on anti-terrorism law introduced numerous rules that mark a
major departure from existing and widely recognized legal
principles. The bill gives substantial powers to security
forces and provides new obligations that impose serious
burdens on citizens' legal as well as contractual rights.
immovable and movable properties, such as houses and
vehicles, are targets of the new bill. After the adoption of
the bill by the Parliament, owners leasing their properties
need to report the contractual arrangement to the nearest
police station. This defies the principle of freedom and
Leasing is a juridical act exercised on movable or
immovable property by the owner to obtain pecuniary benefits
while offering the lessee the right to an exclusive use and
enjoyment of the property. A Lease contains a reciprocal
obligation for the lessee to use the property for a
legitimate contractual purpose against the payment of rent
for a definite or indefinite period. Leasing property
constitutes one of the basic rights legally endowed to
owners under the old Ethiopian customary laws and the civil
code of 1960.
the 1974 upheaval in Ethiopia, like most laws regulating and
protecting the rights of private properties, the legal right
to lease houses, came under fire. Inspired by communist
demagoguery, which was the raison d'Ítre for the
promulgation of the Government Ownership of Urban Lands and
Extra Houses Proclamation issued in 1975. In this
proclamation; "all extra houses" under lease contracts, were
This proclamation also legitimized government's tragic
usurpation of all "extra houses". As a result, contractual
relations created with the lessee were transferred to the
new owner of confiscated property - the government and it
was also prohibited for a ". . . person, family,
organization (except government bodies and kebelles) . . .
to obtain income from urban land or house rent". Moreover,
during the early periods of the defunct military regime,
owners of extra houses were temporarily subjected to
deprivation of certain civil rights and suffered political
marginalization on account of their relationship with their
hard earned property.
More than a decade after this proclamation was issued in
1975, the rhetorical pledge made by the military regime to
alleviate urban dwelling houses and provide decent shelter
to the homeless, shifted to a shameful legal concession The
Proclamation allowed dispossessed residential owners and
lessees of government owned houses to conclude lease and
sublease agreements respectively, contrary to its early
prohibition and professed philosophy. This arrangement
provided a temporary outlet to escape the imminent housing
problems that had gripped the military regime.
After the fall of the Derg, the new economic policy adopted
during the transition period and the subsequent laws issued
began to support and promote private ownership. However, it
was made categorically clear that the government would not
return nationalized houses to their former owners or
introduce any change on properties nationalized in
accordance with Proclamation No 47 of 1975.
After the incumbent came to power, a directive aimed at
terminating contractual relations created under sublease
agreements of government owned houses was introduced. This
created serious havoc among residents.
It has been a while for cadres of the ruling party, its
government officials, and policy documents to begin to
describe a section of society as rent seekers, a term with
derogatory meaning to persons earning their living through
leasing property. Rent is not unearned income obtained as a
windfall gain or through illegal transaction.
Leasing is a lawful act that emanates from property rights.
The draft anti-terrorism proclamation nevertheless
transformed leasing as a potentially suspicious act that
should be placed under police surveillance. An obligation to
report the agreement, the place, room, house, vehicle and
"similar facilities" has been imposed supposedly to control
terrorist acts and to ensure public security.
Undoubtedly, this legal requirement is not designed to
provide greater protection to property owners or to ensure
efficient enforcement of lease contracts and the respective
rights or duties of parties. This is simply because the law
provides rather onerous, time consuming, wasteful and
inhibitive requirements that stifle lease business and
meddle in the privacy of parties. Property owners know
pretty well how best to safeguard and protect their wealth,
the interest of their customers, and ensure and maximize
Since national peace and stability are the necessary
prerequisite for any business activity, including lease of
properties, no one gains from disorder or instability.
It is therefore bizarre to assume that a lease contract is
a breeding ground for terrorist acts. Very disappointingly,
failure to discharge the reporting requirement under the
bill is punishable with prison terms ranging from three to
One may wonder why such a sweeping legal measure is
necessary at this time when peace has prevailed in virtually
all parts of the country and the threat of terrorist acts
are not apparent. In fact, I share the views of most
Ethiopians that our society is not hospitable to local or
foreign suspects of any criminal act. There has always been
the traditional of "informing" of appropriate government
bodies, strangers referred to in customary parlance as "tsegurelewet,"
that always contribute for the prevention of crimes at the
earliest possible time.
that implicit in the new legal requirement is the fear that
might take place in any discussion on public gatherings and
the need to control such acts ahead of time. Paradoxically,
gathering is a way of life for Ethiopian society, past and
present. It is a normal phenomenon in all social and
religious practices: Eddir, Equib, family elders meetings,
celebrations of favorite saints, weddings, mourning, and
worship necessitate gathering.
gathering for such events may be conducted in private
residential quarters, churches and mosques, hotel rooms and
halls, offices, markets, open air places, parks, vehicles
and many other places. Of course, any public gathering may
be a potential threat to peace and security.
Existing laws require prior information or request and of
course prior notification for all political meetings though
apparently, there has been no such requirement for many
other gatherings. I believe the bill indirectly attempts to
regulate gatherings at the discomfort and expense of leases.
Let me hope that my beloved country is not becoming a police
state, desperately working to seek lame pretext to ban and
even accuse any gatherings, curtail leasing of properties
and possibly prosecute this and other similar articles
published in the media in the future, to be interpreted or
misinterpreted as "rendering support to terrorism" or
"encouragement of terrorism".