Letter from Ethiopia - October 15, 2002

from Tizibt Mezgebu

Dear Readers:

Finally, the Kremt is over and schools have started. It is good to have the kids back at school after 3 long months of vacation. The university will open this week; very late indeed. It is going to be the first time in two years that all students from freshmen (and freshwowen!) all the way to postgraduate students will be attending the university. I assume that you all remember the disturbances we had at the university almost 2 years ago. The government (PM Meles and W/O Genet, of course) had decided it was too dangerous to have all these bright, brave, fearless young men and women (with no children of theirs to worry about!) in the campus after that incident. How time flies? In a few days, Arat Kilo, Amst Kilo and Sidist Kilo will be crowded with thousands of students.

The big news in town right now is the sudden and unexpected departure of Ato Ali Abdo, our city's mayor for the past several years. We are yet to hear it from the government people through ETV; but there is hardly any one in the city who hasn't heard about it. Ato Ali Abdo, whom my good friend Girma Feyissa at Addis Ababa FORTUNE's newspaper calls - the Lord Mayor of Addis Ababa - was hardly a friendly and likeable person and I have my doubts on whether he will be missed.  But, we Ethiopians love to say that we are more comfortable with the devil we know so well of than an angel whom we don't know. So, many people are worried about the new EPRDF people Meles has brought from his own party to look after our city until a replacement is found. The more optimistic ones say that Addis Ababa will eventually be a charter city with its own charter and administration and the EPRDF rule is temporary. But that looks like wishful thinking to me. We, of course, remember that PM Meles had said in his meeting at the university that he wants Addis Ababa to be a world class city worthy of hosting AU and ECA and he will fire the city administration if it doesn't do its job. We all thought he was kidding. Meles has kept his word in the firing part; but I, for one, doubt that he will be willing to hand over the administration of Addis Ababa from EPRDF to average folks. That is where the worry starts.

A friend of mine says he knew Ato Ali Abdo was in trouble after he saw his performance at the charity football match between EPRDF officials and the business community about 6 or 7 months ago.  Heavy weight - which is a sign of not only too much comfort but also overstaying a public or government office - was very apparent on the Mayor. Ato Ali who had boasted he will score goals to some of the journalists who coaxed him into talking (and being friendly) before the match could not only score but couldn't even run well. [By the way, it was the same football match we had expected Meles to play; but it looked like the esteemed PM was not foolish enough to face 30,000 Addis Ababans face-to-face in an open field with his flank and back exposed]. Anyway, the city office has always been accused of all kinds of vices, of which bribery may top the list. If you have tried your luck in getting a lease on a piece of land for building your humble abode, then you will know what I am talking about. The number of officials you have to see, the number of stretched hands you have to tease to fold with folded notes and envelopes only to get your name in the lottery-type drawings has been a constant complaint in the city. Add to that the ever deteriorating roads of the city, especially after the rainy season, the pollution, the sad and forceful eviction of poor people in Wello sefer, the thousands of street children, increasing theft in broad day-light, etc and you get the picture.

So, as Ato Ali Abdo says good-bye to the Mayor's office in the Municipality building (the largest office in the city with the best view in town, according to a friend of mine who saw it many years ago) and moves to the Oromia administration building near Mesqel square, Addis Ababans are wondering what all these means. A friend joked that the coffers at Oromia, especially at the trade and industry minister Ato Ali is assigned to, are bigger and deeper than the city of Addis Ababa and Ato Ali Abdo may put on another 50 kilos before Meles moves him somewhere else. But for a former school teacher and qebele chairman, Ato Ali has done very well to have benefited from the country's fortune.  How happy and comfortable are those whom PM Meles has favored! Till, of course, .........you know when. 

This new development in the city actually made me reflect on the whereabouts of some of the Addis Ababa mayors we have seen in the past 20-30 years. Dr. Workneh  who was the mayor in the 70's before the Dergue era is remembered very fondly by many people in the city old enough to have known him or heard about him. It is too bad that he spent most of his prime years in Mengistu's prison without the chance to use his talent to better the city's and her resident's lot. His good name is now carried by his wife Sister Jember Teferra who runs many NGO centers in the city. There is hardly anyone in Addis Ababa who hasn't heard of her center near Tekle Haimanot. Some people now call her the Mother Theresa of Ethiopia. Engineer Mekonnen Mulat who was the mayor before the Degue decided that it couldn't have Addis Ababa be run by a professional man is also widely admired and remembered. Most people talk about him as a clean, capable and very kind man. The last time I heard about him a few years ago, I was told that he lives near the Mesqel area apartments; but with no pension to see him through the golden years of his life - another sad reminder that we always fail to honor and reward honest people. Dr. Alemu Kebede, the bearded Russian-trained veterinary doctor who run Addis Ababa during the dark days of Red Terror (Qey Shibir) is widely regarded as responsible for many deaths of young Addis Ababan men and women during that period.  For me, the doctor and Kelbessa of Senga Tera, both favorite communists of Mengistu, remain to be the faces of Qey Shibir. We hear the veterinary doctor is still in prison, still bearded and fat as he has always been. It is ironic that his "retirement" in prison may be more comfortable than the last years of Dr. Workeneh and Engineer Mekonnen Mulat, the last two decent mayors of this city of ours. 

So with these reflections, we await with anticipation and a lot of worry where the 4 new horsemen of PM Meles will take our beloved city. 

Be Selam qoyu!

Tizibt Mezgebu (Saris, Addis Ababa) 


I have been very much touched by the numerous e-mails I have received from readers. Since I hadn't written anything at all for an Internet audience before, I had no idea that some people will find my letters interesting. Thank you, readers for the encouragement. While expensive internet connection from here may not allow me to respond to most mails, I still am very thankful. A reader had reminded me that "Medhani Alem" is "Igzihine / Iyessus Kristos" himself and not just another tabot. Correction accepted. When told, my mother also couldn't believe I had made that mistake. Many also expressed interest in the Tesfa Dirijt (Hope Enterprises) meal program. The coupons may be obtained by going to their office at Churchill Road in front of Lycee or by calling them at 55-31-02 or 71-06-28. 

Copyright MediaETHIOPIA - 2002.