Harari: On forceful seizure of Aw Abdal Institute properties, illegal destruction of its properties and unlawful building of shanty houses

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Photographs of damages to the Aw Abdal Institute properties. Picture: Harari Council of Ontario

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Addis Abeba – The first known incident in which the Aw Abdal Institute (Institute) was targeted by criminal elements is in August 2018 (Nehase 2010). It began with the illegal destruction of the 700-meter block fence that protected the Institute and its properties. The Institute owns approximately 66,000 square meter of land. Inside the Institute’s property are classrooms, laboratories, offices, fields, religious sites such as a mosque and other facilities, all belonging solely to the Institute.

After the destruction of the Institute’s fence, the illegal activities escalated to the unlawful building of a few shanty houses and shops on the Institute’s properties and the illegal destruction of parts of its natural environment. Although the Institute has formally complained to all relevant authorities and several Harari civic associations have rallied on this issue, no apparent official actions have been taken and these criminal activities continued unabated.

Damages to institute properties. Picture: Harari Council of Ontario

As a result, today, almost 50% of the Institute has been taken over with more than 50 shanty houses and several shops on the Institute’s property; and the Institute’s fence still remains demolished.

Since the beginning of these illegal activities, the Institute’s administrators have made every effort to address the matter by bringing it to the attention of the local officials, government authorities, the police, the wider public and taking legal action

The below images are ariel photographs of the Institute from Google Earth: November 2017, the most recently available image before the incident; December 2018, the most recently available image right after the incident, showing a few recently built structures on the Institute’s site; and December 2021, the most current available image, showing numerous built structures on the Institute’s site.

The Institute from Google Earth. Picture: Harari Council of Ontario

Since the beginning of these illegal activities, the Institute’s administrators have made every effort to address the matter by bringing it to the attention of the local officials, government authorities, the police, the wider public and taking legal action.

In September 2019 the Institute’s board members called a community meeting to be held at the Amir Abdullahi Conference Center to discuss the ongoing issue of the Institute. Despite having followed normal procedures, Commander Abdi Ibrahim, with local police, came and forcefully cancelled the community meeting moments before it began. Contrastingly, in the past, the Institute had held several meetings and events at the Amir Abdullahi Conference Center on several occasions without any issues. No official explanation has ever been provided for this forceful cancellation.

Criminal Charges

Of the many involved, the institute has been able to identify at least 36 culprits and these individuals have two (2) charges made against them: the destruction of the fence; and the unlawful building of houses and other structures on the Institute’s properties.

The laying of charges has been slow as well as the judgment. So far, a judgement against the 36 individuals has been made pertaining only to the illegal destruction of the fence. Judgment on the second charge is still pending.

Although there is a judgement against the 36 individuals, regarding the fence only, they still remain at large, eluding sentencing and evading justice.

While the legal process in itself has been unusual and challenging, it should have never gotten this far. It is an affront to any sense of justice, fairness, and rule of law that these criminals were able to destroy all this property and build all these structures in broad daylight and for so long, without any intervention from law enforcement or any broad condemnation.

Aw Abdal Mosque

As a continuation of assault on the integrity of the Institute, the Harari Region Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (Harari Majlis) is infringing on the jurisdiction of the Institute by arbitrarily installing a new Imam and establishing a new department for the Institute’s mosque, the Aw Abdal Mosque.

This was especially surprising since the Harari Majlis had originally confirmed the Institute’s independence and individual authority.

In September 2019 (Puagme 2011), the Aw Abdal Mosque was broken into and a stranger took residency, assuming the role of “Imam” for the mosque. The staff and students at the Institute have been barred from using their mosque and the elder women’s group who had regular morning Quransessions for several years have been chased away.

After the perpetration of these outrageous crimes, shockingly, the Harari Majlis sanctioned these same crimes by recognizing the invaders as legitimate. This was especially surprising since the Harari Majlis had originally confirmed the Institute’s independence and individual authority.

This erroneous reversal by the Harari Majlis emboldens the criminals. The Harari Majlis should quickly fix its mistake and publicly reaffirm its support in the Institute and unequivocally denounce the criminals.

Illegal land grabbing in the Harari Region

Since 2018 the illegal land grabbing in the Harari Region has been excessive and out of control. More than 1,100 hectares of land has been illegally seized and over 10,000 houses unlawfully built, all in contravention of the government’s Master Plan.

It has been reported on several media outlets, by the Harari Region Construction Bureau head, that a full report on the illegal land grabbing and unlawfully built buildings has been provided to all enforcement authorities.

It has been expressed by Harari Government officials that a city will die if construction is done outside of the Master Plan. This is especially so in the case of the Harari Region, with its small geography and large population and the rate of these illegal activities.

Such illegal activities compromises the integrity of the City, it jeopardizes its UNESCO status, and puts at great risk the residents of the City, both the law abiding ones and those engaged in these same illegal activities.

The land grabbing includes but is not limited to farm land, sacred and religious sites, schools and large parts of the Aw Hakim mountain. The majority of the victims are Hararis; most of the lands belong to Hararis or are sites regarded as important by Hararis.

One of the most flagrant and abhorrent is the targeting of the Aw Abdal Institute.

The Aw Abdal Institute

The Institute was established in the 1970s by the Harari community. The site of the Institute was selected from the same site the tomb of the saint Aw Abdal is located. The institute was established for the purpose of ensuring Harari ethnic and cultural preservation.

More than 50% of the students attending the Institute can be described as coming from low income families. Much of the funding for the school comes from the public in the form of donations.

As a result the whole Harari community came together to ensure the success of this project and many contributed generous amounts of money and other personal or family property.

The Institute today serves approximately 1,600 students. More than 50% of the students attending the Institute can be described as coming from low income families. Much of the funding for the school comes from the public in the form of donations.

Photographs of the Aw Abdal Institute. Picture: Harari Council of Ontario




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