ethiopiantimes

August 23, 2014

Inside Addis Ababa’s Koshe rubbish tip: where hundreds literally scratch a living

Filed under: Ethiopia — ethiopiantimes @ 10:41 pm
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Caroline Knowles in Addis Ababa
the guardian.com, Friday 22 August 2014 

At the end of her journey to trace the life of a typical flip-flop – from oilfield to factory to street to trash – Caroline Knowles was confronted with the Ethiopian capital’s largest landfill site …

dfc8af85-5370-4410-8184-ee7d28d15924-460x276My first sight of Koshe, Addis Ababa’s giant 50-year-old landfill site, is from the highway. It runs alongside it, and away from the road as far as the eye can see: a giant, murky, grey-brown raised area of partially decomposed rubbish, with occasional bright specks of colour. As my hopes rise from having found it, my heart sinks as I try to take it in.

The interpreter I have engaged for this mission through my contacts, a junior academic at Addis Ababa University, is not keen on going ahead. Leaving the taxi and crossing the highway by the bridge, I try to absorb the panoramic view afforded by this elevated viewpoint over the highway.

This 36-hectare site – shrinking as the city attempts to regulate it – is patrolled from the air by large vultures, diving into the rubbish. Motley crews of wild dogs gambolling and snatching at the soft ground patrol it at ground level. Smoke rises in several places, adding a layer of haze to the murky colour scheme. Yellow bulldozers nose the heap and shift and level it; municipal rubbish trucks and flatbed trucks with skips arrive from all over the city and discharge their contents.

Between the dogs, the birds and the machines there was something else, something I could only slowly take in: 200 to 300 people, dressed in the same murky hues as the rubbish dump, backs bent, hooks in hand, were working on its surface.

Korah-girl1Feeling queasy I walk towards the end of the bridge. In order to reach the steps and the rubbish, I must walk past three young men who are using the vantage point of the bridge for surveillance and information gathering. In an unspoken negotiation I don’t understand, they take in my camera, and my shoulder bag containing digital recorders and money, and let me pass. This silent confrontation, between the comforts of my world and the difficulties of theirs, only further develops my anxieties.

Descending the steps, I walk to the edge of the dump where I am met by the site supervisor and his aides. They want a stamped authorisation of my visit from the relevant municipal department. What looks like a vast area, open to the surrounding countryside, is as closed to me as a Korean petrochemical plant. I turn back and head into the city to secure the relevant authorisation.

Caroline Knowles’s book Flip-Flop traces the journey of the world’s cheapest and best-selling style of shoe: from Middle East oil fields, through Chinese refineries and factories, to the streets of Ethiopia … and finally the Addis tip

Trash talks

Flip-FlopThe city dump is an inventory, of a kind, of its material life. Addis in rubbish is not London or Moscow in rubbish. Rubbish provides a crude and deeply flawed account of cities and their social, political and economic contexts. Rubbish displays social, material and income differences.

Indeed, some people’s rubbish provides others with the fabric of their everyday life. Maybe this is the best way to think about Koshe – as a redistribution centre which indexes the differences between people’s life-journeys, refracted through material cultures at their point of disposal.

Not just the content, the handling of rubbish displays cities too. How cities deal with their rubbish reveals them. It is a major challenge for municipal authorities in Addis, who are only able to deal with two-thirds of the rubbish, distributed in collection points all over a city that is fast expanding – leaving the rest to private contractors and the age-old informal dumping practices on streets and in rivers. Thus rubbish provides a visual commentary on urban citizens’ behaviour as well as the efficacy of municipal governance.

Scratching a living

Getting myself into the rubbish is a story of municipal offices cluttered with old computers, fans, desks, officials and permissions. It is about writing a letter in Amharic explaining what I want to do and why. It is about waiting until the electricity comes back on and we can photocopy my university ID. There are phone calls to the landfill site and arrangements are made. Everybody is charming. I’ve come from London to take a look at the rubbish. Why? I am following a piece of plastic around the world. Really! First world problems!

I go back to Koshe – which means ‘dirty’ in Amharic – and hand over the necessary papers to the site supervisor, in his makeshift office at the roadside of the dump. Minutes later, I am scrambling after him, out on to the rubbish heap, navigating around the dogs which I fear, and the areas where it is soft underfoot and I sink up to my knees. My stomach is churning with fear. My interpreter and I are using Olbas oil to mask the smell.

We stop north of the main road, where it is firmer underfoot, in the area where the activity is concentrated. This is the place to which the municipal authorities and the site supervisor direct the trucks to dump their loads. A single white towelling slipper, with the Hilton Hotel logo on it, stands out in the grey-brown mush.

A group of 'scratchers' from the Koshe dump.
A group of ‘scratchers’ from the Koshe dump. Photograph: Caroline Knowles

This area is a hive of activity that peaks to a frenetic pace with the arrival of new loads, and then falls away, leaving a more continuous stream of slower activity, and a legacy of dust and smoke that gets in everyone’s eyes.

As rubbish trucks turn off the main road on to the edge of the site, a group of five or six young men jump on the back and ride to the dumping area with it. This puts them at an advantage for grabbing the best items as the truck discharges its load onto the tip, but not without risk. The mechanism that crushes the rubbish occasionally catches a young man in its deadly and disfiguring grasp.

As the young men jump off with the rubbish and begin picking items that catch the eye, the line of men and women, that has formed along both sides of the truck, spring into action, grabbing items and stashing them in woven plastic sacks. These are held tightly in one hand; in the other a homemade metal hook with a white handle, used to grab and dig into the grey-brown surface of the heap, is held. This hooked instrument earns the pickers – sometimes referred to as scavengers – the name ‘scratchers’.

The moment of discharge unleashes a tense scramble for the most valuable items; a competition in which masculine physical strength prevails, and young, agile, women put up a good fight. Scratchers then go on searching, or rest until the next truck arrives, or regroup around the bulldozers unearthing new bounty. The social and material relationships of the dump demand skilled navigation.

From the vantage point of the dump, the scratchers rework the geographies and hierarchies of the city. The tensest flurries of competitive scratching accompany the arrival of trucks from the most affluent areas, with the best rubbish. The Bole area, with its upscale detached housing, mall, hotels and the international airport, sends the most prized items, the cast-offs of affluence, including waste airline food in large green plastic bags, to the dump. Scratchers collect the food discarded by airline passengers for themselves, leaving a large pool of bright green plastic bags, which attracts a herd of goats.

Rubbish from the central part of the city, from international hotels, the African Union HQ buildings and the embassies, is similarly sought after, and monopolised by the fittest young men. Scratchers recognise the sources of rubbish from the colours and types of trucks used by the different sub-cities and private contractors. And they recognise the drivers and their helpers, who regularly work the same areas. The discarded traces of the city’s more affluent lives, especially foreign residents and visitors, most animate the dump. Rubbish logs social inequalities in cities and provides a minimal redress.

The dump has temporal rhythms. Scratchers know what time the trucks arrive from different parts of the city. From 8am through the morning is the busiest time. The dump is geared to municipal collection and transportation. By 5pm things are dying down as the trucks stop for the night, and the scratching continues with fewer scratchers at a slower pace. Bulldozers moving stuff around and digging into the surface of the dump also provide new scratching opportunities, and a lively crowd gathers around them. Scratching is a 24-hour activity, with people arriving after their working day is over. Some scratchers work throughout the night wearing torches attached to headbands. Scratching it seems is a (stigmatised) way of life as much as a way of getting by.

Within the urban geographies of affluence, materials establish another set of hierarchies. Scratchers search for anything they can use for themselves, or resell. Materials have a value in recycling, providing an afterlife for discarded objects. Metals, including nails, are the most valuable booty, and men dominate this, although a few women have ventured into metals too. Wood has value as firewood. Tourist clothes and shoes can be cashed in at the Mercato salvage section. Some scratchers just come to eat.

But plastics are the most ubiquitous material on the dump, and among plastics, water bottles the scratchers refer to as ‘highland’, after a popular brand of bottled water, dominate, and in this niche women prevail.

Scratchers on the Koshe rubbish dump tend to specialise in different materials: some searching for metal, while others target paper or plastic bottles.
Scratchers specialise in different materials: some searching for metal, while others target paper or plastic bottles. Photograph: Caroline Knowles

Scratchers specialise in particular materials. Specialisms result from advice from experienced scratchers, from serendipity, or from knowledge of shifting recycling prices, gathered at the edge of the dump. Here materials are counted or weighed, and turned into cash, with the agents from factories using recycled materials.

A pile of white dusty material arrives from the leather factory. The dogs take up residence. They are ejected by a group of men, who have decided that this is a good place to sit, while waiting for the next truck.

In their working clothes – they scrub up outside of work and look completely different – scratchers are dressed similarly and grimily, making them the same colour as the rubbish heap. Men wear trousers, shirts and tee shirts, baseball caps and sometimes hoodies to protect their heads from the sun. Women wear scarves and baseball caps, skirts, trousers, t-shirts and blouses. Some carry infants on their backs. All wear sturdy shoes, often trainers.

The scratching population numbers 200–300, but expands after holidays with casual pickers. More women than men do it by a ratio of about three to one, and, while people in their 20s and 30s predominate, ages range from teens to seniors. Most live in the villages around the dump in simple, rusted, corrugated iron dwellings, sometimes with satellite dishes. Rubbish has provided a source of local employment and subsistence for generations over its 50-year history, and is firmly embedded in local calculations of subsistence and accumulation.

About 50 scratchers live in cardboard and plastic makeshift shelters off the edge of the dump, safely away from passing vehicles and next to a pen full of pigs. The rubbish sustains rural arrivals, for whom it works as a gateway to the city, as well as long-term residents, whose rural routes have settled into the past, making them locals.

The ministry and its field agents say that the rubbish dump is a source of dangerous working practices by people who, like the rubbish they sort, are consigned to live beyond the limits of civic life. A litany of accidents, deaths and disfigurements as scratchers take risks to recover value, are recited by the site supervisor:

Food comes from some place and a guy is going into the truck and he is injured and they take him to hospital but he died. Also someone else lost their legs in an encounter with a bulldozer. Two months ago a man who jumped in the truck dropped off when it broke. In recent accidents, two were women. The bulldozer operator has a lot to do to push the garbage. If they see something they want when the bulldozer moves the garbage, they don’t think about their life.

In living beyond formal systems of governance, this city suburb of rubbish is more like the Somali borderlands, patrolled by contrabandists and gunrunners, than a part of the city. There is a police station nearby, and policing and the justice system are slowly taking back the dump from a parallel system of authority, a mafia of five ‘big men’. The big men control access by scratchers in exchange for fees, making themselves wealthy in the process. But recently, some of them have been imprisoned, shifting the balance of power towards the authorities.

Once far away, a place outside of the city, outside systems of formal employment, taxation, law and municipal governance, Koshe is now on the edge of a city that has grown to meet it in what are fast becoming its upscale southern suburbs. A new development of large detached houses nearby anticipates this future – new housing for those in a position to benefit from rising prosperity, and a consequent shrinkage and rehabilitation of the landfill site. These changes have far-reaching consequences for the scratchers of Koshe.

This is an extract from the new book Flip-Flop: A Journey Through Globalisation’s Backroads by Caroline Knowles (Pluto Press, £18.99). It can be purchased here

August 22, 2014

Robbery at the Athletics Federation is causing a stir

Filed under: Ethiopia — ethiopiantimes @ 7:06 pm
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Robbery at the Athletics Federation is causing a stir
The recent robbery at the Ethiopian Athletics federation office and the vanishing of some important documents are causing a stir and controversy among the sport community.

The unidentified burglar has stolen various old and new important documents from the office. Financial documents pertaining to the Addis Ababa and Assela all-weather tracks laying projects are among the documents that are reportedly been stolen from the office.

 


When asked about the robbery, the Athletics federation office head Bilelign Mekoya told Sendek newspaper that he ‘reported about the robbery to the police and that the police is investigating the case’. Yeka subcity police is investigating the robbery.

August 11, 2014

Chinese companies and child labor on road construction projects in Ethiopia

Filed under: chinese roads — ethiopiantimes @ 9:49 pm
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Chinese road construction project in Tigray using child labor
Shire to Aksum road, northern Ethiopia:
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Gezhouba Corporation construction depot in Axum
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August 10, 2014

Ethiopians hunting down Teodros Adhanom in DC to make citizen arrest

Filed under: Teodros Adhanom — ethiopiantimes @ 8:09 pm
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August 8, 2014

Ethiopians confront EPRDF spokesman Redwan Hussein in a Virginia shopping mall

Filed under: Redwan Hussein,Uncategorized — ethiopiantimes @ 12:24 am
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August 7, 2014

Quality of Chinese made roads in Ethiopia: Around 765 thousands birr damaged due to heavy flood

Filed under: chinese roads — ethiopiantimes @ 7:52 pm
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As Fire and Emergency Prevention and Control Authority Communication Office head Ato Nigatu Mamo told to DireTube media; yesterday at 10 O’clock local time in Bole sub city woreda 13 in Sunrise building property of 700 thousands birr damaged as a result of flood.

In the same way the same day as a result of flood has entered in 7 residencies property of 65 thousands birr has been damaged in Kirkos sub-city woreda 15 around Kera behind the Mosque at 10:30 local time.

At 01:30 the same day around Olompia heavy flood brought passengers and vehicles to stay for a long time.

August 5, 2014

Ethiopia charges five more magazines and 1 newspaper

Filed under: Uncategorized — ethiopiantimes @ 11:51 pm
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Ethiopia charges five more magazines and 1 newspaper

The Ethiopian government has today charged the publishers and media outlets of five magazines (Ethiopia charges five more magazines and 1 newspaper
Lomi, Fact, Addis Gudaye, Jano, Enku) and one newspaper (Afro Times), local state media reported citing the Ministry of Justice. All the print outlets were published in Amharic language.

According to local state media outlets, the prosecutor charged the publishers on suspicion of “calling for violence, disseminating false information,  calling for the violent removal of the constitutional system and making people not to trust the government”.

The Ministry also warned that it will continue to charge publishers and media outlets that “trespassed and continue to trespass the law”.

The Ethiopian government had detained dozens of bloggers and journalists in the past three months alone for having a role in “terrorism”.

Ethiopians protest at the US Africa Summit in Washington DC – August 04, 2014

August 2, 2014

Historic Ethio-Djibouti railway track worth 20 mln birr stolen by foundries established by Chinese citizens in Adama town and near Koka


Individuals are dismantling and selling the historical Ethio-Djibouti railway line near Adama town.

Addis Alemayehu, head of the Adama station, told The Reporter that individuals are dismantling and selling the steel structure of the railway line between Modjo and Adama towns. According to Addis, the individuals are also stealing the railway line that lies between Adama and Wolenchiti towns. Addis said that the culprits sell the steel structure to foundries established by Chinese citizens in Adama town and near Koka.

According to Addis, so far railway lines worth 20 million birr have been stolen. He claims that with the help of the Federal Police, steel rails worth two million birr have been recovered at different localities.

“With the help of the federal police we have been able to apprehend some of the individuals and those who bought the railway line. We have brought them to justice,” Addis told The Reporter. The foundries owned by Chinese citizens reprocess the steel and manufacture iron bars.


Addis is the only custodian of the Adama railway station. The Ethio-Djibouti Railway Enterprise ceased operations in 2010. “There is no adequate budget to hire people to guard the railway line, stations and other properties of the enterprise,” Addis said. Individuals have settled on land that belongs to the Adama station. “We are also in a tug-of-war with the Adama town administration that wants to take the land away from us.”

“We have appealed to the office of the prime minister who gave orders to the local administration not to appropriate the plot of land that belongs to the company.”

The Ethio-Djibouti Railway Enterprise owns an old office building, store and employees’ residential houses, and fuel tankers at the Adama station. Old wagons and tankers for molasses are left to rust.

Ethio-Djibouti Railways (Compagnie du Chemin de Fer Ethio-Djiboutian), also known as the Ethio-Djibouti Railway Enterprise, is a railway company based in Addis Ababa and Djibouti. It is the successor of the Franco-Ethiopian Railway and is jointly owned by the governments of Ethiopia and Djibouti. The firm was established after Djibouti gained independence in 1977 and received French ownership stake in the Franco-Ethiopian line. The 781 km railway linked Addis Ababa to the port of Djibouti in 1917. Maintenance shops along the line are located in Dire Dawa. Out of the 781 km rail only 100 km is found in Djibouti while the remaining lies in Ethiopian territory.

The Ethiopian government has established a new railway company, Ethiopian Railway Corporation, that is building a new railway line to Djibouti. The faith of the Ethio-Djibouti Railway Enterprise will be determined after two years when the fifty year agreement signed by the two governments will expire.

July 30, 2014

EU statement on the situation in Ethiopia

Filed under: EU — ethiopiantimes @ 8:46 pm
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The European Union Delegation issues the following statement in agreement with the EU Heads of Mission in Ethiopia: “The EU Delegation is deeply concerned about developments in the case of the ten bloggers and journalists charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation on 18 July, as well as recent arrests of opposition members. It calls on the Ethiopian authorities to ensure that proceedings are carried out according to the Ethiopian Constitution and respecting international and regional human rights standards, in particular granting access to legal counsel and family, as well as the right to apply for bail when applicable, and that the trial is transparent and free from political interference. The EU Delegation recalls the European External Action Service statement of 6 May 2014 which underlined the importance of enhancing the political space, particularly in view of the elections next year. It calls on the Ethiopian Government to ensure that the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation is not used to curb freedom of expression or association. The EU Delegation welcomed the additional commitments made by the government of Ethiopia to address areas of human rights concern in the recent Universal Periodic Review process in Geneva and called for early and continuing action to ensure implementation of all of the government’s human rights commitments.”

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