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Friday, 30 August, 2002, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Ethiopian slum razed to ground
Bulldozers destroy homes
People tried to rescue their belongings

Thousands of people are being made homeless in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.


It would have been better if the government had killed us rather than destroying our homes

Mekasha Zebene
Under the orders of the city administration, bulldozers began moving into the Bole Bulbula area, near Ethiopia's International Airport, on Thursday morning and began demolishing the houses of more than 10,000 people.

I witnessed them arrive to finish the job on Friday morning.

As people heard the sound of the great machines approaching, they ran inside their homes and began removing all the possessions they could, before their mud and wood houses collapsed to the ground.

The government says that these houses are illegal and that they would obstruct the planned development of the city.

But most of the residents are unemployed and say they have nowhere else to go.

Women carrying babies on their backs, beat their chests and wept openly as they saw the homes that they had constructed with their own hands and lived in for years, collapse to the ground a matter of seconds.

Sadness

Mekdes, who is married with a three-year-old son, told me how sad she felt as her home was bulldozed to the ground.

Woman resident in Bole Bulbula
Women wept as their homes were destroyed
"There is nothing that I can do. I have lived here for four years and even started constructing another single room, but they have demolished that as well."

She said her and her husband, who is is a security guard, had no notice about the demolition.

"They say that we are illegal but why didn't they stop us building our house here in first place?"

"I have taken all my furniture out of the house, but I have nowhere to go and no place to put my things"

Anger

As the women wept, men sat by the road side, with their heads in their hands, trying to work out how they will be able to provide the basic need of shelter for their families.

The people here are poor and few have jobs to support their families.

Those that do work make a meagre living as street vendors, day labourers and security guards. The average monthly income in each household is about 200 Ethiopia Birr - about $23.

Mekasha Zebene has five children and has lived in Bole Bulbula for 11 years.

Lorry laden with possessions
Some salvaged household possessions but many have nowhere to go
"The people here have big families...many have seven, four or three children. They are poor and most work as day labourers or do small jobs around the city".

"It would have been better if the government had killed us rather than destroying our homes. They have violated our rights as people and as citizens of Ethiopia."

As I walked through the Bole Bulbula area which covers a huge area, on the periphery of the airport compound, the scene looked more like a war zone, than a residential area.

People clambered through the wreckage of what was their homes, trying to salvage any household object that they would find.

They carried their possessions - tables, chairs, mattresses, kitchen utensils along the road as if they were refugees.

Hundreds of Addis Ababa police and special forces have also been deployed to ensure that there is no resistance or uprising from the residents.

Security

According to Addis Ababa's Urban Development and Works Bureau, the houses near the airport are considered "potential obstacles for aviation security".

Woman resident in Bole Bulbula
A homeless future awaits these people
In a statement issued on Thursday, the capital's administration said that it "had repeatedly notified the owners to demolish their illegal constructions, a warning which they failed to abide".

The destruction of illegal settlements is not a new thing in Addis Ababa.

Every year during the rainy season, the city's administration destroy tens of thousands of homes which they say are illegal.

They administration said that construction of illegal houses has been increasing at a phenomenal speed in certain areas, and that this would obstruct the planned development of the city and considerable impact on economic and social activities.

But this means little to the thousands of residents of Bole Bulbula, who had made this area their home for years, and who now face an extremely difficult future ahead.

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Nita Bhalla reports for Focus on Africa
"The scene looked more like a war zone than a residential area"
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10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
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