Surrounded by the rubble of her former neighbours’ homes, Getnesh Amare hangs her laundry in the shadow of the high-rise offices and hotels taking over the once insalubrious centre of Ethiopia’s capital.
“They have come many times to force us to move quickly. I’m not happy, but it’s a must. I have to move,” the mother-of-four, a housekeeper, said.
The neighbourhood of Kazanches, once a byword for dodgy bars and prostitution, has been singled out as the new business centre of Addis Ababa by authorities determined to rid the capital of slum-like residential areas.
On one side of the street, trendy cafes and bakeries have cropped up, while on the other, holdouts like Amare are clinging to their tin-roofed mud huts, known as “chika bet”, for which they pay a monthly rent of less than a dollar.
Authorities are trying to convince her to move into a three-bedroom “condominium”, the Ethiopian version of social housing. However, the thought of living in one of the large housing projects mushrooming on the outskirts of Addis Ababa does not impress her.
“It is not very comfortable. The water comes twice a week and it’s on the fourth floor,” Amare complained. And above all, the apartment is more than an hour’s commute from the centre of the city.
The condos have become a symbol of Ethiopia’s development, and a way for authorities to clean up downtown Addis, create jobs and house more than three million people still living in chika bets.
“I am not sure you can say this is a house,” Haregot Alemu, general manager of the Land Development and Urban Renewal Agency, said of the chika bet.
“There is no access to toilets. There is no access to clean water. There is no access to sewage. In the condos the life of people is completely changed,” he said.
The Ethiopian government wants the country to be ranked “middle-income” by 2025, meaning a gross national income of more than $1,000 per person. The condominiums are seen as a way to create a middle-class of property owners.
“The objective is also to encourage the savings habit of the citizens of Addis so they can afford to buy their house,” said Alemu.
In Jamo, one of these new suburban high-rise clusters, blocks of buildings have sprung up one after the other. Henok Kasahun, 27, moved here to a one-bedroom apartment, without regrets.
“The facilities are better. You have good toilets, a kitchen, and easy access to water and electricity. Before, in our previous house, we didn’t have such facilities,” he said.
The government’s goal is to build 700,000 apartments in the next five years. Demand is high and authorities have set up a lottery system for aspiring householders which 750,000 people have signed up to.
The cost of modern living
However, modernity has a price. To acquire a condo, future owners must pay at least 10 per cent of the price — between $5,000 and $25,000 depending on the size and location.
In a country where the monthly salary is below $100, repayment can quickly become unaffordable.
Topiyo Eshetu, who is unemployed, was among the first to move into one of the apartments six years ago, and did so grudgingly.
The municipality gave the family one month to leave their home on Meskel Square in central Addis Ababa and pay the deposit of $800.
“I collected from relatives and friends. For the people who can afford it you can live a better life here … but for people with no income it’s difficult,” she said.
And now she adds the promise of greater comfort has not materialised. Water and electricity is haphazard and there is not enough space for her three children. And the family is struggling to pay the $35 a month mortgage repayment.
“We used to live in a small house within our income that we could afford, but here it’s not compatible with our income.”
Those who cannot afford the 10 per cent down payment merely take the compensation money for the destruction of their chika bet and go elsewhere. Others who struggle to keep up with the repayments often end up selling the condo and moving out.
For Alemu, this forced march to development is necessary to change the image of Addis. “As the site of the African Union (headquarters), our vision is to create a modern city which leads in the continent.”