Letter from Ethiopia - June 1, 2003

Tizibt Mezgebu

Dear Readers:

It is a season of discontent and confusion here in Addis Ababa and the rest of the country. Our electricity is now cut twice in a week, water is rationed, and the city's administration is in a middle of a confused shake-up that has already made thousands of civil servants unemployed. 

It seems that every year, the people who are entrusted to run the country are experimenting with the idea of seeing how low and bankrupt the country could go. It doesn't look like we have reached the bottom yet; because we see more activities by the government to take us and the country deeper to the abyss. In many ways, I feel that the darker days of 1984 and 1985 are upon us - once again. 'Sefera' - that dreaded word of resettlement is now a government policy practiced furiously. I do hope - you my readers - remember the 'sefera' practice of Colonel Mengistu that uprooted hundreds and thousands of Wolleye families leading to their eventual succumbing to malaria, ethnic strife and a complete breakdown of families. For a brief moment in 1985, I had worked at the then "Dirq Commission'-'irdata mastebaberiyana melso maquaquamiya dirijt'. To date, I still carry a list of almost 200 people from a village in Wello who were ordered to be resettled in Western Wollega in June 1985. I remember the cries of the babies, the mothers, the sad faces of the older people for whom the trip was a death sentence. Later, we found out that less than 40 of them made it to the Assosa camp; the rest fell victims to malaria, 'tesbo' - cholera, tuberculosis, snake bites, and car accidents.  Names like Wendiye Habtu, Sisay Kefalegn, Mulu Desalegn, Banti Yimer, etc cry out loud from my almost 20 year-old handwritten notebook with pale yellow pages, some smeared by sweat, mud and rain. I still keep the notebook. May be one day someone will write their stories. But today only 20 years after their sad stories, the same buses are ferrying displaced families from Harar to Bale. Like I said earlier, trying to see how low we can go in desperation and misery as Ethiopians and breaking new records along the way seems to be the official guideline of the people in power. It is indeed a season of discontent and confusion.

Coming back to talking about Addis Ababa - if you want to acquire paperwork like home ownership card or what we call 'map' of your home property, then Heaven help you. The city is supposed to be split into 6 zones; each with its own department for health, finance, trade, industry, and education. What are missing - at these city zonal levels - are perhaps departments for defense and foreign affairs. If you are leaving in Ayer Tena near Old Airport and want to buy a house in Megenaga, then you will have to deal with the new confused bureaucracy of Ato Iqubay who has managed - just in few months - to turn Addis Ababa upside down. A relative who was in the middle of this process just gave up the whole thing as her blood pressure went up to newer heights and decided to wait until things cool off when Iqubay and his new friends get tired eventually. Just barely 6 months ago, no one had predicted that we will miss Ato Ali Abdo - the former mayor who 'assessed' himself to be 'anti-progress' (Tsere-limat) and laid the grounds for his dismissal by his EPRDF bosses. But 9 months later, we are exactly doing that.

In the mean time, our respected prime minister seems to be busy writing. He released yet another of his 'policy document' on globalization and security - through the Prime Minister's Office - from his collected works. For the past 2 or 3 weeks, he has been busy forcing his ambassadors, ministers and party people study the document. If my counting is right, Meles' collected works now has almost reached the 1000 page mark. As you know he writes on things like 'agriculture-led development' and 'capacity building' (some call it the incapacity document). We all know it is recycled 'addisu democraciawi abyot' - an old concept from last century; but no one seems to point that to the PM. So he keeps on writing even when the city has a twice in a week power blackout that is going to cost as 1.5 Billion Birr in lost economic activities. Maybe he uses candle light in solidarity with us the citizens of this suffering country. But, no one knows. 

So, in these final days of Ginbot of 1995 when the days are extremely hot and the Sun and the dust test our patience and health, we wait and pray for the timely arrival of the rains to save us at least from the drought and help us get electricity 7 days a week. 


be-selam qoyu

Tizibt Mezgebu (Saris, Addis Ababa)

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