Packing firm employees unloading possessions around Weji near Summit roundabout.

In the bustling streets of Addis Abeba, an undercurrent of unease shadows the necessary act of moving house. Siyoum Haile, a civil servant at a federal agency and father of two, became the latest entrant in an expanding list of residents confronted by an unnerving trend.

Siyoum found himself facing off with six men demanding a whopping 4,000 Br for unloading his possessions at his new residence in “41 Eyesus Condominium”, in the northern part of the city. The fee was a hard pill to swallow, given that it amounted to half of his monthly rent.

“It’s the unexpected cost of change, really,” Siyoum ruefully noted.

The movers’ demands took a toll on his carefully planned budget, threatening to derail his life in this new neighbourhood before it had barely begun.

For Siyoum, a man earning a gross monthly salary of 12,000 Br, the demand was steep. Initially, he had not even intended to hire help for the move, banking on the support of a few friends instead. He made a plea for fairness to the men, but his words fell on deaf ears.

“They didn’t just decline,” Siyoum recalled. “They actively refused to let me handle my stuff.”

Neither did he find members of the community police present nearby helpful. In his account, they simply suggested negotiation rather than stepping in to enforce the law. They stood by as the dispute rolled on for over an hour. Eventually, Siyoum was compelled to part with 800 Br, while receiving no help in return.

This is a story that echoes through the lives of many among the 3.8 million inhabitants of Addis Abeba. Residents regularly face confrontations with groups of men who claim exclusive rights to loading and unloading possessions within neighbourhoods. They demand astronomical fees for their services and cause a public stir if their offer is rejected.

The self-proclaimed movers allege they have received permits from local Wereda authorities under a job creation initiative.

Yet, Wereda administrations deny acknowledging such permissions.

Alem Yeshiwas, head of the job creation and market linkage team at the Wereda 01 of Yeka District, argued permits are given to youth associations involved in loading and unloading for businesses or projects, such as workshops or at construction sites. These associations are meant to raise initial capital and establish a steady business.

Says Alem: “We create jobs, not side hustles.”

In an alarming display of audacity, these self-styled movers often hold customers’ belongings hostage until their high charges are paid. Ironically, Alem was one of their victims. Having bought a new refrigerator, she had a run-in with these individuals.

“I didn’t even ask for their help,” she said.

It was only her position at the Wereda that deterred them.

Law enforcement authorities are often called to mediate in such instances, a fact that speaks volumes about the seriousness of the issue. Residents, wary of souring relations with these movers, often prefer to settle with a payment, avoiding any potential reprisals.

Alazar Abayneh, a community police officer at the Wereda 08 of Lideta District, noted that such conflicts become alarmingly common, especially around condominium sites. The disputes occasionally turn physical, leading to the movers damaging belongings.

In an attempt to curb these unauthorised activities, the Addis Abeba Police Commission established a task force last week in all 11 districts to oversee security concerns caused by the porters.

Dereje Diriba, the head of the Peace & Security Bureau in the Lideta District, stated that they intend to draw clear lines between workers with and without permits, enforcing strict measures to deter unauthorised behaviour.

“It’ll allow us to handle the issue holistically,” Diriba told Fortune.

To further streamline operations, a directive is underway to regulate the fees for loading and unloading businesses. This move, many hope, will finally put an end to the inflated demands made by the self-appointed porters.

These changes are not just about responding to residents’ immediate problems but also about rebuilding public faith in law enforcement, city law enforcement officials believe. A senior police commander in the capital, who remains anonymous because he was not authorised to speak, underscored this, emphasising that the increasing complaints from residents were causing them to lose confidence in the legal system.

Unemployment lies at the heart of the issue. The unemployment rate in the capital is a staggering 25pc, according to the Ethiopian Central Statistics Services (CSS). This economic hardship could potentially be pushing young men into desperate and often confrontational encounters to earn a living.

The shifting sands of Addis Abeba’s moving woes underscore the need for decisive law enforcement, economic reforms, and entrepreneurial solutions. Moving, an already stressful event has become a dreaded task due to the unauthorised and overcharging porters.

Jemal Kerim, an unemployed man in his late 20s, highlighted this struggle. Last week, he was idling around “Sengaterra Condominium” near Mexico Square. He and his friends were helping on the loading and unloading of oxygen cylinders from a nearby filling facility, although their main focus was residents moving into the neighbouring condo.

“We’re not the villains some made us to be,” he told Fortune.

Jemal’s group decides what to charge movers based on the volume of stuff to be unloaded and the stories they have to climb in the condo apartments. However, he is adamant that they often help low-income newcomers for free, but the money they do earn is shared among several members, providing a precarious lifeline in these tough economic times.

Ironically, the growing urban populace and their mobility have created promising business opportunities. This rise in demand has given a boom for companies such as Pack Addis Movers & Packers, founded by Habib Abera five years ago with an initial capital of 100,000 Br.

Habib’s company, one of the 16 movers in the capital, has gained a strong foothold by offering safe handling and professional moving services. However, their operations have not been entirely confrontation-free. They have had their share of run-ins with the unauthorised porters, often leading to damage to their trucks and, occasionally, physical altercations.

Abdulmejid Wabela, an employee of Pack Addis, recalled one such dispute.

“Some of my friends were severely injured,” he told Fortune.

These experiences underscore the need for decisive regulation of the moving business and the real risks faced by legitimate service providers.

For the residents, hiring a moving firm like Pack Addis is not just about convenience; it is also about safety. When Yemane Habte, a private business owner, decided to move due to escalating rental costs, he prioritised the secure transport of his belongings.

“They’ve the resources and the expertise to make things easier,” he said.

Although companies like Pack Addis might seem expensive at first, the value of their professional service outweighs the potential risks of dealing with unauthorised porters.

Law enforcement inefficacy contributes to this chaos, according to legal experts. Michael Teshome, a legal professional, underlines the need for robust enforcement measures to ensure that residents get the assistance they need from law enforcement agencies promptly and reliably.

The recent establishment of command centres across the city to tackle these issues underscores the gravity of the situation. For Michael, however, these initiatives need to be sustainable. There is an alarming trend among residents of seeking extra-legal means to resolve their problems due to a lack of faith in law enforcement.

Residents have increased reliance on registered businesses as a prudent move, despite the higher upfront costs. Although the volume of items to be moved and distance are factored in to determine the fees, Pack Addis charges an average of 40,000 Br. The company employed 14 staff, handling moving up to four a day during pick summer seasons. The staff size could go to 18 and the one-truck fleet may be supported with rentals. Low seasons could see 15 jobs in a month.

However, for the money they pay, people like Yemane hope the professional movers would not only provide reliable services but secure their belonging from loss and damage.

The entrepreneurial spirit embodied by companies like Pack Addis Movers & Packers, when given an enabling business environment, can help tackle the dual problem of unemployment and unregulated services. They exemplify how market-based solutions can rise to the occasion and offer beneficial services.

PUBLISHED ON May 27,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1204]

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