As a renowned judge, Basha Wolde led
a spectacular lifestyle known to all in Addis Abeba. He was said to be one of
the closest courtiers in the palace of Emperor Menelik. A judge by profession,
his decisions were sharp and fair. He used to move from place to place on the
back of a mule. People with grievances used to come across him on his way to the
palace and yell out their appeals. He used to conduct hearings under the shade
of a big tree.
Popular attributions of meticulous
judgments are often referred to in the history of the popular judge, whose name
was lent to the area on Lorenzo Liezaz Street, west of the Ministry of Education
(MoE): Basha Wolde Chilot. The area has now been raised for redevelopment
Conducting hearings under the shade
of a tree, verbal dialogues between two parties using roundabout symbolic
language expressed in dramatic motion and all the rest of the traditional
litigation procedures may have now gone in to the books of history, but the name
Basha Wolde Chilot endured.
As one of the earliest settlements
in the vicinity of the Grand Palace, Chilot was like a city within a city
because it was almost self-contained in terms of market centers. The Fit Ber
market, located to the north of what is now the Sheraton Addis, was just nearby.
The village had no symmetrical plans, only asymmetrical settlements. There were
chains of houses and shelters attached to each other along paths and trench-like
The tracks were intertwined,
seemingly leading to nowhere. Although there were some decent houses here and
there, most of the structures evolved from makeshift shelters.
Observed from the top of a towering
building, Chilot resembled an assortment of rusted roofs that could be set
aflame at a stroke of a match. Indeed, when the old shanties and slums were
brought down by an organized labor force composed of the villagers themselves,
nothing more than the windows and old door frames gave any meaningful resistance
to the manual pressures of the youth.
No sanitation systems prevailed in
many cases. Excretions were collected in plastic bags and then dumped in
collective dustbins or thrown in the river nearby. The narrow ditch-like
passageways were also used as sewerage drainage ducts for the waste water
originating from both sides.
There is no denying the fact that
the village was so congested that houses had no gardens or even open spaces for
breathing fresh air. Children were kept indoors because they did not have
playgrounds. They had to go out into the streets to stretch their legs.
Shops, restaurants, barbers and
cafes lined the roads. Pedestrians and pack animals would share the roads
crowding the labyrinth. Shoeshine boys as well as vendors of charcoal and split
fuel wood used to commonly utilize the streets.
It was not only proximity and
congestion that had kept the people together. There were other binding factors
that were in place such as the century old Idir and Ekub schemes. In times of
grief and sorrow, Idirs are the associations to handle the reception of mourners
and friends who come to pay tributes and express their sympathy. When it comes
to voluntary saving, Ekubs are the financial arrangements for depositing equal
amounts of money every week or every month depending on the agreement of
Even though it might have been
undesirable to dismantle this spirit of bondage, the inconveniences of miserable
lives had to be replaced and Chilot could not be an exception.
Indeed, the City is undergoing
renovation and redevelopment. Reconstruction work involves consideration of
architectural and structural designs that match with the perspective of a
particular landscape and the functional purpose of a building. It also requires
large sums of capital, time and labor necessary to make it ready for use. The
logical question that follows would, therefore, be where the displaced
inhabitants of Chilot and other areas with similar fates will be relocated.
We are told that most of them have
been made to move and occupy houses in the apartments at the Jomo Site, a
newly-built condominium village on the western end of the capital. There are
others who were given the option of receiving finance and vacant plots of land
to build their own dwellings. Others have rented rooms wherever they have found
houses to be rented.
Aside from the plights of residents
left to rent, those who have been relocated to the new residential site claim
that it is too far from the center of the metropolis. Transport services are
scant and difficult to find. The other problem is said to be the lack of
security as the new life dictates living in apartments with no means of fencing
As these problems are hoped to be
solved in due course, the old shanty houses of Chilot will soon be part history.