An American visitor recently confined his confusion and dismay about the state of affairs in Ethiopia to his local colleague. Conversing on the proposed Riverside Revitalisation Project proposed for Addis Abeba, he was perplexed and mystified. The visitor should know a thing or two about river restoration and riparian habitat management, because he is an expert in the field, having worked on major river restoration projects throughout California and the Northeast.
The river revitalization project has been taunted by the Deputy Mayor of the city and the Prime Minister as if we have suddenly embarked upon the invention of the wheel.
“It is as if you guys are living in the era of dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko, who built a marbled Versailles Palace in the middle of the Congolese jungle, which now stands in complete ruins,” the American digs in, to the annoyance of his local colleagues who are used to defending the nation, right or wrong, to outsiders.
The Western world is accustomed to the processes of planning that involve the preparations of feasibility and environmental studies; field surveys; development of designs that render the concepts, maps, cross-sections, plan views and details of the proposed project; and a process that incorporates public reviews and hearings as a central core of any major government and private undertaking.
True enough, the proposed project river revitalization project has produced a six-volume planning study with an accompanying rendition drawing booklet compiled by none other than Addis Abeba University’s Centre for Environmental Studies. The problem is that the graphics, cross-sections, legends and maps are of such poor quality that they cannot be deciphered well enough to be of any use.
The city has prepared and posted on its Facebook page a video of the artistic vision of the project. The problem here again is that the video depicts the fertile imaginations of a videographer that rendered the Mississippi River streaming bank-top to bank-top through the floodplains of Louisiana.
The video bears no resemblance to the Bantyaketu River that we know. Bantyaketu River mostly flows in narrow V-shaped gorges and drains rapidly from some 3,200m of elevation in Qechene to the floodplains of Qality at around 2,200m.
Concrete studded riverbanks enclosed in concrete walkways, cantilever bridges, ballasts and impermeable roads in riparian habitats belong to the 1950s America that has long ceased to be a vision for riparian restoration in 2019. The benefit of engaging real experts in the planning, indeed in all planning - but particularly for projects as sensitive as river revitalisation - is that the government does not have to fumble and tumble in the dark. The knowledge, skill and expertise are there. It only needs to be tapped.
The current project, expected to cost 2.5 billion Br, is being implemented without any specific design or public comments before hand and is expected to be constructed in one year. A project of this size, scale and sensitivity should take two to three years just in the planning phase and preparations of the contract documents. In a further demonstration of the blotted nature of the project, it will eventually involve 29 billion Br and cover 56Km of riparian corridor that is planned to be completed in three years.
The city is in a hurry to translate the edicts of its leaders into reality in short order. City officials held a rushed ceremony to announce that they have awarded the design-and-build project to the locally-based Geom Luigi Varnero, who passed on the design work to an architectural firm, ZEIAS International. The city has not yet executed a contract, but Varnero is already allowed to hire a designer and has mobilised its crew and equipment on the site - a situation which under any circumstances should raise some eyebrows.
A city official justifies the rush by saying that they did not want the project to be stalled like all the other mega projects in the country. Seeing how furiously this project has been rushed and noting the long record of mismanagement by almost every level of government, we are most likely headed to an unpleasant hiccup.
Those of us, like the American visitor, who watch from the sidelines what takes place in government decisions are puzzled with the lack of proper processes in planning public projects. We on the sidelines are in a quandary because nary a square inch of the city's streets and walkways are left undisturbed by stalled and unfinished work, broken water lines, flooding sewer pipes, plugged drain storms and squalor, and yet we are embarking on a mega project to revitalize the rivers of Addis Abeba.
A humble suggestion for the top leadership in the federal and city governments would be to walk, not drive, one afternoon the short distance between the old post office in Atakilt Tera and the Merkato bus terminal to smell, see and feel what other citizens experience.
The ancient Chronicler of the Kings of Ethiopia consecrated the wretched state of affairs in the nation some 300 hundred years ago with an unusual flourish, lamenting that, “Ethiopia is like a flower, whose petals children have plucked and scattered in the autumn winds.”
One senses the agony and torment of the Chronicler in that phrase and how low the affairs of the nation had descended at that time. That era was as much a time of waste, conflicts over land, political power and influence as it is today.
The sad refrain of our times is that the ancient turmoil has not culminated in a peaceful and prosperous nation on par with Japan and Western Europe - nations whose histories and old cultures that we share.
PUBLISHED ON Mar 16,2019 [ VOL 19 , NO 985]
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