Harar, Ethiopia: A Vision And a Story from a Foreigner
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The Fugnanbira Community Group Association
Web: www.gursum.com email Fugnanbira@gursum.com
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
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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.
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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.
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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,
http://www.gursum.com/menu/Internationalharariday.pdf, also news release by HPRG communication office on
the festival board meeting. http://www.gursum.com/menu/mastedadir.pdf .
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
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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
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.