Published On  Nov 20,  2011






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Named after the legendary Ethiopian Judge, Basha Wolde, the village around Arat Kilo, on Lorenzo Liezaz Street, used to be a ménage of open markets and shanty houses. With the redevelopment scheme, the locality is being reduced to rumble while residents are resettled in different corners of the city.   




Redevelopment activities being undertaken on what used to be Basha Wolde Chilot, Arat Kilo. Bottom: vacant place cleared off Lorenzo Liezaz Street.

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 purposes.

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 passages.

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 members.

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 out intruders.

As these problems are hoped to be solved in due course, the old shanty houses of Chilot will soon be part history.




BY Girma Feyissa




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