African Union Commission charges 200 USD as parking fine?

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After attending the African Union Peace and Security Council organised open session on ‘practical steps to silence the guns in Africa,’ I went back to my car, which I had parked at the new Peace and Security Department Building (famously known as the German gift), to find that it has been clumped. My immediate reaction was that of surprise – because I parked at a place for cars and there was no sign of any sort written ‘no parking.’ After engaging the security officers, I was later to be told, there is an internal memo (sent to all AUC staff) that this is a no parking area. As a lawyer, I know that ignorance does not save anyone – but again, this principle would only apply for public law and not internal and exclusive law. So, this ignorance of this rule, I would expect would save me.
Surprise put aside – the reality began. With no notice on my car as to why my car was clumped, I decided to find security. I found an officer walking in the compound and asked if he can help me out. He said, with a pity on his face “You have to pay 4000 ETB”, which is around 200 USD as a fine because you parked in a “wrong place”! Mmmm – huh – my shock but still something I considered a job. However, he was serious. So I asked to see his supervisor.
He kindly gave me the number of his supervisor. I called him and got a response that he is in a meeting. I waited patiently for an hour but no trace of him. Asked around for couple of people but they advise me to wait for him. I waited even during lunch hours (I don’t know what kind of major meeting goes without lunch break) but I assume they have something serious to take care of (I still have that 1% hope in our institution). After waiting for three hours, I asked if I can see the head of the security office, which initially, I was informed that I cannot go in without an appointment. After an hour of back and forth communication, I was informed I could go inside his office with my colleague, who have been as amazed as I am and was with me throughout these times. I explained the issue well and told him that I came to his office seeking for a solution. He said, your car is clumped and you must pay 4000 ETB. I couldn’t even think where to start, with the amount of questions that came to my mind within a fraction of a second. I asked him to repeat, he said “yes you have to pay 4000ETB. This is a decision that was passed a year ago. 54 member states approved this decision and start implementing it some months ago”. I murmured, at least the AUC is implementing one decisions, however, cannot follow up on the implementation of the numerous decisions taken over the past years on issues of peace and security, silencing the guns, undemocratic change of governments, illicit financial flows, shrinking civic space and many more. I pulled back and tried to concentrate and asked how the amount is set… but he keep on repeating 54 member states approved… so I cannot challenge what has been passed by member states. I said to myself, of course, it’s becoming a sad reality that we cannot challenge our governments and should tolerate. He keeps on talking, “When you come to me, I can only issue you a Paper to process the payment.” I kindly asked him if he can call the supervisor who locked the car, who “supposedly” was in a meeting the whole day. He agreed and called the supervisor… To my surprise, the supervisor swiftly answered him “yes sir” and told him, “She has to pay”. Of course, you only answer a phone for your director!
So, the director keep on talking “today before you guys … three people (organization that came for a meeting) payed the same amount including one member state …. When there is a lot of meeting at the AUC, we even lock more cars that parked in a “wrong place”. So, I quickly start calculating the average revenue they get per year: On average, they lock three cars per day (12000ETB close to 600 $ multiplied by working days in a year which is around… let’s say 240 days) this gives us 2,880,000 ETB or 126,000$ per year. Hmmm…that’s quite some money! I shook my head and asked where this money goes to. He told me it’s going to some sort of fund, which he failed to explain what it was. Talking to myself, “If only they can take this kind of strict measure on member states on the promises they made on financing the AU and their membership contribution” This shows how we tolerate our leaders when they breach the promises they made but cannot tolerate the poor citizen whose voice cannot be heard.
I asked few colleagues working at the AUC, if they are aware of this issue? They said “of course … there was a memo passed to colleagues working at the AUC”. I said to myself, ok… it didn’t cross their mind that they also need to inform partner organizations who by the way takes one or two months; if you are lucky, to get a pass to the premises of the AUC. I then remembered the conversation I had with my colleague who went to New York and his experience during his visit to the UN headquarters. He was telling me, the only requirement he was asked to do, to enter the premises of the UN was to show his ID and fill a registration form. I pulled my thoughts together and tried to seek explanation for my case.
The head of the department said “unless you pay today … they are going to tow the car outside the next day “Hmm…I was wondering… How many people carry 4000ETB cash every day for some sort of “emergency” like this one, if we can call it that? To our surprise majority of the public servants in Ethiopia get a monthly salary of 4000 ETB or less. Still feeling heartache, I made a compromise, to pay the fine and then appeal as it’s very difficult to move around Addis without a car …. But in the meantime, I decided not to keep this to myself and decided to write. How many people can afford this amount of fine? What kind of conditions were considered to come up with this amount? How come no one asked any of these questions when that “memo” was passed around? Can someone please explain? This is only 4000 ETB; I am more worried about the various decisions that were passed in Africa and its citizens on other issues!
This is a perfect example justifying when we tolerate our leaders and the decisions passed, we lose track of the fact that we should make them accountable to fulfil their duties as well. You decide something top to bottom. You are not allowed to ask. If you ask, you don’t get any clear answer. You don’t have answer as to where your money is going.
Some of us have a little hope in our continent, let us not lose that hope because of all these issues. The 4000ETB I paid is so little, compared to the injustices that we see in our continent, the inequality that persists and the ongoing raiding of our leaders towards the fundamental rights of their citizen. The 4000 ETB I paid is so little compared to the amount of illicit financial flow that has been snubbed. The amount I paid is so little compared to the violation of rights that we see across our continent. The list goes on!! Be this as it may, we are creating another continental institution replicating the act of our leaders in Africa.
Am going to use Mo Ibrahim’s word on his address to the AU on Burundi, “Failure to act now would dent the reputation of the institution and those at its helm”, we must put an end to this non-sense!! Letting go of the simple encounter that you face each day would add up in bringing injustice and immorality that we cannot escape. Africa is not build overnight; many have struggled and died for an independence and justice. When the OAU is remembered, and talked about, it is with a lot of yearning given the struggle that many of the founding fathers had to go through to accomplish the kind of greater Pan-African unity planned then. Let’s not repeat this feeling of nostalgia when one talks about the AU as well. Let’s not tolerate immoral acts. I faced this challenge, then I spoke! But let’s think about those who cannot speak for themselves.

Selam Kirubel

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Selam Kirubel

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