Numerous container-like shops, commonly known as Arkebe souqs have, in the past two months been demolished in six districts of Addis Abeba, to make way for either road construction or road safety. The metal shops, nicknamed after former Mayor, Arkebe Oqubay, are being demolished without plans on how their small and micro-enterprise (SME) occupants are to move forward.
The districts of Nifas Silk-Lafto, Arada, Gullele, and Kirkos Districts have experienced these demolitions, confirmed Solomon Legesse, who oversees all right of way demolitions by the Addis Abeba City Roads Authority (AACRA). At 20 road construction sites in these districts, as well as at Bole and Kolfe, there is also trimming down of non-registered extensions and destruction of shops that present danger to vehicular or pedestrian traffic, Asmelash Kidanemariam, the Authority's Road Safety & Administration deputy process coordinator, told Fortune.
By this time last year, 755 such shops, out of the 11,181 that were first set up, had been demolished. This year there are more.
"These are establishments that are six years past their five-year expiry dates," said Markos Alemayehu, Bureau head of Arada's Land Development & Urban Renewal Office, which has had 133 SME shops of the 1,145 shops in its district demolished in the past two months.
Setegn Araye is one of the 133 owners who lost his shop and his source of livelihood, the container in which he used to trade. He used to sell religious items in the three square- metre metallic in the Amist Kilo area.
Strategically located adjacent to a church, the business has been able to support his family of five for the last 12 years. Before that, he used to sell a much smaller consignment of the same items at the church door, with his items spread on the floor.
"It changed my life, and I am grateful," Setegn said, "but I can't go back to that now, we need a solution."
The arrangement was never permanent. When the shop owners were given the metal structures and temporary lease rights on the land they occupied in 2004, the agreement was for a five-year period, explained Desta Fitsum, head of the City's Small & Micro-enterprise Development Bureau. At that stage, on the assumption that they would have become able to go on to the next business step, they were supposed to graduate from the programme.
However, at the end of the five years, the enterprise owners were neither replaced nor were their agreements revised.
"We let them continue working," Desta said, "but since they need the lease agreement to renew their business licences, we arranged a mechanism that would bypass that requirement, to enable them to continue working."
He added that for a year now, his office has been carrying out research to determine whether and how to continue with these shops. In the next month or two, the way forward will be determined, he said.
Some small enterprise owners like Setegn and his neighbours, returned their five year agreements and signed up for year long lease agreements, renewable each year. They have been paying their dues accordingly. Setegn said he has been paying the 163 Br that is expected of him annually.
That is, until January 12, when he and 12 of his neighbours were told to vacate the premises that same day. Those across the street were previously given a two-day warning that was extended to 10 days when they voiced their complaints as high up as the Mayor's Office, Setegn said.
"When we did the same," he continued. "We were told that the notice given to our neighbours, across the road, applied to us as well."
When they asked where they were supposed to go from there, he said they were told by the district to demolish the shops soon, lead by example, and they would be given a solution soon after.
The shop owners then hired the labour that demolished the shops and sold the containers for prices ranging from 1,700 Br to 2,000 Br.
"We had to use them or lose them," he said.
In the meantime, he has rented a similar shop nearby, that does not intersect with the upcoming road, and did not need to be demolished.
The rent of these shops in this neighbourhood ranges from 2,000 Br to 5,000 Br.
After more than 50 days, however, the solutions have not yet come. The usual malfunction of communication in the government's cross agency tasks is cited as the source.
The Bureau Head of the Enterprises insists that solutions are always discussed before any demolition. But while the City Roads Authority says they started early, the district's Land Management Bureau maintains that the enterprises were told before Christmas but were allowed to stay until after the holiday season. The district's SME Bureau claims not to have known until just a few days prior.
"We will try to provide options for them," said Nahom, who is in charge of the makeshift shops in Arada District's Small & Micro Enterprise Division, adding that they could not do so before because even they were notified too late.
Some solutions will come sooner than others. Of the 90 who have submitted letters to the districts requesting some kind of alternative, nine are differently-abled.
"We have prioritised them and are looking for places close by on which to relocate them," he said, "so they can continue as they were."
While former shop owners would welcome similar offers, they are asking for something else.
"We had organised ourselves into an [unregistered] association when we first started," Setegn said, "and we've been collecting installments in a 'blocked' account ever since."
He said sixty enterprise owners in that area had started out contributing 20 Br every month some ten years ago. Those contributions had gradually increased to 500 Br and their nest egg has reached 1.5 million Br.
"We are asking the district to take that into consideration and give us land that we can work on," he sad, adding that their representatives have already approached the district with their proposal.
"Others have also proposed similar plans," Desta said, "but the city's system of land distribution does not include free allocation of land.
The district's SME office had other plans in mind. Arada, like other districts, has buildings made for the purpose of hosting light manufacturing enterprises at the micro level.
"We can train them in the leather industry," said Nahom, "then provide them with a place to work and connect them with micro-financing institutions that can lend them enough to purchase the machinery required."
He indicated that the training takes two months, and if they are able to provide some kind of collateral, micro finance institutions could lend them enough to buy their first machine.
"We can't live for two months without working" Setegn countered, "our families depend on us."
"If they don't want that, they can wait until the showroom building is built," Nahom retorted, but admitted that the building was far from complete; in fact, the land on which it is to be built was not yet secured.
The year-long research on what to do with the Arkebe souqs that once coloured the city blue, is in its final stages, Desta said.
"Once that is released, it will answer the question of what we can do with all the container shops in the city," he said, "and how exactly we will help the owners of these small enterprises graduate from the system."