Brief report on my visit to the city of Mekelle
By Berhane Kahsay
Tigrai Online, July 9, 2015
Vibrant business activities in various localities of the capital of Tigrai State coupled with the explosion of large scale constructions of high rise buildings has created many jobs for people in Mekelle city and surounding areas.
Just came back from three weeks holiday in Mekelle and the way the city has expanded in all directions since my last visit two years ago is simply extraordinary. Vibrant business activities in various localities of the capital coupled with the explosion of large scale constructions of high rise buildings induced by the regional government and the private sector have created job opportunities for the dwellers.
Traditional out-door coffee houses have become common in Mekelle and serve numerous customers every day of the week protected by the lush green trees on both sides of the pavements from the relentless heat that at times approaches the 40 degrees mark. In the evenings cold beers occupy punter’s tables accompanied by blaring music until the early hours of the morning. And the undesirable impact of this situation has been the consumption of huge amounts of alcohol and proliferation of prostitutes of all ages impacting on the spread of communicable diseases among the youth which happens to be the driving force behind the spectacular development that is showing no sign of abating. So far, alcohol fuelled crimes have not reached a critical stage but as time goes by this would definitely change with devastating consequences.
Packed European style cafes with Wi-Fi as well as restaurants and mini-shopping centers stocked with local and imported items seem to be doing brisk businesses and their availability has increased as a result of improvements in the disposable income of the people. Four 4 star hotels are under construction and two have already been in operation and entertain local visitors, foreign tourists and conference participants from other parts of the country.
Further massive expenditures by the regional government on social housing, new road constructions and upgrading have transformed the capital, and in the not too distant future, the authorities would certainly succeed in lifting Mekelle to the level of Bahirdar, Awasa, and Adam which have been enjoying the lion’s share of foreign direct investment.
Very attractive coble-stone roads that cover huge parts of the heart of Tigray have been constructed with an out lay of millions of birr and their quality and finishing have shown to be superior to those found in different parts of the country including Addis Ababa. But these have been seriously damaged as a consequence of blocked drainages resulting in flooding after moderate rain falls. Heavy trucks that should have been directed to asphalted roads have also inflicted further destructions and to repair these scarce resources would have to be diverted from elsewhere.
It is responsibility of the city administration to ensure their durability in addition to making the streets clean and tidy which does not appear to be the case at this juncture. Wantonly discarded empty plastic water bottles of all sizes and poisonous gases emitted by vehicles that have quadrupled since my last visit are sooner rather than later bound to precipitate serious damage to the environment. The situation is not yet as bad as it is in Addis Ababa but urgent measures such us placing collection bins in carefully selected localities have to be instigated as a matter of utmost urgency in order to halt the perilous situation from galloping out of control.
The other disturbing observation that requires the immediate attention of the regional government is the huge influx of job seekers to the capital from other towns and the hinterland. If this trend persists, agricultural production would be critically hampered as a result of the exodus of rural youth who would have been expected to inherit and till their parent’s plot of farming land. The only way to stem the tide is to provide incentives that would encourage them to stay in their homestead and play a part in boosting food output which would help in bringing prices down as a result of enhanced availability. Presently, the cost of living has gone beyond the financial means of the ordinary people and this should not be allowed to persist as the lethal cocktails of extortionate prices and corruption would certainly have grave and detrimental social repercussions.
Significant changes have also taken place in Addis Ababa since my last visit. Construction of multi-storey buildings in every part of the capital has increased at an accelerated pace and the city light railway system is almost finished and set to commence service very soon. This would be greatly welcome by the people who have been enduring disruption in their daily journeys to work and expensive travel costs owing to the chronic shortage of public transport for a very long time. Laying of rail-way tracks that stretches all the way to Djibouti ports from various regions of the country have also reached near completion and this will greatly improve import and export goods to reach their destinations in the shortest time possible saving valuable time and transport costs, and huge reductions in scarcity which invariably leads to a meaningful decline in inflation.
President Obama will no doubt be impressed by Ethiopia’s hard earned magnificent achievements of the last couple of decades. It wasn’t long ago that the country was synonymous with ghastly famine and destructive conflicts but now it has been elevated into one of the fastest growing economies of the world in an incredibly short span of time. His visit has generated great furore among the minority extremists in the Diaspora and to impede his departure they have been involved in lobbying gullible politicians and media barons but to no avail. The American leader is heading to Ethiopia and the fanatic and disloyal geriatric leaders of the credulous extremists are at liberty to protest in any manner they choose but there is very little they could do to prevent the visit from taking place. In any case, why is President Obama leaving for the epicentre of Africa?
Ethiopia has proved to be a stabile country in a difficult neighbour and despite this unfavourable reality; it has successfully managed to become the economic power house of its immediate region. It has also created a dexterous army that resolutely routed Eritrea and Al-Shebab beyond resurgence. As a result of the existence of a strong and nifty military establishment, the country’s confidence has been heightened and it has now reached a stage where dispatching sizeable numbers of its soldiers to hot-spot areas in various parts of Africa has become a simple routine.
Muslim fundamentalists’ futile efforts to undermine Ethiopia under the strict instructions of its arch enemies in Africa, Persia and Saudi Arabia Whabians have also been successfully conquered. Moreover, the Horn region’s contribution in the prevention of the spread of Sunni extremism to the immediate quarters and far afield has been incalculable.
Quite rightly America has identified a strong, dependable and stable ally with successful economy and robust army hence the scheduled visit by a serving President for the first time in the history of the country. No doubt Mr Obama would be accompanied by CEO’s of multinational companies eager to do business in a country of 90 million people with attractive investment opportunities. It’s in America’s interest to quickly get in the act and counter China’s increasing hegemony in Africa.
In the mean time it is business as usual in Ethiopia as a lot remains to be done to meet the target set by an ambitious government intent on placing the country alongside middle income nations of the world. We will leave the fanatics to host football matches in the presence of musicians from Ethiopia but these individuals must be fully aware of the implications of colluding with a proscribed organisation.