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Girma Seifu Maru: are you kidding, or is MEDREK limping?

By Dilwenberu Nega
Tigrai Online, September, 04, 2013

MEDREK’s Girma Seifu Maru
The sole occupant of an opposition seat at Ethiopia’s Parliament, MEDREK’s Girma Seifu Maru

The sole occupant of an opposition seat at Ethiopia’s Parliament, MEDREK’s Girma Seifu Maru, has taken a swipe at the Government’s on-going policy of making available thousands of affordable homes to those who can afford it on savings-cum-mortgage basis.

There seems to be consensual agreement among the general public that this particular Government housing policy constitutes a laudable stimulus for victims of greedy and voracious landlords, for those yearning to own their first homes, and for the thousands of Ethiopians abroad who would not stay an extra day in a foreign land, if only they can have a roof over their head in Addis.

One would have thought that a responsible opposition, not to say a sane opposition, would be the first to support this popular scheme, but not so it seems with MEDREK.

Writing recently on The Reporter, Girma Seifu, unleashed a scathing attack on the Government’s housing policy not worthy of both his calibre and those of his hastily cobbled together party. Primarily, he is wrong footed from his premise: “EPRDF neither has the will nor the wherewithal to build homes to the homeless.”

While no one can disagree with Girma’s assertion that EPRDF does not have the capacity, financial, or otherwise, to deliver homes to the homeless; no party, least of all verdant and untried MEDREK, must question EPRDF’s will power to deliver to society its manifest promises.  I remember that during the era of trigger-happy Derg, we had many Girma Seifus bragging about the invincible Derg. I heard them question if EPRDF’s “rag-tag and bobtail army” had the will power to defeat Derg’s largest Army in Africa after South Africa. As we all have come to realise to our pleasing surprise, this will power of EPRDF, having dealt a mortifying defeat to the Derg, is today internationally credited for having incredibly changed the lot Ethiopians.

Girma then goes on to attack EPRDF for “intervening in a sector best left for business,” but by so doing, what Girma has achieved is nothing more than the laying bare of his and his party’s ignorance of Ethiopia’s real estate sector. The driving force behind any real estate anywhere in the world is profit. By partnering with private banks, real estate companies build homes to sell to buyers with regular incomes. In Ethiopia, on the other hand, our inchoate real estate is, if not riddled with corruption, interested only on the country’s burgeoning middle class. A cursory look at current real estate prices for homes speaks volumes about the need to address the demands of ordinary citizen to be for affordable accommodation.

While the going rate for a 2 bedroom real estate flat is Birr 1.2 million, for Birr 250.000 you can be the owner of a 2 bedroom Government flat in Addis Ababa.  Admit it: truth is stranger than fiction. What Girma is saying is that the Government should not have “intervened” in homes-to-the-homeless scheme, because low-income first-time buyers should remain victims of voracious private landlords, until such time the real estate companies bails them out. Girma has inadvertently, therefore, told us to which section of society MEDREK represents – not the multitude that yearn for home of their own, but for the minority of parvenus who are engaged in oiling MEDREK’s machinery.

Girma and MEDREK are also opposed to the Government’s decision to make the Ethiopian diaspora one of the beneficiaries of its housing scheme. Acting not like an MP, but rather like a lobbyist for Ethiopian real estate companies – many of whom are alleged to be MEDREK members – Girma takes a swipe at EPRDF for “Offering affordable accommodation to members of the Ethiopian diaspora, many of whom are thought to be economically better-off than their home-based counterparts.” This is a classic quixotic argument, but in reality apart from showing that MEDREK suffers from a dearth of policy for the Ethiopian diaspora, it warrants no response from any quarter. But there again, Girma Seifu, doesn’t seem to have completed his homework on this issue effectively. If he had done so, he would have realised that the Government, cognizant of this very fact, has carved out a payment plan to satisfy both parties. Accordingly Ethiopians abroad are offered two payment options. Option 1: pay 100% in foreign currency upfront at the time of registration. Option 2: pay the first instalment of saving-cum-mortgage at the registration, and have a complete 60 months (5 years) to pay the full amount.

I have found Girma Seifu’s accusation of members of the Diaspora being insensitive to the common good, wholly inappropriate. According to him, we should not have queued up outside Ethiopian Embassies all over the world, while a minority of ‘Ethiopians’ are working hand-in-glove with hostile foreign states to destabilize Ethiopia – all in the name of freedom. Puerile and sickly are also Girma Seifu’s claim “EPRDF has included the Ethiopian diaspora in order to beef up the nation’s foreign currency reserve.”

After reading Girma Seifu Maru’s commentary with rapt attention, I have come to the conclusion that he must be kidding or MEDREK must be limping. My gut feeling tells me that it is a fine blend of the two:  Girma is kidding while MEDREK is limping. Thank God I am not on their MEDREK!

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