On March 12, the Council of Dire Dawa city, a chartered city in eastern Ethiopia, appointed Mahdi Gire as the new Mayor of the city after Ibrahim Ousman Farah, who was the Mayor of the city for the last three and half years, unexpectedly reassigns. Ibrahim Ousman administered the city in what can safely be argued the most tumultuous time characterized by persistent anti-government protests and some of the most vexing violent encounters in the city.
Using a limited opportunity to ask a few questions, Addis Standard interviewed Ibrahim Ousman. Excerpts:
Addis Standard: You are leaving office after three and half years as Mayor of Dire Dawa, what do you think is the legacy you are leaving behind?
Ibrahim Ousman Farah: We have brought in a lot of achievements in economic & social sectors. These include, but not limited to, the construction of city asphalt road from 1km during GTPI to near 20km during GTPII; rural access road developments; overall upgrading and expansion of the city's potable water project with help of the World Bank; employment opportunities and job creation for the youth; expansion of small & medium manufacturing industries ranging from 50 small manufacturing industries to Dire Dawa multipurpose industry park. These are all achievements we oversaw in the last few years.
But Dire Dawa is also a city facing major social challenges especially in recent years. What's your reading of that?
Our main challenges were meeting the demands of the society against the existing actual resource/ budget. The prevalence of widespread protests in the past few years were high and to a certain extent constructive in helping the administration take major reforms, but sometimes these protests have changed into chaos and have posed major security threat.
We have seen that in the last one year and half, Dire Dawa was repeatedly visited by protests, some of which were violent in nature. What do you think were the main reasons for that?
After the city administration conducted several reforms to address these protests, some protests continued with different political agendas. Ethnic and clan based conflicts, most of which are artificially created with political motives, continued posing major challenges. These protests have also created a security vacuum and took most of our time in solving other pressing problems, preventing us from carrying out our development plans as expected.
But what efforts did your administration put in place to address the recurring of protests? Were you successful?
We used two approaches. The first was to look into conflicts arising from frustration and hopelessness of the youth due to lack of employment opportunities. To that end we have aggressively exploited job opportunities both in public & private sectors so that the youth could benefit from the job creation opportunities. We were successful on that to a certain extent. The second is insuring and implementing law and order with the help of security, justice and law enforcement institutions. We were also successful on that, but more work needs to be done.
One of the rallying points of recent protests in the city was the 40/40/20 arrangement of the local administration, which critics say gives unfair advantage to Oromo and Somali residents while the remaining residents are represented in just the 20% arrangement (be it in housing provision or job opportunities). Do you think this criticism is justified? If so, what efforts did you put in place to address it?
The 40:40:20 administrative arrangement was corrected from the gate go as 40:60, which stands for Somali People's Democratic Party (SPDP) and Ethiopian People's revolutionary Front (EPRDF) respectively [and] we have tried to give more solution in Dire Dawa administration charter with proclamation number 416/1996. We can see in its preamble that these two parties have agreed to lead the city in a rotating term since the major constituency of the city are represented by these two parties.
But people with hidden political agenda have distorted this fact and used it as a cover to incite discontent, although it served as the most remedial and effective way of sharing power between groups with as much different interests and claims as the diverse constituencies they represent. In fact, it can be used as the best experience for other Ethiopian cities since we can only find [these multiple] parties that are sharing powers in Dire Dawa administration and which we can say is the most inclusive city in the country in terms of representing the diverse constituency of the city. For that matter this is not the mandate of the administration to make changes on it.
But how is the city administration planning to address grievances of its residents who continue maintaining that they are not represented by this arrangement?
To address the real grievances emanating from this arrangement, it is up to the two parties (SPDP & EPRDF). There is a solid agreement made in 1998 between these two parties about the arrangement. In addition to this, I think there are two solutions for this. The first is representing those who are not satisfied with current political arrangement in the upcoming elections. And the second is to look into the new direction, which is considering to bring EPRDF and partner parties into a single, unified national party.
Do you think this will be the major challenge for the new Mayor? What do you suggest his priorities should be?
Wishing all the best for the new deputy mayor, my suggestion for him will be to continue insuring the peace and security of the administration by finalizing the reform in the security sector that we have started because there are pending issues there. Promoting and creating awareness among the diverse residents about the benefits of peace and coexistence between different ethnicity and religious groups should also be given a serious consideration. The other is focus on youth and women employment creation schemes; focus on finalizing problem solving projects; raise the awareness of the society to participate in development activities to create belongingness; and finally protect public properties. AS