By: Merhatsidk Mekonnen Abayneh
The fictitious agreement reportedly unveiled ten days ago between Oromia Region and the Addis Ababa City Administration following its clandestine conclusion behind closed doors regarding the delimitation of administrative boundaries virtually amounts to no more than what we call a ‘contract with oneself’ in the strict sense of the term.
From a civil law perspective, a ‘contract with oneself’ is that type of unilateral agreement entered into with nobody else, but by a party with himself for the sole purpose of creating a right for those persons whom he wishes to inherit his assets and liabilities upon death, for instance. Though not unlawful in a technical sense, this kind of juridical act is subject to invalidation any time it is disclosed to have somehow affected another party not participating thereto.
The deal we have heard about allegedly governing the delimitation of administrative boundaries has been publicized in a rather unique gathering held at the Addis Ababa City Council Hall on August 16 2022 in the presence of senior federal and regional government officials, religious forefathers, Aba Ghedas and selected community residentsfrom across the city and the Finfinnee Zuria Oromia Special Zone, among others. By no means does this agreement create comparable rights and corresponding obligations as there are no two or more parties to the agreement in the first place as required by the law of contract or treaty pertaining to the subject.
After all, how can you distinguish between Adanech Abebie, Mayor of Addis Ababa City on one hand, and Shimelis Abdissa,President of Oromia Region on the other, since both individuals from and belonging to the ruling Prosperity Party’s Oromia branch are perceived ‘identical twins’ primarily intent to and standing for the promotion of one and the same interest irrespective of their separate placements and official government positions?
That formidable interest is definitely is the ill-advised territorial ambition of Oromia Region in all its geographical corners.
Astonishingly enough, Adanech hailed this controversial agreement in question a historic deal in the sense that it has been struck after a prolonged wrangling for 7 or so years. According to her, it is meant to tackle all sorts of long-standing socio-economic and governance challenges which have been encountered by the inhabitants of both the regional and municipal jurisdictions.
Her Excellency further elaborates that the arrangement, having been carefully and thoroughly been studied by a joint technical committee drawn from the competing jurisdictions, was finally made in such a way that it would eventually strengthen the unity and peaceful co-existence of the inter-dependent communities on both ends. She even remarked with full confidence that “nothing will be frustrated in terms of the provision of social services such as education and things are to go on as normal as before in the aftermath of the territorial adjustment” in view.
When it comes to the details of the alterations in the existing administrative boundaries on the ground, Koye-Feche, Jemmo No. two and parts of the Tulu-Dimtu areas so far in the Capital in which large blocks of condominiums of houses have already been constructed on the part of the Addis Ababa City Administration are now declared to form portions of the Oromia Region.
Conversely, the Furiand Hanna Mariam in the (lebbu) areas across the Kersa River wherein the Oromia Region claims that it has similarly constructed the Kotari condominium buildings are declared to have been transferred to the local jurisdiction of the Addis AbabaCity Administration in their turn. Obviously, all the areas mentioned above, (many believed), are considered to be entirely within the territorial limits of the Addis as per its establishment Charter.
In view of what one gathers from the ground, though, the sensitive and high level decision seems to have been taken apparently short of adequate participation of and prior consultation with the relevant inhabitants and stakeholders at all levels. Yet, the mayor imprudently laments that this ill-advised arrangement would eventually guarantee the lasting benefit of the people and thereby ensure sustainable peace and intergroup harmony of all the inhabitants to the disbelief of her attendants.
Unfortunately, this untidy rhetoric sounds foolish and simply amounts to an aggressive manipulation of our ordinary intelligence.
Addis Ababa’s Locus Standi and its Official Place Vis-à-vis the Nation’s State Structure
The early foundation of Addis Ababa as the permanent seat of the Ethiopian central Government dates way back to 1886 having been preferred to and established by Empress EtaituBetul, with The blessing of her husband, Emperor Menilik II, Since 1889, it has been officially incorporated as the phenomenal capital of the modern nation to date, if not also of the entire AfricanContinent as of 1963, for that matter.
More importantly, the present status which the Addis Ababa City autonomously enjoys is not a superficial one. Instead, it is a constitutional innovation, so to speak.
To that effect, Addis Ababa is the capital city of the Ethiopian Federal State pursuant to Art. 49 Sub-Art. (1) of the 1995 F.D.R.E’s Constitution . Hence, the city is a self-governing entity having a full-fledged legal personality accountable to the Federal Government as per the provision of Sub-Art. (3)of the aforementioned Article.
Be it in the Federal Constitution orits establishing City Government Revised Charter Proclamation No. 2003 (as amended), the city has no proper name other than ‘Addis Ababa’ which, In the Amharic language, means ‘New Flour’. In fact, the said Charter officially sanctions this very name under Art. 3 to the exclusion of all other informal designations such as Addu-Ghennet, Sheger, Berara and Finfinnee.
Nevertheless, this does not, in any way, suggest that the frequent use of Finffinnee adopted, for instance, by Oromiaas an alternative name of the city won’t be respected so long as the State of Oromia prefers such nomenclature for whatever purpose it may require.
Addis Ababa’s Legal Relation with the State of Oromia
From a geographical point of view, no doubt that Addis Ababa locates itself in the heart of Oromia Region. Supposedly with that in mind, Art. 49 Sub-Art. (5) of the constitution has already envisaged any likelihood of potential disputes to arise between the two jurisdictions that need to be figured out and settled amicably. Nevertheless, the mechanism it has devised is found to be too vague to deal with such disputes.
In view of the constitutional stipulation under consideration,it was originally anticipated that “the provision of social services or the utilization of natural resources and other similar matters”are to be regulated by a subsidiary law intent to protect the ‘special interest of the State of Oromia’.
Likewise, the joint administrative matters arising from the location of Addis Ababa within the womb of Oromia were also envisaged to be subsequently spelt out and disposed using such an instrument which had to be deliberated upon and passed on the part of theHouse of the People’s Representatives. Unfortunately, no such law has so far been a reality on the ground with a view to determining those matters ever since the constitution itself had been promulgated in 1995.
Consequently, Nobody is sure to date as to what is exactly envisaged in what has constitutionally been referred to as ‘the special interest of the State of Oromia in Addis Ababa’ when it comes to the strict application of the phrase.
Of particular examination here is perhaps the crucial issue of boundary adjustment between the two contending jurisdictions.
In connection with this subject, Art. 5 Of the Addis Ababa City Government’s Revised Charter Proclamation No. 361/2003 (as Amended) explicitly provides on how and by whom territorial boundaries shall be delimited as between Addis Ababa and Oromia Region, the only neighboring state encircling the city in all its surroundings.
According to the above-mentioned stipulation, “the boundary of the City is subject to delimitation either by a joint agreement to be made between the City Government and the Oromia state, or alternatively pursuant to the decision of the Federal Government. As laid down in the provision, either of the two options are available by law and should thus scrupulously be implemented Without prejudice to the boundaries existing prior to and at the time of the enactment of the proclamation.
Without any doubt, the present arrangement purportedly made by an intra-party constellation does not,in any way, comply with the terms and requirements of the charter in question.
Far from being prejudicial to the existing territorial setup of the city, it falls short of public consultations as prescribed by Art. 7. Of the City Government’s Revised Charter Proclamation which requires the mandatory involvement of the actual residents at stake. Apparently, it was rather conducted more by the representatives of the ruling party in power than a government-to-government dialogue and debates.
In the opinion of this writer, such a controversial decision should have been safely taken by the Federal State in an impartial and independent manner to the relative satisfaction of all the interest groups concerned since this option is also available in Art. 5 of the charter, as has been noted earlier.
As far as the administrative setup of the State of Oromia is concerned, Art. 2. Sub-Art. (2) of its constitution mentioned hereof provides for any possible adjustment of its existing boundaries with all the neighboring regions on the basis of consent of the peoples inhabiting the area in consultation and agreement to be reached with the pertinent region. Be it deliberate or otherwise, the Addis Ababa City Administration does not seem to have been envisaged in the formulation of this general provision.
In my view, the framers of the 2001 Revised Constitution of the Oromia National Regional State did not probably think that Addis Ababa would be the ideal capital of their developing Region due to its initial determination as anofficial seat of the Federal Government at a constitutional level. That is why they had, by then, preferred Adama to be the principal capital of Oromia as laid down in Art. 6 of their Regional Constitution cited here-above.
If my memory does not fail me, it was only in 2005 following the astounding turn of events in which the now defunct Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, (E.P.R.D.F) fatally lost Addis Ababa in favor of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, otherwise known as ‘Qinijit’ in the wake of the third general elections that the seat of the Oromia National Regional Government had to be moved to the city with the advice and encouragement of the Federal government itself in bad faith.
Reactions Proliferating from Far and Wide
The overall reaction to this extra ordinary development jeopardizing the territorial integrity of Addis Ababa is somehow mixed, so to say. Leading opposition political parties such as Balderas for True Democracy, Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice, (Ezema) etc. have issued a series of organizational statements outrightly rejecting the decision for lack of transparency and public consultations as it was allegedly rendered in the backyard.
The Oromo Liberation Front, (O.L.F), on its part, condemns the decision for a different reason and calls on Oromia to fully embrace and take over the Addis Ababa City and its municipal vicinities . Sad to say, this extremist group has for long contended that the city is part and parcel of Oromia Region and needs to be managed under its jurisdictional competence. But an aging and backward-looking mindset such as this one has no place whatsoever in the contemporary world.
Last, but not least, the position of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed vis-a-vis the rather embarrassing decision is utterly that of appreciation and admiration. He proudly told the gathering of the youth whom he had selectively hosted in Addis Ababa that “no task more amazing than this one has ever been successfully accomplished by the ruling Prosperity Party since the latter’s very establishment”, his speech being disrupted by a thunderous and clamorous applause in between.
In his enticing reflection, the premier further tried to wrongly impress upon the jubilant audience by openly alleging that the Oromia side by then demanded to largely swallow up Addis Ababa up to the Mexico Square and the City Administration on the other has vehemently argued to expand its territorial jurisdiction as far as the towns of Adama to the East and Debre-Birhan to the North, only to mention a few directions.
Citing the sensitivity and complexity of the matter, therefore, he even boasted that “nobody else could have performed that marvelous job in the future had he and his allies not managed to resolve it in such a wise and responsible manner” at the time.
If the story shared by the Prime Minister is henceforth true, one has to inquire as to why Oromia had, by then, aspired to take over the territorial resource of Addis Ababa up to the Mexico Square and desired the city seen highly shrinking to that extent.
Is that indeed in search of the Oromo inhabitants and with due care to genuinely protect their fundamental rights and interests or otherwise seeking for a huge stock of developed urban land readily available for unfettered use and exploitation?
Far-reaching Implications of the Decision
As has been stipulated under Art.49 Sub-Art. (2) of the Federal Constitution, it is “the residents of Addis Ababa City that are conferred with a “full measure of self-government” in the first place. Hence, no territorial arrangement of their city will be credible without the participation of its residents to be affected by the outcome of such an exercise.
Since the City Administration itself is constitutionally responsible to the Federal Government, the issue is more than an internal political party affair as the Prime Minister would like to erroneously comprehend and preach to the citizenry in public.
On top of that, the working language of the Addis Ababa City Administration is Amharic as laid down in Art. 6. Of the City Government’s Revised Charter Proclamation No. 361/2003 (as amended). Consequently, the ill-advised incorporation of any of its Sub-cities and Woredas into another region with a different identity and working language would automatically impose an alien identity and language, in this case, ‘Afan Oromo’ and culture, on those residents therein without their prior preference and consent.
Let me sign off here that no city is, from an urban management perspective, condemned to sleep and gradually stagnate for good where it has first been sprang up without future expansion areas in all its development directions. As a trend, it is not a rural community in the countryside pre-dominantly depending on agriculture for their livelihood that grows larger and expected to extend its territorial scope into the central district of the nearby city and its municipal boundaries.
To the contrary, what usually happens is the other way round. Addis Ababa is not an exception to the rule applicable to all its rival cities across the globe. Any monumental failure on the part of our successive regimes to systematically determine the extent of its physical boundaries in a rather finalized structure plan should not now be abused to unfairly squeeze its reasonable size merely due to short-sighted ethno-political calculations.