Home > City Journal > Addis Clamping down Beggars, Prostitiutes

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.

Categories: City Journal
  1. Kehulu
    August 22, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    I think the government is doing a right thing by taking such measures.Begging by displaying swollen legs and other body parts is disgusting.I suspect some of the beggars are deliberately disfiguring thier body to get sympathy from the alms giver.
    If this goes unchecked, the city will have a bellyful of them.

  2. alem
    August 23, 2007 at 1:18 am

    This brings back another memory of Mengistu’s time, he also once did the same with the beggars and prostitutes, hulled them all out of town for a while. That was like a face lift for the 10 year anniversary. I guess we need another face lift for the millennium too. What’s that Amharic saying.. Gulicha bekeyer wot ayataftem

  3. Yaya
    August 24, 2007 at 8:37 am

    How sad! Is what we should do to these hapless creatures as if the cold and the hardship isn’t enough?

  4. Lamrote
    August 24, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    This government has no sense of justice or equality.Thus it has to settle for lip service.”Assume a virtue, if you have it not” says Hamlet.The poor are required to ‘know thier place”.For now, only those with money matter.
    But soon Addis will be a testing ground for the idea the goverment has been mouthing for the past 17 years.It will not go anywhere alienting the majority of its sunjects.

  5. Bluebird
    October 6, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    I feel this goes much more than self-glorification.It’s a nactive hiding of the truth, propoganda, by Woyane.they knew that the public were able to analyze the true situation, sooner or later would have come to the conclusion that it was wrong.The news in the goverment contorlled media has long become something of a joke, because it is so propagandist.

  6. October 20, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    What really is poverty? According to the World Bank, “Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not being able to go to School and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is Powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom.” This is the reason we have all these forms of poverty. Why are we so poor?
    First, Conflict and poverty are the closest of relatives. Look we are in conflict-either within or with our neighbors Somalia, Eretria, and that is why we are poor. Peace is an essential prerequisite to prosperity. Without peace there can’t be any poverty alleviation.
    The basic question really is: why we did not modernize fast enough and thereby doomed our people to poverty. This is the harsh truth about Ethiopia today. Thousands of young adults today are unable to find jobs. Our natural resources have been ravaged and they are not renewable. Our tremendous population increase eats up all of our economic gains. There is hunger in this country now; our poorest eat only once a day. But this physical poverty is really not as serious as the greater poverty that afflicts us and this is the poverty of the spirit.
    We are poor because we are poor – this is not a tautology. The culture of poverty is self-perpetuating. We are poor because our people are lazy. I went to Addis Ababa last year and saw – dozens of adults do nothing but idle, gossip and drink. We do not save. Look at the Japanese and how they save in spite of the fact that the interest given them by their banks is so little. They work very hard too. Second, it is due to graft and corruption. It is believed that the surest way to ruin a nation is to put corrupt leaders in office. Graft and corruption is the problem that continues to burden the country. Many young Ethiopians can’t afford basic education, health and other social services because of graft and corruption in every government office.
    Poverty cannot be eradicated without political reform. It is now time to make some vital changes. If we want a country free of corruption, then we have to help each other. If we want to take off economically, we have to get rid of all forms of corruption. If we want to be a First World country, the key to realizing this dream is right in our hands. We pray for our leaders. We pray for our nation. We pray for our success, but we must act now.

  1. September 12, 2007 at 5:02 pm

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