A Master Plan for Urban Sprawl versus City Densification A Master Plan for Urban Sprawl versus City Densification

By Gabisso Halaale,

saynoIn free societies, political leaders are elected by the people. Therefore, they safeguard the economic, political, social and cultural interests of the electorate. If the citizens are aggrieved by the actions of the politicians they have elected to lead them, they will fire them in the next rounds of elections. In free societies no single political institution has a monopoly over political views and therefore there are wide alternatives from which the electorate can freely select the political institution that it thinks can best serve its interests. In essence, therefore, in free societies, leaders are servants of the people and not the other way round. Accordingly, before implementing any major decisions that affect the economic, social and cultural interests of the citizens, governments in free societies widely consult the citizens either through public fora or referenda to reach consensuses. These can range from a minor family related laws, policies and plans to more complex socio-economic problems.

On the contrary, in unfree societies such as colonies, empires and kingdoms, leaders or rather rulers seize political power through a hereditary aristocratic succession, a coup de tat, and/or as victors of expansion or a civil war. Therefore, rulers of the unfree societies are not accountable to the people they rule. Nothing obliges them to safeguard the interests of the citizens. In unfree societies, the primary objective of the rulers is to serve their own narrow selfish interests. Therefore, in unfree societies the people are servants of the rulers. Rulers can take any decisions that have immense implications on the economic, social, and cultural interests of the citizens with impunity. Because they are not accountable to the people, rulers of unfree societies cannot tolerate any dissenting voices. Any decisions taken by rulers are right, because for dictators the “might is always right.” That is what is happening in Oromia and other parts of the TPLF colonies in Ethiopia today. It is crystal clear today than ever before that the oppressed peoples of this country cannot expect the TPLF government to safeguard their economic, social, and cultural interests. On the contrary, the systematic violence of the TPLF regime on the civilians bear the hallmark of a regime hell bent to destroy the very fabric of the oppressed societies.

One may argue that the TPLF does not rule the various colonial regions directly and therefore may not be held fully accountable for atrocities this regime commits against civilians in these regions. True, TPLF had manufactured dozens of ethnic based Peoples’ Democratic Organizations (PDOs) in 1991 and 1992 and thereafter and created a nominal alliance, the EPRDF, not as a front as it claims, but as a fronting entity for the TPLF dictatorial rule in the country. The very use of PDOs as fronting entities for the TPLF rule is illegal and corrupt practice and cannot therefore exonerate the TPLF from being accountable for the actions of the leaders of these charade of political parties commit. At a deeper level, not only the PDOs are manufactured by the TPLF, the leaders of these facade of political entities are handpicked by the TPLF and therefore are fully accountable to the latter. The PDO puppets are first and for most accountable to the TPLF and secondly to themselves. Their primary objective is to safeguard the political and economic interests of their mentors, the TPLF and secondly share the spoils left over by their masters. They are the shame of the oppressed societies. On the other hand, if any PDO representative attempts to voice a genuine concern about the people she/he claims to represent, she/he will face a harsh “evaluation” or “gimgema” and will be removed from her/his position with immediate effect. Therefore, the TPLF indirect rule is no different from any colonial indirect rule and therefore cannot exonerate them from the atrocities being committed against the oppressed peoples in the country.
The Oromo people overwhelmingly rejected the so called Addis Ababa Master Plan for over a year and a half now. Since April 2014 civilians, young and old, men and women and people from all walks of life peacefully protested in the streets across the vast Oromia territory rejecting the Mater Plan and echoing their grievances against the age-old economic, political, and cultural marginalization. And yet because the TPLF colonial rulers are not accountable to the people, they refuse to listen to the grievances of millions of the Oromo electorate. Instead, they continue to unleash their military might on the unarmed civilians killing over 140 and wounding and imprisoning tens of thousands. Bekele Gerba, a deputy chairperson of the Oromo Federalist Congress a legally registered opposition political party in the country, and a Professor of foreign language in Addis Ababa University, who was released from jail just five months ago has been imprisoned again and is being tortured in Miakelawi prison at present. Bekele Gerba is an avid advocate of peaceful resistance and his continued mistreatment by the TPLF regime only exposes the sadistic nature of this colonial rulers.

One may ask why the TPLF rulers are so determined to implement Master Plan of urban sprawl at any cost. The Master Plan envisages incorporating 36 towns and 17 districts from the Oromia region. This is an urban sprawl of an epic proportion. The constitutional and legal fallacy of the Master Plan to expand Addis Ababa has been eloquently expounded by the Oromia legal experts and as a non-lawyer, I do not have much to add on that.

In this short piece, I would rather attempt to elucidate the debate around urban sprawl versus densification of the exiting urban spaces. Is urban sprawl the only alternative to develop Addis Ababa? Does the current land use pattern and density of the Addis Ababa city warrant a master plan to expand the city ten folds in the coming decade or so? Is the expansion worth the human and the ecological costs it entails?

First, as dictatorial rulers, the TPLF officials did not bother to assess what the optimal development model for the federal city like Addis Ababa should look like. Today there are ongoing debates about building ecologically, economically and socially sustainable urban centers instead of expanding urban spaces boundlessly. Densification of cities has historically been a widely used approach to achieve sustainable urban development. Densification can be applied as an urban development model not only to new cities but also to old cities with reasonable unused or less optimally used urban spaces. The densification of cities has a number of advantages. These include, among others, an efficient use of land which is one of the scarcest resources; less travelling distances and hence low consumption of energy and low pollution; better scenic beauty as cities become more compact; and social sustainability. Densification also saves travel costs for the citizens and the costs of delivering basic economic and social services by the government. On the other hand, in sprawling cities, the costs of transport from suburban areas to work places may be prohibitive to the poorer sections of the society endangering social sustainability. In addition, for sprawling cities the government has to cough up huge sums of funds for investments on road construction, electricity grid extensions, water supplies and telephone lines, among others. In light of the above, can Ethiopia afford to allow Addis Ababa to sprawl out of control? The answer is negative. The Addis Ababa master plan is therefore socially, ecologically, and environmentally unsustainable model of city development and should be scrapped immediately.

Secondly, according to the TPLF government reports, the land area of Addis Ababa city in 2012 was 51, 957.87 hectares or roughly 520 sq. km. The population of Addis Ababa in 2012 was 3.0 million. The density of Addis Ababa in 2012 was therefore about 5769 persons per sq. km. According to statistic from Newgeography, among the 26 megacities of the world (cities that have population of 10 million or more) only 6 cities have population density significantly less than that of Addis Ababa in 2012. Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, has the highest population density (44,400 people per sq.km) followed by Mumbai in India with 30,900 persons per sq. km and Karachi Pakistan with 18300 person per sq. km. In Africa Lagos, has a population of 11.5 million but land area less than twice that of Addis Ababa thus making it the most densely populated city in Africa with 12,700 persons per sq. km.

More over according to Juan C.A. Gomez (2015) “Addis Ababa ranked the city with more slums in Africa, with alarming numbers, 80% of the city lives in low quality, slum-like dwellings, most of them with no sanitary services, potable water, waste management, etc. 70% of the slums are located in the inner city, mostly in premium locations of special interest for the city or private developers, this shows the enormity of the issue and why slum-upgrading policies, eviction actions, relocation schemes and more programmes are in the front of both architectural and political discourses.” In addition to this, according to the 2012 land use report 27% of the land in Addis is used for field crop production. Addis Ababa has an ample potential for densification and more sustainable city development. There does not appear any economic and social imperative to expand the city any more in the coming few decades.

Why then would the TPLF want to confiscate lands from 36 towns and 17 districts from the Oromia region while the Addis Ababa is one of the least densely populated and 80% of it is in slum-like conditions in need of urgent development? The answer is clear. TPLF does not seem to be interested in the sustainable development of Addis Ababa city at all. It appears that the primary objective in developing the master plan is simply to grab as much land as possible to enrich the TPLF officials and their henchmen. They know very well that it is more difficult and costly to evict Addis Ababa city slum dwellers than evicting a poor Oromo farmer in the surrounding villages of the city. It is mind boggling to witness a government refusing to backtrack on a master plan to expand a slum city ten folds to create the largest city slum on planet earth while countries in Africa and the rest of the world have embarked on the development of more ecologically, economically and socially sustainable compact cities. This reflects TPLF’s bottomless arrogance and contempt on Oromo society in particular and all other oppressed peoples in general. Addis Ababa was built on Oromo land. It has progressively displaced millions of Oromo people to vacate 520 sq. km of free space to build the city. And yet the right of the Oromo people on their ancestral land has never been recognized. This regime takes the oppressed peoples for granted and would want us not to question their irrational and the most sub optimal economic and political decisions. This is yet another testimony that the TPLF led government is never a developmental state it claims to be after all and never will it be one.

The boundless expansion of Addis Ababa city is illegal, unconstitutional, and economically, ecologically, and socially unsustainable. The master plan is not worth the economic costs it entails let alone the vast human suffering and ecological destruction it engenders. The master plan must be therefore scrapped and should be replaced with densification of urban areas. Failing this, the TPLF will plunge the country and itself into oblivion.

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