Letter from Ethiopia #11

By Dandew Serbello - December 15, 2001


Dear Readers,

Today's letter from Ethiopia sheds light on the current city transport situation in our country. For those of you who may have left the country a long time ago and think of building your own house on the peripheries of the metropolis, you may have some idea about the transport situation in the city. 

The Addis Ababa City Administration Transport Bureau had recently threatened cabbie drivers to behave themselves or otherwise will deploy bigger micro buses at prime time. But the culprits are enjoying their own perversity. A driver that owes the Administration over thirty thousand Birr by way of penalty is walking tall and is laughing the authorities silly, replete with police tickets in his chest pocket and never seeing the court to be served with a simple verbal reprimand in the least. The way I see it, there is no legal or moral ground to hold taxi drivers responsible for what they are not supposed to be involved into in the first place. They say that the fleet of cabbies numbers around 19,000, you can deduct some 30% for down time and divide the remaining to the city dwellers of Addis Ababa, which is now taken to be 3.5 million, and reckon the share. By definition taxies, I suppose, are fillers. The tariff is usually based on distance covered which is metered, the figures disposed in front, for every commuter to see. Like I said earlier on, taxies are supposed to be complementing the public transport just like private vehicles or vans. The main issue lies in trying to identify the transport problem in the city and the steps to take to solve it once and for all. Like our daily prayers, we hear every incumbent office holder getting any opportunity of the limelight or the microphone, telling us that the problem with this country is poverty and that we have to reduce it if not eradicate it. The transport problem, they tell you, is a residual of poverty and therefore can be solved when we first solve the problem of poverty. This generalization and worn out syllogism is even uttered by our kebele officials who never give audience to the dwellers living within their respective domains. What they preach and what they do are not congruent. It escapes me to understand how the Administration can reduce poverty by reproducing it vividly. 

Let me cite a simple example. Instead of concentrating on and developing the vertical growth of the city, the authorities are letting it loose to expand in all possible directions of expansion and construct their flat shelters thus horizontally venturing into the fertile land of Oromia. (Thanks to the new leadership of the neighboring and encircling regional state government for its effort to lull the farmers fearing eviction to remain quiet and take advantage of proximity and try to produce agricultural commodities for the urban market) And what does this mean in terms of transport expense, poverty reduction would you say? The city doesn't have plans worth referring to, obviously. Work places are anywhere like residential quarters. Market areas are somewhere and hospitals and schools are found on the opposite direction. All these cause unnecessary mobility on the part of the dwellers. In the absence of public or private transport modality, taxies augment the service and come into the picture. The rate of payment from the vicinity of the French Embassy to the market is 95 Ethiopian cents legally. But one has to pay 3 times 55 cents to make it to Merkato since the cabbie drivers fragment the same route distance into three sections, Sidist Kilo, St. George Cathedral and Merkato. You make a loss of 70 cents on every shuttle you make during day time. At night fall the rate doubles. Multiply that by the number of trips you make every day, every week, every month, every year...etc, until something else crops up. Again multiply that by the number of people rocking in the same boat. You can do that kind of reckoning on all routes and you will see for yourself if this is poverty reduction or reproduction. Extending trips and being able to find transport any time of the day is a luxury only the lucky ones can enjoy. 

There are lots of places and residential areas where pedestrians have to travel on foot for quite a while before they can access transport. That is not all; officials with government cars may make it to their offices right on time, although most are reluctant to do so because that is one way of displaying authority and indispensability to come late perpetually! Most office workers, however, arrive late almost every day not in the interest of showing any authority or disobedience but for reasons of lack of transport access. Here again we can produce our calculating machines and can figure out what all the delay means in terms of loss to the economy of the nation. All you have to do is calculate the payment of each employees income per minute and multiply that by the number of minutes of delay. You get a figure. Multiply that by the number of minutes per week, per month, per year...etc and again by the number of employees of the same feather. Poverty reduction, I should think, is not perpetuating it one way or other. 

See you later.  

Dandew Serbello



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