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Dire Dawa

By Ahmed Y. Omar


Dire Dawa is the second major city, next to Addis Abeba, in Ethiopia. Like most other cities in the Horn of Africa, a diverse ethnic population inhabited Dire Dawa, speaking various local, for example [some of those listed herein] and a number of non-local languages. There were different communities, even though smaller in size at present than about two to three decades ago, which comprised natives and foreign-born populations, each speaking Arabic, Italian, Armenian, Greek, Hindi and Urdu, Arabic has been a common oral language of transaction among all the citizens, and is still true to some extent. Amharic is currently the Official Language, although Arabic served the same purpose in the past. Another major indigenous language is   'Cee-sinan' or 'Hararf ('afaan-adare', 'af-hadari'). It is a local vernacular language, originated in the City of Harar, an ancient walled Medieval Islamic City, only a few miles away from Dire Dawa, Other similar languages include Guragenya, Tiguuja, Tigree and Afara-af. English, French, Arabic, and Amharic are used as medium of instructions throughout the diverse School Systems, which include Public Schools, and Community Schools, (Madrasas, Qees-Timirtbet, and Mission Schools). There are also some local (indigenous) languages, which arc under considerations to be added to the existing list of languages of instruction.

Co-existence of Muslims and Christians and tolerance of the adherents of the respective Faith for each other's religious differences has, according to local and some world-wide Observers been admired in the entire region. The importance of Dire Dawa as a city that services a local and worldwide business activities is mainly due to its strategic location. The city's vitality in rendering crucial urban services to its communities has largely been due to its relatively well-organized human and material resources. The lack of providing inadequate urban social and economic services and by extension vital rural services can be related to what amounts to not less than a refusal to address issues of the historical rural-urban, and human-spatial relations. The city was born and grew out of a region that has predominantly been inhabited by ethnic communities known as Gurgura and Issa, gradual!}' developing and adopting a rich cultural diversity that maintains every modern urban center.

Dire Dawa (Known also as Dare Dawa) is a city in Ethiopia, located mid-way along an Ethio-Djibouti Rail Road, between the Port of Djibouti and Addis Abeba. The city is surrounded by a range of rocky mountains and three dry sandy river systems   (Laga aw-    : Barree, Dachaatu, and Butlnjji}, usually flooded with muddy water during rainy days, flowing from beneath the hills to the South-West, towards the North-East low-land plains. All the three river systems converge at a confluence called 'Daacl Waashey'. The major source of supply for the city's water consumption depended on a cluster of small streams collected by way of pipelines from Laga aw-Barre, (Laga Hajre). This municipal water supply system was introduced about a hundred years ago. The Dire Dawa railway company that used most of the services till the recent past administered it for the most part. The same municipal water services continued to exist ever since, without any major improvement for the public at large, despite a significant expansion of the city and population increase. The most popular stereotype about this extremely important and basic urban public service has, for several decades, been expressed through a popular traditional song by an idiom: "KJieenya Diree Dhawa, Ganda boiubaa dhuguSiif'n lailii deemn, kJiani'n guvyaa muguu" It can shortly be translated by the expression, "If the mountain dose not come to us, then we will go to the mountain" or the reverse meaning of the proverb, "There are plenty of fish in the sea".

In order to highlight the surrounding region out. of which DareDawa was born and grew as a city, a brief note on the Isse and Gurgura Tribal Confederation will condense, what would otherwise be a broad and detailed Historical, and Anthropological, or Human-Geographical analysis. The Issa and Gurgura and a number of adjacent tribal confederations such as the Afar, Grorno (the Itu, Anniya, Oborra, Jarso, Ala And Nole), and Somali (the Gadaboursi, Issaq, Habar Awwal, harti/Hawwiyya, Darod, Ogaden) are believed to be parts of one large community. The historical and cultural differences and similarities of the Issa and Gurgura have, largely been, affected by the ecosystem in which they happened to exist arid thereby lived side-by-side over the centuries. The degree of interaction and interdependence or active relationship between as well as within each community hinged, to a large extent, on the regional physical feature (the natural environment such as the climate, altitude, mountains, valleys, plains, rivers, lakes, flora and fauna), in which each have been located.

While Gurgura herdsmen shared with the Issa and Afar the lowland plains surrounding Dire Dawaon the one hand, Gurgura agrarians shared, the neighboring highlands, including the areas in-between ( a land formed of a series of mountain or hill ranges and a diverse valley and gorge complex region); with Jaarso, Ala and Oberra, together with the Nole, on the other. In contrast to the Issa whose rural communities were predominantly, nomadic, monolingual, and entirely, adherents of Islam, the Gurgura rural communities comprised of nomadic (badween), as wel as agrarians, and were predominantly bilingual (local Somali and Oromo), adherents of Islam including a small minority of Christians.

Tribe ,as a unit of political organization played a significant role in the area presently known as Dire Dawa and its surrounding region. The significant role played by tribal solidarities was in the context of imperial states, formerly, under the umbrella of Islamic Empires, and latter on, the Ethiopian Empire, A recent example of the smallest local government was Qabalee Gurgura, which under the Dire Dawa Zuria Warada used toadminister all villages and rural settlements surrounding the city.

The fact that the old city [Magaala] existed long before the new city  Gaziira) proves that, Franco-Ethiopian Railway did not lay the foundation of Dare Dawa. It is true that the city first grew and expanded with the building of the railway facility, and was latter developed further during the Italian occupation. A prudent observer can also relate the disposition and plan of Magaala with the old city plan of a near-by Medieval Islamic City of Harar. Although it is much less than the past, Old Dire Dawa is still full of design similarities with Old Harar and Dadar.

There are numerous examples that may draw one's attentions to realize these similarities. Connecting alleys branching from, a little wider roads devised to connect two or more concentric quarters (ganda, hafad, tooya, or so/In] separated by empty spaces, hills, or marketplaces and so on, at varying nodes are clearly visible and everywhere to see. These alleyways known as 'xurre', ('l\ir'a), or 'qatciin-ouga' were designed for passage of human and domestic animal traffic, not for modern vehicles or other means of transportation.  The visible similarities include the Alosques and Aladrasa:;, Churches and Cliurch Schools, the traditional markets, and the kind of cosmopolitan population forming what can typically be considered "Dar-el-Islaam". It should be remarked though, that a society must be governed by Islamic Law (Shari'a) and by a Muslim Ruler, is pre-conditional for Dar-el-Islarn to exist. This was the case before, and to sonic extent, shortly after the Sowan conquest of the region. It is also important to remark that municipal city planning during the Italian occupation preceding World War Two, and somewhat latter on, changed (ameliorated) the former City Plan to accommodate the new circumstances.

Trade and manufacturing activities in and around the city include textile, cement, food and beverage factories; exports of agricultural arid livestock products for neighboring and international markets; imports ranging from farming equipment and machinery, to technology and commercial products such as: vehicles and spare parts, communication and electronic goods, transportation and construction materials, foodstuff, clothes, and so on. While the current plan for renovation of the Dire Dawa Rail Road Facility connecting the Port of Djibouti to a Addis Abcba is underway, Dire Dawa Air Port lias recently been expanded and promoted to an international standard.

Farming (animal husbandry and cultivation of the land) is the main source of livelihood lor the rural population in the region surrounding Dire Dawa. Farmers are engaged, partly in the production of seasonal crops including irrigation agricultural products, and partly in livestock farming through raising and care of domestic animals. Agriculture is based on subsistence farming. Problems of reduced crop yields are often associated with the environment, i.e., to the deterioration of the soil and shortage of rain.

Environmental degradation and impoverished farming conditions, prompted major social and economic problems, such as, shortage of food, poor health care and a lack: of basic education.  Attainment of knowledge in the rural areas depended exclusively on the Qaan'a, a traditional scholarship system, which was based on a support from the village community and the Ulama's (Sheekkoti) dedicated effort to, not only religious duties, but also traditional community leadership. It is an educational system that served to transmit knowledge through the teachings of basically the Qur'an, Hadith, Sira, Fiqh, Nahw, Uluuni and so on. The lack of teaching materials, lack of adequate support for those who teach children (including orphans and handicapped), and a constrained flexibility of the conditions that would otherwise enable mature students (Darasa) to transfer from a village of one learning center to another, trying to achieve the status of Sheehka (Shaikh, 'Aalim) has been extremely limited during the past few years. The concern of those Ulamawho are engaged in teaching and those community leaders committed to save the Qaan'a System from total collapse have been not to loose hope in the effort to build a legal channel through which it is possible to insure an urgent and permanent support. Such a support system can be vital in contributing to development. It is an important instrument that can be used to empower the community and also to effectively address the crucial needs of learning and teaching in the rural areas.

No one can claim that any public service has been in place in favor of the rural communities, whose environment is fatally being impoverished, but who nevertheless, daily supply the city with honey, milk, butter, vegetables, fruits, as well as charcoal and wood used for fuel. There had also been little urban development although the local regional autonomy was the second largest source ol revenue for the whole nation, in terms of industrial Output and Import/Export Trade. In spite of every thing that can be said about /5ire Dawa, its vitality in rendering essential urban services to the region is unquestionable. It should be said, though, that there lias to be a city development plan in place, to insure a continued effort in rendering efficient cervices to Dire Dawa's citizens, arid its business communities. It. is not going to be possible for the city to renovate and enhance its role as a regional center for urban services and development without a plan_ a plan acceptable to all its citizens and community leaders. Dire Dawa should, therefore, pursue such a plan to restart growing in the renewable pattern that was intended by its community leaders when its first settlements were beginning to flourish.