Addis Clamping down Beggars, Prostitiutes
Talk of progress and prosperity appears to be rising in the state media. It is more so as the Ethiopian Millennium celebration is getting nearer. Of course, Addis have some newfound extravagant wealth to show off. New buildings are being built, new business being opened and plenty of cash circulating. (One economist told a local paper that it is only the consumerist face of Addis Ababans that have changed and those disenfranchised and impoverished by the Derg today have money that can spend on non-essential items). Some cosmetic and real cleaning work have been done on the major streets of the city. But the ceaseless ‘development’ talk is more an attempt to cover its absence than a genuine effort to exemplify one’s achievement. Self-glorification seems to be the order of the day.
But the new celebrated and much-talked-about buildings in Addis are too few and too scattered to disguise the numerous destitute and congested areas. With the growing poverty, rising unemployment and falling incomes, there is a darker side of life that the authorities would prefer to keep hidden from the Millennium guests and visitors.One thing that is at odds with the government’s effort to portray a more cosmopolitan Addis is the sight of beggars and homeless people everywhere. Every journey across the city entails the inevitable encounter with these ‘anthropologically distinct people’ to borrow a certain writer’s description. Distinct through their wasted figure, bony faces and shabby clothes. Beggars of every description line up in the streets, traffic lights, church gates, and bus stations, some rolling up their sleeves to show their amputation and others delivering slogans and lengthy speeches, that seems to be taken from the radio.It is this scene that the apprehensive officials have decided to hide from the visitors view, at least till the end of the main festival and have started a sporadic sweeping campaigns targeting the homeless and the like. As inhuman as the measure are, they are done at night to evade scrutiny. The scraps of details about it that have emerged so far make up an incomplete picture. Police patrols, which are increasingly seen in abundance in the city, are busy rounding them up. Those who sleep in main parts of the city like the Ambassador Theatre, National Theater and Tikur Anbessa are easy targets. Where they are taking them isn’t clear but rumors abound that temporary shelters are set in the outskirts of the city. One unconfirmed story has it that they might be moved to Jan Meda where a tent would be built and food would be provided. As police clamp down, the homeless and the beggars are having to feather new nests and looking for alternative venues to conduct their business.What’s more, hundreds of prostitutes who stand in some streets of the city are also targets. Last Saturday, some have seen the raid on Haya Hulet, Mickey Li land Street when uniformed policemen chasing away streetwalkers at midnight.
It is difficult to know the exact number of prostitutes in Addis Ababa, for most women engaged in the profession do not want to identify as such.According to official estimates, they numbered 60,000 in 1974.Everyone who has studied the problem agrees that it is serious and that it is getting worse.In the ebbs and flows, governments have been waging a campaign against prostitutions for several years now.Getahun Benti in his recent book, Addis Ababa, Migration and Making of a Multi-Ethinc Metropolis(2007) wrote that the expansion of prostiution and its negative impacts on the morality of the people caught the attention of Addis Ababa’s municipal government as early as in the 1960’s.Zewde Gebre Hiwot, a nine-year mayor of the city(1960-1969)who served Haile Selassie’s goverment in different capacities fully recognized the devastating dangers prostiution posed to society and to the women involved.As a solution his municipal adminstation adopted some measures including the reduction of the number of women serving in each bar, imposing of a curfew on bars, and strict prohibition of underage girls from serving in bars.Though some siginificant successes were observed,Zewde expressed his disappointment for the eventual failure of the policy.
It is an unfortunate episode but today Addis has become the home of a flourishing sex industry. One look at the main street today and you’ll see how these old professions have become widespread.Any permanent solution to the problem is a welcome move but the process is expensive. It costs every body something. Surely all these are connected to the taunting of unfulfilled equality. The current measures by the government tell about the inhumanness of the administration than what is being done to curb the vice. This will yet more damage to the country’s image.