A tale of three cities: Three cities, two in Africa, one in Europe, demonstrate the often wide gulf between urban cultures and priorities and those of the areas surrounding them.

Author:Serumaga, Kolundi
Position:NATIVE INTELLIGENCE - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Kampala, Uganda; London, England - Column

Where do cities come from, and what makes their residents hold an outlook different from the hinterland?

Three cities seem caught up in the start, the middle and the end of this riddle.

The Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa is becoming the epicentre for a struggle over cultural identity. Founded between 1889 and 1890, by the Amhara Empress Taytu and her husband, Emperor Menelik II as he continued his conquest of the various ethnic Oromo clans to the south and west, it is now the capital of the nominally federated Ethiopian state.

The problem is that federation guarantees the Oromo regional state jurisdiction over the rest of the historically Oromo territory. This has left the great city of Addis as a stranded island within it.

The issues that flow from that are that following Menelik's conquest and ever since, Addis has been culturally appropriated into Amhara culture, first as an extension of Menelik's own ethnicity, and ever since, as Amhara then gradually became the default culture and language of official Ethiopia.

Oromo activists see things differently. "Finfinee", as they call the capital, is located in the middle of Oromia and also a location of sites of holy and cultural significance to them. But its predominantly Amharic culture means it is as if isolated in an Oromian sea. This all came to a head in 2016 when the Ethiopian federal government decided to implement a ninth Master Plan, to build up the city.

This logically meant expanding it into 1.1m hectares of land, now formally under the control of the Oromo regional government. It would have also meant the displacement of large numbers of Oromos. In the mass Oromo-dominated protests that followed, Prime Minister Desalegn eventually resigned in 2018, and the youthful Abiy Ahmed took over as a new hope.

Moving swiftly to another continent, in Britain, the government, official opposition, media and wider society are all wrestling with the fallout of the unexpected referendum result, in which a majority voted for Britain to leave the European Union.

But this does not tell us the full story. The result was swayed really by England, by far the most populous region of Great Britain, voting strongly to leave, along with tiny Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted largely to remain in the union.

But that too does not give the full picture. Greater London was the only part of England to vote to remain. In short, again, a city was speaking differently from the surrounding country.


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