Sunday, September 24, 2023


When it comes to conscious life, balance is critical. Once balance is lost, even in the confined realm of the individual, consequences can be difficult to manage. By the same token, collective imbalanced existence, besides being unsustainable in the long run, can also lead to massive socio-economic dislocation/instability. Large Metropolis/Megapolis that have been growing non-stop are one such nightmarish phenomenon. For example, Cairo has a population of 20 million, all living in an area of only about 20km x 30km. That means it has a population density of 32, 000 people per square km! Lagos, Kinshasa, Dar es Salam, Addis, etc. have all become too big to manage. Industrially advanced cultures have systemically and consciously abandoned the whole notion of extremely congested living. Why are we, the poor, still pursuing such a nonsensical objective?
New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Rome, Tokyo, etc., etc., all have declining population. There is a lesson here, at least to those few who are willing to learn from experience/history. Even though the main problems associated with megapolis are well known to analytical planners, the parasitic elements of society still push this hardly desirable and unsustainable form of extremely congested existence, as if it were the ultimate nirvana. Energy consumption per capita is higher in urban settings compared to rural areas. To bring home the discussion; Addis is now fated with 1) shortage of clean water, 2) shortage of electric power, to say nothing about other forms of energy, 3) waste disposal, 4) transportation, 5) increasing crime rates, etc. Moreover, social volatility, mostly emanating from identity politics is also becoming an issue. To make Addis desirable, its administration must deliver, at the minimum, the usual material stuff, as well as peace and stability. The political capital of Africa should not succumb to the intentions of narrowly focused interests!
It is obvious that housing (affordable), inadequate infrastructure, both physical and institutional, alienation/mental health, substance abuse, etc., are the major challenges facing a fast expanding large city. What we, the currently urbanizing poor have is, a wealth of experience from the old pioneers. If we refuse to learn from those who have been at it for centuries, we are destined to repeat the same old as well as new mistakes. We should also note; unlike before, the world has changed drastically. To begin with, resources are significantly depleted hence, will become increasingly expensive, including the clean air we need to survive! Additionally, population in the very poor countries has not stabilized, yet. In the mean time, climate/environmental changes are impacting us all. For instance, Ethiopia needs to feed from 8 to10 million people on any given year. This means, no matter how good the harvest has been in the last cropping season, we still need to import food/grain for roughly 10 million people. Conflict seeking tendencies that are borne of the dead-end ideology of identity politics, which we have been pursuing willy-nilly for twenty-seven years, (under the various pretexts of devolution, empowerment, etc.) must be carefully reexamined, if this nation is desirous of harmonious collective existence! Don’t forget, parasitic elements in our society, i.e., rent seekers of all kinds; economic (the land allocation/speculation cabals, crooks created out of phony money-bank financing, tenderpreneurship, etc.), political, (Mafiosi gangs within the ruling party) etc., have disproportionately increased in numbers, compared to the hard working and productively employed sheeple (human mass). Consequently, these characters are always angling for easy money and easy way out of situations. Not infrequently, these rent seekers also sway policies, bad policies of course. The current row about land in Addis and environs stems mostly, from rent-seeking activities as well as from the flawed marketization scheme of land itself! Nonetheless, these and other similar issues must not be allowed to undermine the relative cohesiveness that still exists between the diverse people of the nation!
We admit; many stakeholders (many with very narrow interests) continue to perpetuate the unwarranted narrative of the metropolis/megapolis nirvana. The logic behind the so-called better economic opportunities in the cities revolves around the belief that commodified/alienating existence is preferable to the more organically rooted humane living of the countryside. The obvious question then follows; if each and every individual is urbanized, will unemployment go away? There is plenty of fallacy in the urbanization paradigm that needs sorting out. For instance, wage earners spend almost all of their time and incomes just to go through the motion of living, i.e., basic existence. There is also a high degree of correlation between declining fertility rate and size of metropolis. By and large, metropolitans have fewer children than their compatriots living in the countryside/market towns. This holds true everywhere. In Addis, fertility rate is around 1.9 (Ethiopia’s average is around 4.6) almost the same as New York or London! Replacement of current population requires a fertility rate of at least 2.1 (about 3.0 in developing countries)! Without rural migration, cities like Addis cannot replace their population. In a nutshell; many an urban dweller (for many of the above reasons) is increasingly resigning to a childless family life. Then, is the following absurd sounding inference valid; does intense urbanization conspire against the propagation of life itself? Unless urban dwellers take matters into their own hands, outside the traditional arenas, usually dominated by the parasitic oligarchs/politicos, the problematic will only get worse! Time to critically interrogate the overrated glamorized narcissist lifestyle inside the concrete jungle!
Here is an alternative (alter-urbanization) from one of the dwellers inside the Ivory tower. In his latest book, ‘Critique of Urbanization’ the Prof argues: “Those concerned with social justice…can and must push beyond the formal, spatially reductionist vision of the city as bunches of buildings set in floating pods. This would require an ‘open city’ where investments do not succumb to private interests, public institutions protect common resources and city dwellers have secured equal capacities to influence decisions. This open city could only be realized when people possess ‘the right to the city’, a concept referring to a militant, persistent demand for the democratization of control over the collective means of producing urban space.” Neil Brenner (Harvard). Good Day!





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