ፍኖተ ዴሞክራሲ: በአዲስ አበባ ከተማ በተለምዶ አሜሪካ ግቢ በሚባለው አካባቢ የወያኔ አፍራሽ ግብረኃይል የዜጎችን ቤቶች አፈረሰ – በሐረርጌ የተቀሰቀሰው የተማሪዎች አመጽ – ወደ ሌሎች ቦታዎች ተዳረሰ – በተመድ ስር የሚሰሩ ወታደሮች ደሞዛቸው በወያኔ ባለስልጣናት እንደሚበዘበዝ ተጋለጠ – ስደተኞች ለመቆጣጠር የተቋቋመው የአውሮፓ ህብረት ግብረኃይል የሊቢያን ጠረፍ ጠባቂዎች እንዲያሰለጥን መመሪያ ተሰጥተው – በኬኒያ ኩሱሙ በምትባለው ከተማ የተቃውሞ ኃይሎች ያካሄዱትን ሰላማዊ ሰልፍ ለማፈን – ፖሊሶች በወሰዱት እርምጃ ቢያንስ አንድ ሰው ተገደለ – በዳርፉር መስጊድ ውስጥ የነበሩ ስምንት ሰዎች በአረብ ሚሊሺያዎች ተገደሉ:: ዝርዝር ዜና ያንብቡ ወይም ያዳምጡ
By Samson Seifu
In my previous article entitled ‘’The Ethio-Norway Forced Repatriation Agreement in Retrospect’’ published on 13 February 2012 on different websites, I presented the background and the events which led to the signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). In this article the events after the announcement and the prospects afterwards with focus on the plights of the stakeholders (the rejected asylum seekers from Ethiopia who have been living in Norway for many years, from 3-20 years) are presented as follows:
The Norwegian Immigration Directorate (UDI) and The Norwegian Ministry of Justice issued a press statement on their respective homepage on 26 January 2012 about the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Royal Government of Norway and the ‘’Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia’’. The MoU was signed with immediate effect in Addis Ababa on the same date, i.e. 26 January 2012.
The next day on 27 January 2012 the two above mentioned government offices jointly called for an information meeting to be held on 27 January 2012 at 15:00 hrs. at the immigration directorate’s head office in Oslo via e-mail messages intended to reach the Ethiopian diaspora in Oslo. As a deputy chairman of the Ethiopian Community in Norway, I happened to receive the e-mail that apologizes if UDI has sent the message outside the target group and requested to forward it to other acquaintances who may be interested in it.
The Ethiopian opposition camp having partly attended in bewilderment the information meeting, unanimously decided to walk out of the meeting hall in protest of the signed forced repatriation agreement with one of the world’s worst dictatorial regime. During the brief moment of the information meeting, I had also the chance to express my view about the repatriation agreement. After having introduced myself as the deputy chairman of the Ethiopian Community in Norway and an active member of the Ethiopian Common Forum in Norway, I went on to share the audience my concern about the plight of the rejected asylum seekers from Ethiopia who have been politically active for years with the opposition and the fact that they have been under surveillance by pro-regime operatives in Norway would automatically put their lives in danger. I delivered two CDs to the representatives from the justice department.The CDs contain the activities of the pro-government operatives in Norway in a meeting they held in Oslo in connection with the dictator’s visit for the energy conference held in Oslo in October 2011.
Though the envisaged information meeting failed to attract the good will of the Ethiopian diaspora in Oslo, the government anyway continued with the implementation of the first phase of the MoU by distributing an information letter to all asylum seekers from Ethiopia in their respective localities urging them to contact the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to proceed with the offered package for voluntary return.
It is a very well known fact that the Norwegian government has been longing for two decades to achieve the possibility of returning by force rejected Ethiopian asylum seekers to Ethiopia. In what the Norwegian authorities call ‘’assisted voluntary return’’, they have offered a window of opportunity that lasts up to March 15, 2012. The mind boggling question is what then after the set deadline?
What is special and unique about this group of people is that they have been living in Norway for many years, many of them established families and worked legally paying taxes until last year (January 2011) where the government shutdown the mechanisms for working possibilities. Many of these rejected asylum seekers have been politically active both at the leadership and grass roots level thanks to the conducive environment in Norway and the presence of actively functioning diaspora political organizations in Norway.
The objective reality in the present day Ethiopia; however, is an atmosphere of fear and hopelessness for peoples of differing political views than the ruling minority government of the TPLF. What await these people if returned by force are all forms of inhuman treatment including arbitrary detention, torture and in the worst case scenario murder as there are well-documented evidences compiled by the regime’s informants who are active in Norway. The information the informants collect are processed and stored for life by the regime’s National Security and Intelligence Services (NISS) labeling them as enemies of the regime. Such information are particularly very useful at times of crisis as is witnessed after the 2005 national election result controversies where tens of thousands of opposition activists and supporters were picked from their homes and received all sorts of punishments.
The two links below offer a brief account of the infamous Ethiopian National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) by Ethiopia expert, German national Mr. Gunther Shroder which was presented on April 5, 2011 in Oslo conference.
The dictatorial regime of Meles Zenawi is well known for its gross human rights violations and repressions of citizens. Independent international institutions such as Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the United States Department of State have documented and confirmed the gross human rights violations the regime commits against citizens in Ethiopia
The Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers (NOAS) is one of the first who strongly reacted and denounced the signed forced repatriation agreement on a press release posted on its own homepage. Also NOAS’s general secretary, Mrs. Ann-Magritt Austenå, in her commentary on one of the biggest newspapers in Norway (Dagsavisen) notwithstanding generally the very essence of returning rejected asylum seekers to their country of origin, warned against the dangers and consequences of experimenting with authoritarian regimes like the one in Ethiopia.
NOAS together with other Norwegian organizations are trying one last desperate attempt doing all they can to the best of their capacity to help reorganize the asylum seekers’ supportive documents for review of their cases by the aliens appeal board (UNE).
On the other hand, as the 15th of March 2012 deadline approaches, the Task Force against Forced Repatriation and the Association of Ethiopian Asylum Seekers in Norway are intensifying their all rounded and multi-faceted campaigns with the objective of bringing their concerns and anxiety to the attention of the Norwegian public and government in particular and the world community in general.
This is really a trying moment for the rejected asylum seekers who have been critical opponents of the Meles regime for years and who have no other option than facing what is going to happen after the 15th of Mach 2012. This is a moment which the Ethiopian Diaspora all over the world needs to give a special attention and due response.
The income and wealth disparity in the United States of America is wider than any other economically developed country in the world. This is confirmed by a recent study that found the top 20 percent of the population holding 84 percent of wealth in the United States (Katznelson et al., 2014). The rich in the United States amass more purchasing power than their wealthy counterparts anywhere else in the world, while ”the bottom 10 percent can buy less than the equivalent group in Canada and Western Europe” (Katznelson et al., 2014). Nonetheless, the astronomical gap between the haves and have-nots has been a reality since the inception of the union as the social construct has been designed to favor white Christian males over all others.
The invisible hands of the state have been consistently and systematically preventing minority groups from acquiring adequate opportunities to do well and prosper. To the contrary, state institutions such as the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) have promoted economic injustice and implemented discriminatory policies leading to the current colossal economic gap and absurdly incongruous state. Institutional discrimination has created a lasting generational impact on African Americans and other minority groups (Kimble, 2007).
Minority groups have been blocked from acquiring low interest rate loans and the few that were able to get it were systematically targeted by discriminatory policies such as the “redlining”. The term that was used to differentiate the neighborhoods with minority occupants and marking them with red to envisage them as high-risk for mortgage lenders (Domonoske, 2016). Although many choose to illuminate the positive contributions of the FHA, only a handful of scholars have disclosed the agency’s complicity with racial segregation (Kimble, 2007). As the field of upward economic mobility has been unevenly leveled to all members of the society, it is essential to investigate the activities of institutions such as the FHA for their role in undermining civil rights and hampering economic justice.
This paper will investigate the FHA and its role in discriminating African Americans from acquiring opportunities to own land and properties. It will also examine how the FHA color zoning impacted so many African-American neighborhoods from appreciating in values and led them to languish in poverty. This paper will scrutinize whether African-Americans have been intentionally targeted and contrast counter arguments, and will also review how and when the FHA comes about with misguided policies that debilitate the future of minority groups in the country.
The ideals of equal opportunity have a unique meaning in the United States political framework since the outset of the country, and it has been stated in the founding documents as such. However, the principle of equal opportunity, its interpretation, and the practical application were widely misguided and engineered to only serve white Christian males at the expense of “people of color”. When the country was being formed, economic success was not related to hard work and rather to social origin or the color of skin. Thus, upward economic mobility was disproportionately interwoven with racial constructs and African Americans were marginalized and left out to suffer from adverse poverty.
The Federal Housing Authority is among the government numerous agencies that were created after the Great Depression of 1929. The FHA was established by the National Housing Act of 1934 to tackle the declining market through a collaborative effort of the federal government and private businesses. In 1933, half of the nation’s mortgage was in default and the millions that had affiliations to the housing industry were unemployed. As a result, the National Emergency Council convened in 1934 to spearhead a vigorous intervention to resuscitate the crumbling market. The agency transformed the housing industry and revolutionized the financial mortgaging system. The agencies’ actions revitalized home ownership by stabilizing the housing market that has been affected immensely (Kimble, 2007).
Prior to the massive housing crisis that had been caused by the Great Depression, American public opinion was inclined towards opposition of any form of government intervention in economics and market. However, when too many people lost their homes to foreclosure and forced sales, the public opinion shifted and people started to seek government intervention and federal assistance. Thus, the FHA began its role in regulating interest rates, and stabilizing the market. While the FHA played a significant role in stabilizing and reviving the housing market, the agency operated and advanced the segregationist agendas designed to deny loan applications of African Americans (Kimble, 2007).
The FHA’s trajectory of zoning American neighborhoods was primarily grounded in a vision of blackness and whiteness. African-Americans had been classified as unique financial credit risks and excluded from benefiting the FHA credit lines, so capital was disproportionately channeled to white neighborhoods. In the few cases where African American property buyers sought to buy homes in white neighborhoods, they had to pay higher premiums to set foot in the territory. For decades, the FHA failed to investigate the agency’s rationale that directly link integration to the housing value depression as well as the merit of the agency’s conclusion about African Americans resistance to assimilation (Rothstein, 2012).
The FHA Underwriting Manual (lender guideline) required lenders to keep a color coded document known as the Residential Security Map on file. The map categorized neighborhood “A” to “D” according to their racial composition, where A grade was linked to the most desirable and D grade was meant rejection. In addition, other area description forms accompanying the Residential Security Map require appraisers to document the percentages of African-Americans, foreign born residents and possibilities of future “penetration” by those groups (Kimble, 2007).
As a case in point, a neighborhood in Trenton, New Jersey, which was described as having “executives and businessmen” with no African-American nor foreign-born and no “threat of infiltration” was graded as “A-1”. Another middle class neighborhood in Hamilton Township, New Jersey was graded as “B” for only a “threat of infiltration by foreigners” while all the residents were white middle class families. A nearby neighborhood whose residents is composed of 10 percent African-Americans and 65 percent foreign born was graded “C”. Another residential neighborhood in Delaware, Trenton with 15 percent African-Americans and 60 percent foreign born resided with a mixed threat of infiltration was described as “factory hand and laborer” and was given a “D” grade (Kimble, 2007).
Figure 1: A map of redlined Trenton, NJ.
Source: Domonoske, et al., Interactive Redlining Map.
Studies revealed that African-Americans were not necessarily living in the blocks where amenities were fewer and in the worst situation. Nevertheless, those “good blocks” where African-Americans resided were kept below market value because of their proximity to the more depleted neighborhood. Similarly, the all White, largely Italian and Polish neighborhood located adjacent a “D” grade proximity was graded a “B” and “C” respectively (Kimble, 2007).
According to Adelman (2003), “between 1934 and 1962, the federal government backed $120 billion of home loans: more than 98 percent went to whites. Of the 350,000 new homes built with federal support in Northern California between 1946 and 1960, fewer than 100 went to African Americans”. This indicates how African Americans have been dragged down to poverty while the whites were benefiting from the segregationist policies of the FHA. Despite the common belief of being hardworking and intelligent yielding prosperity, many white Americans get where they are at through unearned privileges, racism and merit (Adelman, 2003).
In 1947, developer Willian Levitt built 17,500 mass produced 2 bedroom houses, but no homes were sold to African-Americans due the FHA’s restrictive covenant. The FHA insisted that developers include a housing deed with restrictions regarding the selling and reselling of the homes to African-Americans. Of the total 300 large subdivisions that were built in New York’s Nassau and Westchester counties between 1935 and 1947, 83 percent had racially exclusive deeds that began with a prologue such as “Whereas the Federal Housing Administration requires that the existing mortgage on the said premises be subject and subordinated to the said [racial] restrictions … [except for] domestic servants of a different race domiciled with an owner or tenant…” (Rothstein, 2012)
During World War II, an estimated 10, 000 African Americans moved to the City of Los Angeles in search of employment and, for the first time, industries that were desperately looking for laborers started to hire them in shipyards, aircraft plants, and other war industries. However, there was no adequate housing for the workers to settle into. As a result, working poor African-Americans were forced to be homeless while they were eligible for public housing, and there were vacant homes in the white neighborhoods. The City’s Housing Authority restricted African-Americans from moving into the predominantly white neighborhoods (Rothstein, 2012).
Segregated housing projects and segregated cities doesn’t only exist in the history books and they were still in existence in some parts of the country until very recently. For instance, in 1984, an investigation conducted by the Dallas Morning News found that federally funded 47 housing projects in various cities were still segregated across racial lines and those, Yet, white predominant projects were found to have far superior amenities than black neighborhoods (Rothstein, 2012).
In the instances in which the Supreme Court of the US had to investigate the FHA and the Chicago Housing Authority, both the federal agency and the Chicago Housing Authority were found to be unconstitutional, in selecting development sites specifically to preserve and maintain segregation. The housing projects were not being developed where they are most needed. Rather, they were spearheaded to be developed in predominantly white neighborhoods (Rothstein, 2012).
In 1948, the United States Supreme Court presided over a case known as Shelly v Kreamer. The Petitioner, African-American Ethel Shelly, bought a property from Geraldine Fitzgerald in a St. Louis neighborhood where three quarters of property owners held a deed prohibiting the sale of land to African Americans and Mongolian. “The neighborhood restriction had been in place since 1911 and the property owners agreed to a 50 year contract not to sell property to the specified races. Shelly bought the property from Fitzgerald without knowing the restrictive covenant. When Shelly refused to give up the purchase of the property after learning the restrictions, Louis and Fern Kraemer, residents of the neighborhood whose deed bore a similar restriction sued to restrain Shelly from taking possession of the property” (Ducat, 2013).
The trial court found the covenant at fault, but the decision was reversed when Kraemer appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court. Shelly appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and the case was heard with another controversy from Michigan, which involves a similar restrictive covenant. The Court found the action of the state court to deprive the petitioner’s right guaranteed by the 14th amendment equal protection clause (Ducat, 2013).
The presiding Judge, Mr. Chief Justice Vinson delivered the opinion of the court by stating that “All citizens of the United States shall have the same right, in every State and Territory, as is enjoyed by White citizens thereof to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property” (Ducat, 2013). In granting judicial enforcement of the restrictive agreements in these cases, the States denied the petitioner’s equal protection of the laws. As a result, the action of the States court was found unconstitutional. Although three Supreme Court Justices took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases, there was no dissenting opinion (Ducat, 2013).
The consequence of segregated housing projects is far reaching and has a broad impact on African-Americans lives. By far, the FHA is considered among the agencies that utilize federal policies to unequivocally ruin the plight of economic justice. In 2014, the total net worth of White households was 20 times that of African American households and 18 times that of Latinos (Katznelson et al., 2014). The FHA was among the major vehicles of the broader effort to maintain economic inequality and promote segregation. When the federal government enacted the Fair Housing Act in 1968, its purpose was to curtail discrimination and form a unitary housing market where people would receive equal opportunities to rent and purchase properties. Nonetheless, it was too late to reverse the damage that took place (Kimble, 2007).
Today, the political landscape is different than what it had been. There are no different water fountains for blacks and whites, and crude racist messages conveyed through a medium of communications are not tolerated. Many people have become open-minded to positively recognize other value systems and take part in cross-cultural experiences. Workplaces are more diverse than they used to be and the U.S. had its first African-American president. The nation has come a long way in striving to overcome the grotesque practice of racism. Today, people are relatively evaluated on a merit based system rather than getting stigmatized because of who they are. Nevertheless, the damage has been done and any intervention requires more work than electing an African-American president and delegating him in the White House.
According to economist Edward Wolf, African-American’s net worth is less, “ even when they make the same income, white families have over twice the wealth-much of that gap due to home equity and family inheritance.” Sadly, many would like to assume that the wealth disparity is a natural phenomenon caused by a merit-hard work and even intelligence. Many even blame the very victims of a racist system for not putting more effort to improve their situation, and for failing to purchase homes and pass the appraised value to the next generation. The fact is that the playing field has never been evenly leveled and it has continued to be tilted to the advantages of non colored people (Adelman, 2003).
Most importantly, African Americans are still segregated and live in a poverty stricken neighborhood where the crime rate are astronomical and in the areas where schools lack adequate resources to provide services. African-Americans are also disproportionately represented in the nation’s prison system and many are unable to find a job after serving time mainly because of imprisonment records. Some are even disenfranchised from participating in the nation’s political process entirely. Various studies have indicated that over 46% of the 2.3 million prisoners in the United States are African-Americans when African-Americans only represent 13% of the population. (Alexander, 2011)
Although there are no easy answers to address the problems of inequality, the first step is acknowledging that inequality is not natural and is rather a byproduct of the intended consequence of persistent discrimination. Researchers have found a strong relationship between economic inequality and race in the United States (Hutchison, 2017). Therefore, the continued high level of inequality should be the concern of everyone. After all, addressing the root causes of economic inequality is not only morally appropriate, but also a prerequisite for justice.
Adelman, L. (2003, June 29). REAL LIFE / Affirmative Action for Whites / The houses that racism built. Retrieved November 03, 2017, from http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/REAL-LIFE-Affirmative-Action-for-Whites-The-2605633.php
Ducat, C., & Chase, H. (1988). Constitutional interpretation (4th ed.). St. Paul: West Pub.
Domonoske, C. (Ed.). (2016, October 19). Interactive Redlining Map Zooms In On America’s History Of Discrimination. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1830208426/
Green, J. (1999). Cultural awareness in the human services: A multi-ethnic approach (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Hutchison, E. D. (2017). Essentials of human behavior: integrating person, environment, and the life course (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc
Katznelson, I., Kesselman, M., & Draper, A. (2014). The politics of power: a critical introduction to American government (7th ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Company
Kimble, J. (2007). Insuring Inequality: The Role of the Federal Housing Administration in the Urban Ghettoization of African Americans. Law & Social Inquiry, 32(2), 399-434. doi:10.1111/j.1747-4465.2007.00064.x
Lab, D. S. (n.d.). Mapping Inequality. Retrieved November 03, 2017, from https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/
Rothstien, R. (2012, December 17). Race and public housing: Revisiting the federal role. Retrieved November 03, 2017, from http://www.epi.org/publication/race-public-housing-revisiting-federal-role