Master Plot Against the Rastafarians?
Areas bulldozed to make way for new roads. Houses demolished, some partially, others completely. Families evicted from their own houses and seeking refugee either in friend’s house or churches.
This was the scene in Shashemene last week. The fair-sized town, 250 kms south of Addis Ababa, is having her own share of transformation and renovation. A new master plan was crafted, as the old one made some decades ago, couldn’t meet its need. Willy-nilly, some house had to go.
What a visitor could see in the main street is a sign of a town getting a well-deserved amendment. An army of workers readying themselves to transform the gravel road to a smoothly paved asphalt street. A crew of men with their shovels and picks, ragged clothes, and an assortment of exotic headgear. Heavy stone rollers with their operators perched imperiously in the small shelter atop the vehicle. All this, well and good.
But that is not all. Just talk to some families driven out from their houses and you would see the other side of the story-how they are simmering with rage. They say they were neither consulted prior the evictions nor provided with alternative accommodation.
And surprising as it seems, most of the families are Rastafarians, a community who have started migrating there some forty years ago.
One Rasta lady who says has lived for the last six years there bemoaned the house she built while the price of cement was 20 Birr is now gone and there is no way she would be able to construct another one, at a time when the price of cement has soared to 180 Birr.
Some suspect this has something to do with politics. It was by the last Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie that the Rastafarians were given 500 hectares of land where they stared to settle on but the Derg confiscated most of the land and they are now left with only 11 hectares. With the fall of the Derg regime in 1991 and the subsequent control of the land by Oromia state, the situation has not got any better.
Though the town’s mayor told an Amharic paper last week that the current demolition scheme isn’t targeted against the Rastafarinans, it is no secret that the state of Oromia is not comfortable with the presence of a group of people, within Oromia, who wish the restoration of Solonomic Dynasty. They are a constant reminder of the Imperial regime which the regional state abhors and fought vehemently.
And the Rastafarians complain that they are forbidden to do any further construction upon the land and are not given further settlement permits.
But the mayor was quoted as saying, “They talk about the land they were given by Haile Sellasie .We are not in a feudal system now and we are not governed by a rule where a landownership is ordered from above. But I feel we are not denying the Rasta community any of their rights.”
Contrary to the official vew, the town residents took a dim view of what was done on the ground. As an instance, a young girl who was filming the house while demolished was arrested and her camera confiscated. Now those families affected by the event, the Rastas and the other members of the community are petitioning the mayor to either stop the demolition or give them compensation.As they are waiting for a reply,some of them are saying they are not sure about the future, in the land they call Zion.
Any positve solution would be a welcome move, but already this has heightened the suspicions of the Rasta community on the authority and in the words of one Rasta he is fearing if the country is turning in to a ‘black Babylon’.