Meet Addis Ababa’s First CRO

We sat down with Fitsumbrhan Tsegaye, Addis Ababa’s first Chief Resilience Officer, to learn more about the city’s resilience journey. Since authoring Addis Ababa’s application to the 100RC Challenge in 2015, Fitsumbrhan has become an active spokesperson for urban resilience in the Horn of Africa region. Here he shares with us challenges and opportunities for the road ahead.

100RC: You have been involved with Addis Ababa’s resilience journey since its beginning. Can you tell us how the city’s priorities have changed since you worked on the initial 100RC application?

Fitsumbrhan Tsegaye: Although I led the writing of the application, we made it an inclusive process that engaged a range of municipal offices to identify the shocks and stresses affecting Addis Ababa. In only one week, we were able to secure participation of 23 different stakeholders within the city government. We didn’t expect everyone to join at such short notice, and were  delighted by the robust conversations that transpired.

Fast forward to the Resilience Agenda-Setting Workshop held at the end of 2016, where an even broader range of stakeholders gathered to discuss what resilience looks like in Addis Ababa and what priority areas the city should address. Many of the challenges identified in the workshop corresponded to our conversation the year before: shocks such as heavy rainfall and floods, urban fires, disease outbreaks, infrastructure and building failure; and stresses that include high unemployment, lack of affordable housing, water management issues, and uncontrolled growth, among others. What surprised us the most was that construction accidents were identified as a prominent shock during the workshop, which was most likely because a large accident occurred at that time. When I look around now, I see that rising food prices are becoming a more pressing issue that stakeholders might prioritize as we push forward with developing our resilience strategy. I like that 100RC has us iterate this process at various points, leading to an inclusive definition of resilience for our city.

100RC: What are you most excited about as you assume the Chief Resilience Officer position?

FT: I’m very excited to be CRO because it’s like growing or nurturing your baby. I saw the original call for applications and have led the process for nearly two years now. I have worked to get the city’s commitment, and I’m really excited to see the fruit of this. I really believe in the membership and in the initiative. If we do it right, I can see the benefit to my city, to my mayor, to my community.

100RC: Congratulations on establishing a Resilience Project Office! What do you see as the first priority for the office to tackle?

FT: Thank you. We are looking forward to officially opening the Office and having the CRO work with a whole team on resilience. It has been a long journey and required a lot of patience. A key turning point was when Dr. Raj Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation, met with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and discussed the importance of resilience in Ethiopia and Addis Ababa.

The first priority of the Project Office will be to instill the concept of resilience thinking within the city government structure, so they really own it. It will also be important for us to clarify and differentiate the strategy development process from other actions already undertaken by the city and more broadly at the national level, like Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy.

100RC: What role do you see the City of Addis Ababa playing in the 100RC network, and particularly at the regional level?

FT: Some work has already been started; for example, our city’s mayor was selected to sit on 100RC’s City Leader Advisory Committee. Through this and other 100RC platforms, we will be active in sharing best practices, experiences, and challenges. We are ready to learn from other cities as well.

Moreover, when we established the Resilience Project Office, Mayor Diriba Kuma put forward an ambitious agenda to make Addis a resilient city in five years’ time. We want the city to be a model for the region. Addis has already been a leader in promoting climate resilience and green economy, and holds a track record of championing resilient initiatives such as a light rail system, proper sewage waste plant, solid waste management, and affordable housing. Addis has already started its resilience journey, so it is really a matter of working with stakeholders and community members to connect the dots.

100RC: What can other member cities learn from Addis Ababa’s resilience building experience? What is Addis Ababa eager to learn about from other cities in the network?

FT: So far Addis can share the commitment of its leadership to resilience building. Our Project Office is guaranteed for five years, which creates greater stability, even if the mayor changes.

We would like to learn lessons from other cities, particularly how they institutionalize resilience thinking and planning – this will be a core element on our journey. It will also be important to learn from our counterparts in other countries that have addressed stresses related to unemployment and affordable housing.