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Harar, Ethiopia: A Vision And a Story from a Foreigner


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A master plan set up by Hisham Mortada and his KAU team for old city of Harar, Ethiopia.

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Harar, Ethiopia: A Vision And a Story from a Foreigner

  1. 1. Released by: FBCGA/PR 11-2011 1 The Fugnanbira Community Group Association Web: email November 2011 ______________________________________________________ Harar, Ethiopia: A Vision And a Story from a Foreigner By: Hisham Mortada In May 2008, I was in Firenze, Italy, delivering a lecture on old Muslim city to architectural students at University of Florence (Universita degli Studi di Firenze, UNIFI). After I finished speaking, I started answering questions, one of which was a turning point in my scholastic carrier. It was from a student who asked why I didn’t mention Harar when I was talking about Cairo, Damascus, Fez, Isfahan, etc. as examples of old Muslim city. I naively replied that “Harare” was not a Muslim city. The student corrected me saying, Harar, not Harare. He added, Harar was the fourth holy city for Muslims. Though that was not persuasive as I knew that time that there were only three holy c ities for Muslims: Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem, I welcomed the remark and let go. The brief discussion I had with that Italian student motivated me to search for Harar. Surprisingly, I found that Harar was on the UNESCO World Heritage List and its hist ory goes back to the time of Prophet Mohammed, in the Seventh century AD, when some of his companions migrated to al- Habasha/Ethiopia, before Medina. That was enough to entice me to make a trip to Ethiopia early 2009 to explore Harar myself. It was my first trip ever to a non-Arab African country. After a long ride from Addis Ababa, I arrived Harar late night, yet I was eager to go around and see Jugol, the old Harar. However, it was dark, very quite and nothing to see at that late hour of the night. Next day in the morning I walked to Jugol, almost running. There, inside Jugol, nothing excited me in the beginning. Unexpectedly, the city started to grow inside me by seconds. In less than an hour, I failed in love with it. After seeing the physical deterioration of the wonderful architectural and urban heritage of Jugol, observing the negligence and absence of development, and hearing stories about foreign professionals coming to assist in Harar development but in reality they were not more than tourists, I decided to make the urban and architectural heritage preservation of Jugol my mission. In order to pursue my assignment, I formed a team that consisted of Prof. Emad Noor-Elden and Prof. Hussam Bakr of KAU to set up a master plan to preserve the urban and architectural heritage of
  2. 2. Released by: FBCGA/PR 11-2011 2 Harar that could work as a tool or mechanism for sustainable development of the city. Luckily, KAU, granted me some fund, which was limited, but enough to cover basic expenses. After visiting Harar for several times to survey its existing physical conditions and collecting data from various sources in 2009 and 2010, my team and I were able to come up with the master plan. The urban concept we developed essentially focused on improving the current road network inside Jugol to increase accessibility to various locations throughout the city, distribution of land uses, and creating more open spaces of socio-cultural quality. It also suggested restoring the historic wall and gates of Jugol. The plan selected Menan House for restoration and converting it into a lodge. Certainly our work didn’t intend to transfer Jugol into a showcase for tourists. In fact, the opposite was the case. Architectural or handcraft heritage of Harar was and is still part of the daily life of the residents. The master plan concentrated on the maintenance and continuity of this heritage, which is in turn the wealth of Harar’s society. Throughout my visits to Harar I have noticed that many tourists were not there to take pictures and leave. They were there because they wanted to be part of that heritage, and live in it. In the last trip I made to Harar in July 2011 to submit the Final Report to various decision makers of the city, I saw miracles. The UNESCO and various international agencies, which heard about our project, were there. Our proposal has inspired them to rediscover Harar and take all measures to preserve its unique architectural and urban heritage, based on the master plan. I almost cried when I saw the World Bank repairing the wall and three gates of Jugol. A French agency was taking care of the maintenance of Shariah House to be used as a heritage library and museum. And now the Spanish are restoring Menan House and converting it into a traditional handcraft training ce nter. Above all, the US Embassy to Addis Ababa is repairing the historic invaluable copies of holy Quran of Abdullah Sharif. All of that was enough to make wonder and ask myself if my mission has been accomplished. The answer of this question is up to Harar people. I strongly believe that Hararis must work hard to preserve their tradition and the heritage of their city. They need to bring back the fame of the Harari coffee that has unfortunately replaced by the ghat. Even if foreign fund and aid are available to Harar these days, sooner or latter those foreigners will leave and the money they inject in Harar will dry out. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that a “foreigner” like me, who loved Harar will always come back. The strong relationship that has been established between me the people of Harar will always remain. I will never forget the wonderful people of Harar who helped me when I was conducting my work in their lovely city. Gursum Community leadership from Diaspora played an essential role from the beginning of the project, Mr. Meftuh Shash & Mr. Mohammed Abdosh in particular, their support was very crucial in setting up presentation meeting and introducing my expertise of Islamic architect and Heritage conservation as well us my interest to help to the Harari Region President Murad Abdulhadi. This meeting was in Toronto, Canada in July of 2009. Also, coordinated with Mr. Abdulhafiz Abdosh who assisted me and my colleagues during our stay conducting research in the city of Harar.
  3. 3. Released by: FBCGA/PR 11-2011 3 Above: Meftuh Shash and Colleagues meeting with President Murad Abdulhadi in Toronto, Canada. Below: Hisham Mortada and research team working in the city of Harar I am very grateful to all of them, specially the local governmental officials, namely Mr. Murad Abdulhadi, President of Harar Region. Mr. Abdulhadi once said in a Local Parliament meeting that I attended “we need someone who understands and lives in an Muslim city to tackle the urban and architectural issues of our Harar.” I will never forget this statement, which was a guide for my work. I hope I expressed my understanding of Muslim city in the master plan I set up for Harar.  Hisham Mortada is an international educator, scholar and practitioner in the field of architecture and urban planning.
  4. 4. Released by: FBCGA/PR 11-2011 4 Harari Regional Government in Ethiopia Invites for Harari International Festival “Holding Hand in Hand we can succeed the 5 year Harar Development and Transformation Plan.” By: Meftuh Shash. (Toronto). The Harari Regional Government office is gearing up to organize the 2012 Harari International Day Festival in the ancient walled city of Harar in July of 2012. In 2007 the government organized for the first time where thousands of Hararis from across the world turned up in to their homeland and celebrated with their family, friends and native communities along other nation and nationalities demonstrating colorful cultural and traditional event. At the time the official announced due to the public request to organize such event every five years to bring Diaspora Hararis and friends of Harar to connect with their native homeland communities, explore investment opportunities for development endeavors. Photo by: Meftuh Shash. 2007 HIF in Harar Here the regional government once again invites all Hararis and friends of Harar for the second time to join the celebration of 17th International Harari Sport and Cultural festival to be held in July of 2012. This was confirmed in the news release by the Harari regional government public relation office. for more click on links attached,, also news release by HPRG communication office on the festival board meeting. . GURSUM FACEBOOK SOCIETY & ITS YOUTH By: Meftuh Shash. (Toronto). Over the past years Gursum Community in Diaspora was trying to establish its outreach to its youth community around the world and to those at homeland in particular where access to internet wasn’t possible a couple years ago. Last November I was surprised when I was added to a group namely “Gursum Facebook Society” created by a young man Fikadu Mengesha who seriously concerned about the situation surrounding our hometown conditions and planning to organize youth to discuss, the platform reads “This platform designed for all Gursumites and others who love Gursum to discuss what matters most to work together for the betterment of our community & hometown. We encourage your participation in the discussions.” I thought this is a great idea, and was wondering if more people would join, in fact the youth got me by surprise as the numbers of the group increasing every week all from that small hometown and the majority living in the country. The other young man who played the pivotal role in adding 75% of group members was Samir Abdurahman, these two enthusiastic youth have been active through discussions among others. Indeed this was a break through for Gursum Community in Diaspora to bridge the gap in line of communication and outreach to its community, thanks to these two and others who participate. Now at the group’s FB anniversary, GFS is 205 members strong. The group is discussing various important issues, learning the history of the region, environmental, water scarcity, establishing of youth centre and volunteering to serve their community. Gursum Community in Diaspora congratulates GFS and encourages the youth to recognize their potentials and continue in their effort to be active in their community. Fikadu Mengesha & Samir Abdurahman
  5. 5. Released by: FBCGA/PR 11-2011 5 Youth and development By: Entisar Ahamed, (Ottawa). History has thought us whenever there is a change it was with immense contribution of the youth, they are always the agent for changes in a society, it is undeniable that the youth may have different challenges to overcome in different community context .The youth of Gursum are not different from those in a similar age though the social and cultural context is peculiar to every community. I believe we have a lot of good attributes which is an asset to our progressive growth but there is a lot to be done in terms of mobilizing this huge resource for the betterment of the youth and the community at large. One should not also overlook the impact of different challenges that our youths are facing mostly not having recreational facilities to perform different physical activity for health body mind and spirit. This will require heavy involvement of local government and others such as NGO’s to encourage assist in achieving their goal through funding. This photo indicates the improvement Mt. Stinico & Ilalami Gudo before and after reforestation, improved by the youth effort. The youth of Gursum contributed a lot in terms of environmental protection as you may see above, reforesting Mt. Stinico to Kundudo chain mountains as well as Ilalami Gudo, these forest hills were once found almost striped their trees in 1995 and these revived by volunteering youth a few years a go. Binalfew Mengesha one of the youth in Gursum said “the youth effort supported by NGO (Menschen fur Menschen), and interested youth group took initiatives in cleaning the town, awareness on Hygiene, HIV AIDs awareness campaign and sporting activities were some of the major tasks assumed by the volunteering youth group.” These initiatives should require empowering and supporting to ensure sustainability. When asked Gursum Comm. Leader & environmental advocate Meftuh Shash, he applaud the youth effort and said “now the local administration office needs to get heavily involved in enforcing the environmental protection policy as well as elevate the community awareness in protecting their environment, the community at large should own and assume the responsibility to ensure it is sustainable.” "Never be satisfied with what you achieve, because it all pales in comparison w ith what you are capable of doing in the future." (Rabbi Nochem Kaplan) Our youth can be better organized and be proactive in our community program developing, implementation and monitoring of projects and activities to be addressing the priority need of the community. The youth has a lot of responsibility in building healthy and harmonious community and being a role model to the future generation. With the limited resources we have we have been able to demonstrate our ability to overcome all barriers and contribute to our countries different educational and developmental progress at different level. Today, they frequently continue to resonate in discussions and evaluations of programming for youth. The answers appear to be as challenging and sometimes as elusive today as in the era of Mobilization for Youth. I believe sustainability can be achieved with efforts at all level of the governments, NGOs and the community at large supporting the youth in their effort.