proposition, claims gossip. But he wants the federal government to find an alternative supply line of food to campus students who would otherwise end up in a whole lot of trouble, gossip claims.

However, no one seems to have figured that out yet, according to gossip.

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