Addis Ababa’s homeless of the night

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Wrapped in plastic covering, a homeless person spends the night sleeping on the street of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

In Ethiopia’s capital (and elsewhere in Ethiopia), homeless people are plentiful. Nobody really knows just how many Ethiopians spend most of their time on the streets, though the number of street children alone is well over 100,000. Wherever you go in Addis Ababa or in other towns in Ethiopia, you will never have any trouble at all finding an abundance of beggars, street children, even whole families, many spending their days and nights trying survive on the streets, and some begging or selling pitiful amounts of items by day and sleeping in what you can barely called homes at night.

I lived in Ethiopia for four years, from 2012 to 2017. The brutal and oppressive regime shot thousands of peaceful protesters, and escalated control of it citizens by killing more protesters, torturing, jailing them, creating a state-of-emergency designed to stifle human rights more strictly, and sending tens of thousands of them to “education camps.”

I left Ethiopia, reluctantly because I loved my job as a professor there, after I saw federal soldiers brutally beating unarmed peaceful students, and was almost shot myself by an out-of-control soldier who screamed at me as he was shaking and pointing his kalashnikov at me. When I criticized the brutality of the regime to my colleagues at Addis Ababa University, I was harassed and forced to resign. But that’s another story.

Prior to that, every Sunday for many months in 2015 and 2016, I would get up early morning and deliver bread and candy to street-bound people in various areas of Addis Ababa. I got to know some of these homeless people almost as friends. Each one has a terribly tragic story to tell, often of neglect of their human rights. I will share some of these stories in future posts.

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Left, a homeless lady rummages through trash bins at about 4 am. Right, outside a closed-up shop, a homeless person lies beneath a blanket.

Several people told me that many people seen on the streets during the daytime actually had homes to go to at night. So, to see for myself, on several occasions I decided to get up during the night and walk to various areas of Addis to see just how many people there are sleeping on the streets during the night.

I was neither surprised nor shocked to see homeless people in abundance- it was to be expected in a country with a government that won all 547/547 parliamentary seats in the most recent (2015) election, by harassing, banning, torturing and murdering opposition members. A ruthless government, largely controlled by the Marxist-Leninist-inspired  Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which silences civil rights and kills, tortures and jails thousands upon thousands of its civilians, with no consideration for human dignity, and no compassion.

While the TPLF controls all political decisions, owns or controls most big businesses in Ethiopia, and selectively gives top jobs in all sectors to TPLF party loyalists, it also has created  huge ethnic conflicts within Ethiopia. Not the least, it has favoured Tigray minority interests, set other ethnic groups against one another, and oppressed various ethnic groups, including Oromos, Amharas, Gambellans, Somalis and others. But it is its own enemy and an enemy of all Ethiopians, including Tigrays. It is, above all, a perpetrator of most insidious corruption and oppression, and prolonger of poverty in Ethiopia.

The streets of Addis were eerie. With little traffic and none of the hustle and bustle of the daytime, silence was the rule. I passed bundle after bundle, each one hiding a well wrapped individual, hopefully kept warm by their wrapping, usually made of plastic sheeting or a filthy well-worn woollen blanket. There were people huddled together and others lying isolated and alone. These were Addis Ababa’s homeless of the night.

I was reluctant to take photos. I felt as if I were an intruder. Normally when I took photos of the poor and homeless, I asked for their permission. But in this case their anonymity was assured by the complete wrapping that identified them as unknown, but not insignificant, sons and daughters of God.

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Eerie bundles of homeless people, swaddled in plastic sheets or well used blankets, are to be seen on the streets of Addis Ababa during the night.

 

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