How not to make a master plan

Ezana Haddis, Special to Addis Standard

In mid-2012 the Addis Abeba City Administration (AACA) has organized a project office called “Addis Ababa City Planning Project Office” and tasked it to prepare a city development plan that it claimed would work for the coming ten years. In the middle of the process, however, the Project Office was given an additional mandate of preparing a plan that instead should suit a metropolitan level. It was then that the project expanded its planning boundary to include the whole surrounding area of Addis Abeba – covering as far as 40 to 100 kilometers in an area as big as 1.1 million hectares of land. As these surroundings belong to and are administered by the Oromia National Regional State (ONRS) a supervisory body from the region was established to oversee the activities of the project office. It comprised big names including Abdulaziz Mohammed, deputy president of the ONRS and Aster Mamo, deputy prime minister in the governance and reform cluster.The Project Office had also brought on board people from the Oromia Urban Planning Institute.

Many of the Oromia regional state senior officials were enthusiastic about the idea of organizing a joint metropolitan plan and the project office was re-named ‘Addis Abeba and the Surrounding Oromia Special Zone Integrated Development Plan Project Office’.

One of the achievements of Abbaaduula Gammadaa’s tenure as president of ONRS was the amalgamation in 2008 of Addis Abeba/Finfinne surrounding districts and municipalities into a single Special Zone found within 30 kilometers radius of the city of Addis Abeba. Immediately after the establishment of the Special Zone, ONRS commissioned a Regional Plan that was finalized in 2010. The Oromia regional state officials had offered this regional plan to be incorporated with the proposed metropolitan plan commissioned by the AACA.

What went wrong, where and when?

The grand plan that was warmly welcomed by ONRS senior officials failed to attract the same reception from the lower and mid-level political leadership of the Special Zone as well as local governments within the zone. Most of them were skeptical and some viewed it as an effort to annex the Special Zone of Oromia into Addis Abeba. There were few incidents where Oromia regional state officials refused to cooperate with the Project Office in making information necessary for the planning process easily accessible.

The Project Office, too, has done little to establish trust among the Special Zone and ONRS mid and lower level officials. Trust between the two had reached rock-bottom when the Project Office developed what it said was a spatial plan without involving mayors of the municipalities as well as other officials in the metropolitan area and relevant regional and Special Zone officials. In June 2013 the Project Office unveiled a readymade draft metropolitan plan in Adama town, 100km east of Addis Abeba and the capital of the ONRS, that determined, among others, the locations of waste treatment, landfill sites, industrial zones, and transportation corridors. Once again the draft metropolitan plan was welcomed by the top Oromia regional state leadership; but it left the rank and file officials disgruntled. Most of them considered it (perhaps rightly) as a violation of their autonomy. However, since the top leadership has given the grand plan its blessings the Project Office went ahead with it. Things went vividly out of control during a meeting between officials of the Oromia regional state and the Addis Abeba city administration representatives held in Adama town on March 26 and April 12-13. The questions raised in these meetings revealed that the Project Office has failed to build trust on the motive of the Master Plan let alone actively involve the ONRS officials in the planning process.

How not to make a Master Plan

What happened with the preparation of this master plan was an approach that gave strategic  planning and political inclusiveness a zero chance. Five fundamental problems highlight the plan.

First, this master planning approach viewed planning as a mere technocratic process and the planner as the chief architect of the spatial area that comes up with a readymade blueprint that everyone is expected to accept.

Strategic spatial planning is as much of a political process as it is professional; it requires the active involvement of political leadership, major urban or regional actors-including the private sector, community organizations and civil society groups. In addition, the planner’s role should mainly be as a facilitator and a negotiator among the diverse actors who have conflicting (and competing) interests.

There was groundbreaking effort to shift urban planning culture to a more strategic and inclusive approach in the 2002-12 City Development Plan of Addis Abeba. In the two year planning process, for example, over 150 workshops and consultative meetings with a wide range of stakeholders, including a city exhibition and public forum, were organized. That is something the current master plan project lacked; it has organized not more than nine consultative workshops.

A grand plan such as this need to be owned as much by politicians and their constituency as by professional urban planners. The only way to do this is if the authorities and the public were involved actively in the planning process.  Nevertheless, the Project Office single-handedly decided where to locate the waste treatment, the land fill site or the industrial zone with no formal consent from the respective local government officials who are supposedly the elected representatives of the constituencies in the areas affected by the plan. It was a planning process that gave way to the infamous planning syndrome known as Not in My Backyard (NIMBY). When a planner decides to put a waste treatment in one district, the least s/he needs to do is negotiate with the respective district authorities on how to mitigate the negative externalities. With the new master plan, nothing of this happened, compromising the constitutionally guaranteed autonomy of the Oromia regional state and the Special Zone to make decisions that affect their constituency.

Second, it failed to secure the legitimacy for joint planning. The reason for the suspicion by many low and middle level officials of the ONRS is twofold. The first one is metropolitan planning in Ethiopia is unheard of and Addis Abeba’s administrative boundary has been expanding for the last century, in which the latest one has more than doubled its jurisdiction in 1994. It is, therefore, totally understandable if ONRS officials and concerned citizens fear the encroachment of the Special Zone by the capital city. The second reason is the project office kept most of the process secrete.

Third, amalgamation of municipalities into one gargantuan metropolitan government has lost credence since the late 1980s and new forms of metropolitan cooperation are promoted in lieu of annexation. However, the project office failed in clarifying its intention and mobilizing support from the Oromia region officials and other stakeholders due to its closed door planning process.

Fourth, and the major limitation of the process is the composition of the planning office. As it was mentioned above the project office was initially commissioned by AACA to prepare a city development plan for Addis Abeba. The same planning team was tasked to develop a metropolitan plan with the exception of the recruitment of a handful of former Oromia Urban Planning Institute staff. Less than 10 planners from close to 80 technical staff of the project office cannot ensure Oromia’s interest, the largest and most populous region of the country, in the metropolitan plan. The majorities of the planning team members are born in Addis Abeba or have lived in the city for long or were former staff members of the Addis Abeba city administration, which makes them perfect candidates for sentimental compromise against the interests of the Oromia region.

And finally, the top leadership of ONRS welcomed the draft metropolitan plan regardless of opposition from their subordinates as well as the wider public. The stubbornness of the ruling party, which is seen in other policy arena, was also visible in this planning process. The government, rather than accommodating the reservation of various individuals and groups on the plan or on its motive, chose to label those who complained against the plan as working for the so-called obscure “anti-peace agents”. This was the major reason that led to the widespread protest in many Universities and several towns in Oromia, which claimed the lives of eleven people by the account of the government (other sources put the death as high as 49) and resulted in countless property damages. (Please see A new master plan:Complicated-turned-deadly).

The way out

Many people may believe it may be already too late. But there are things one can do to reverse courses. The first step is to establish a taskforce, which comprises ONRS officials, Special Zone officials, Mayors of the eight municipalities of the Special zone together with the Regional Urban Planning Institute planners or commissioned consultants, to review the draft metropolitan and suggest recommendations that ensure Oromia’s interest. This taskforce in turn needs to consult with the civil society, the private sector, opposition party members, residents of the Special zone, University students and other concerned bodies in its reviewing process. The second and perhaps the most important one, is clarifying the provisions of Art. 49(5) of the country’s constitution by a federal proclamation before signing the metropolitan plan into a law; the metropolitan plan need to be used as an instrument to materialize the constitutional provision of the country. Third, and most sensitive, should be bringing before justice those who ordered the killings of the students who were protesting against the plan as well as those who executed the orders.

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