I revisited Doro Tera sometime ago. But it was not in person. It was through the eyes of a Dutch neighbour, who used to live a stone's throw from my house.

Despite having only been in Addis Abeba for a year, he knew most of the neighbourhoods here. One day, while he was having coffee in a Kaldis coffeeshop close to Bole Medhanialem, a European man approached him while trying to get a seat. He saw my neighbour alone and asked him to share his table.

His request was accepted, and they started to chat. When my neighbour told the guy it was only for a year he had been in Addis, the guy began to brag about having stayed for over a decade.

With that, a game was born. My neighbour proposed that the person between the two who knows more about Addis must take the other to a place where he has never been before.

They agreed and met on the morrow. My neighbour was bipedal, while the other flashed a new model car. The Dutchman would have none of it and strongly insisted that they should only use public transport. The other guy, not happily, accepted.

They made the inventory of places either of the two has never been, while the flashy spots of Hilton and Sheraton hotels and the museums were too obvious. What was not obvious were the inner parts of Mercato, sometimes referred to as the largest marketplace in Africa.

Using public transport, they went there and dug deep to explore its core - Doro Tera. The guest admitted defeat and said it was only from then onwards he would confidently talk about knowing the city. Notable here is that, it is not like he has never been there but that in over a decade of knowing it, the streets leading up to Doro Tera and itself have changed significantly. It was the story of the city.

Indeed, this is what happens to many cities as they urbanise rapidly and develop economically. Take Paris. It was 1870 that marked the official end of the city’s nearly two-decade-long aggressive urban renewal commonly referred to as Haussmannisation, a neologism based on the project director’s name, George-Eugene Haussmann.

A tangled web of dark alleyways, narrow streets, random architectural styles, dangerous building structures and over a million people occupying less than 15 square miles in the city centre dominated Paris pre-Haussmann, wrote art historian Jennifer S. Pride in her paper, ”Looking through the Parisian Window: Caillebotte, Zola and the Post-Haussmann Interior.”

Housing shortages were leading to illegal dwellings such as half-timbered houses easily susceptible to fire and old houses that lined the bridges in the heart of the city were built up to dangerous heights. This is not to mention the veritable cesspool with open gutters lining the streets for raw sewage, no clean running water nor open green spaces for fresh air circulation.

But between 1853 and 1870, the congested neighbourhoods were replaced by large public squares and sidewalks where Parisians could stroll among the crowds, with many modern conveniences such as a clean water supply, a sewer system, improved sanitation, better traffic circulation and healthier air quality.

Haussmann’s most notable achievement was the creation of broad boulevards for which Paris is known today. His lines literally pierced through the heart of the city, wiping out entire neighbourhoods with the stroke of a pen.

Paris became unrecognisable to those who lived in the city, and satirical articles chart the process and effects of Haussmannisation on the people. The matter was not that far removed from the experiences of those that stay away from Addis Abeba for an extended period.

But urban changes come at a high cost to the city’s inhabitants, not only financially, but psychologically as lower-income households are displaced from the city centre to suburbs.

As it is true of Addis Abeba, it was also true of Paris. Displacement caused transportation problems for those who laboured in the city centre. Cultural changes equally challenged the Parisian bourgeoisie as many families lost their generational homes and property. Women gained a new level of autonomy in the new boulevards and parks. The cafés and bars brought people out of their homes and into social establishments. The social and cultural distinctions that were valued by Parisians became blurred and confused.

Cultural trauma, it is often pointed out, also involves the repetitive shocks and disruptions encountered in a city that rapidly is disappearing and reappearing as something different and unfamiliar.

This sense of loss and nostalgia for a life that is ripped away is an ongoing recurrence in Addis Abeba. Slums may seem unsightly, but they contain socially cohesive groups of people. They could be structured on survival through the likes of community-based social, religious and economic relations, the latter in the form of saving groups like iqub.

”As income is affected, resettlement tends to destroy or strongly weaken the function of social systems that serve for instance the provision of funeral insurance and informal savings associations,” Gezahegn Abebe and Jan Hesselberg wrote in their paper, ”Implications of Urban Development-Induced Resettlement on Poor Households in Addis Abeba.”

The loss of such social and economic ties brings dissatisfaction. It goes hand-in-hand with physical relocation that either fails to consider the effects of displacement on social cohesion or is willing to sacrifice them for urban development.

It does not come as a surprise then that surveyed households indicated that, while they saw value in the relatively better quality of housing they received, they had a “clear preference” for their old neighbourhoods, according to Gezahegn and Hesselberg’s paper.

This sense of being a “stranger” will continue to echo and reverberate long after Addis Abeba’s urban renewal is completed. No wonder then that a European, who vowed to know the city from every direction, would be hard-pressed to find his way to Doro Tera.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 11,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1063]

Tadesse Tsegaye (seetadnow@gmail.com), a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.

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