It was last year that Cape Town and Hawassa, the capital city of the Southern Regional State, inked sister city agreement.
In spite of the many options Bethlehem has to choose from, she has been traveling to Hawassa city for the past five years. The blossoming city in the Southern Regional State has attracted Bethlehem and many travelers offering its idiosyncratic features. A potential of the city is evident in its incredible treasure of flora and fauna.
Encircled by mountains full of shrubs and indigenous trees, brightened by the inland lake inviting boat ride, and lit up by low-rising buildings in the center, the city allures everyone’s imagination towards a nature-dominated urban-tour.
“This is a typical feature of the city that persuades me to make frequent travels here,” 20-year-old Bethlehem, first year architecture student, says.
A lakefront seat to watch out aqua-life and boat rides in the distance is a somewhat unique experience for people arriving in Hawassa. Unlike other lakes in Ethiopia, Lake Hawassa gives the great opportunity for a closer look at nature. Although boat rides seem to be an adventure, even for those who don’t dare to do it, many find riding on Lake Hawassa easy. In addition to that, visitors usually watch hippos and endemic birds floating on the shore of the lake.
“I can smell and easily feel the wind over here,” Bethlehem says, describing her experience at the long seat at the lakefront.
Tourists characterize Hawassa as a family-friendly relaxation and aquatic party adventure sopt. Local and foreign tourists frequent the place all year round enjoying indoor and outdoor exercises. The city is also an ideal transit spot for tourists that travel between Addis Ababa, Arbaminch, South Omo, Dilla, Moyale, Jimma and Mizan Teferi roads.
Green vegetation releasing fresh air and Hawassa Lake by which different birds and aquatic animals live give a fascinating appearance to the city. It is almost surrounded by mountains and hills; on the West, Tabor hill; in the South West, Mount Alamora almost enclosed the city.
Moreover, Amora Gedel – the home of different bird species – and Gudulmale the place reserved for celebration of Sidama New year -‘Fitche-Chambalala” make Hawassa a unique destination for tourists.
According to the Statistical Abstract of Ethiopia for 1967/68, the lake is 16 km long and 9 km wide, with a surface area of 129 square kilometers. Because the lake is found 267km southeast of Addis Ababa and a steady drive through the Rift Valley, it is an easy and has now become a frequent vacation spot.
Apparently, Hawassa sees an enormous number of visitors during this Ethiopian vacationing period when schools are closed for the season. Many Addis Ababans, tired of the muddy streets of the city, dominate the city as a number of families arrive in the city from the neighboring towns.
“I always see this town as the best place to spend the Kiremt (the Ethiopian winter) because Addis doesn’t look pleasant during this time,” Makeda, a mother of two boys from Addis Ababa, says.
Unless the family is engaged in other social duties that might test the family’s economy, Makeda says she is determined to bring her children to Hawassa or send them with their father. Walking down the main street towards the lake creates the opportunity to observe this fact. Children, along with parents, couples, and groups of youth, often flock to the lakefront, particularly in the afternoon.
The optimal weather in the city during Kiremt is another cause for travel. The temperature, which hardly surges over 22 degrees, has always been favorable mostly for locals and tourists who are visiting Ethiopia. Hotels, lounges and guest-houses being constructed in the city also have a leading role in promoting the city’s tourism potential that prevails over that of other cities. From the famous resort-hotels constructed at the edge of the lake to the four star services, many of the visitors believe that the city offers the best hospitality in the country.
According to Berhanu Teshome, advisor of the mayor of Hawassa, the city administration is taking a huge step in making the city an ideal tourist destination in Africa, probably as far as Dar es Salaam or Mombasa.
“A glamorous five star hotel is also under construction at the heart of the city and so, the city will have more options to render in the coming few years,” he says.
Despite the remarkable strides the city is making towards becoming a world-class tourist destination, these aspirations seem hardly synchronized with the lives of locals. This does not concern the people of the city alone, but the inhabitants of the surrounding areas as well.
“No one can deny the city’s path of transformation; it is incredible. However, it has to be continually maintained and should not be at the price of risking everything,” Asaminew Getasew, a resident says.
The 46-year-old Hawassa city resident has been a critical voice towards the disparity the city has seen over a decade-long transformation. He implies the profound ripple effect of the development on livelihood, small businesses and communal values, which is slowly creeping in with the inflow of tourists. His dissatisfaction over the city’s brighter future is partially shared by others too. However, his concern of the possible effects on the natural environment seems to be thoroughly shared as many of the residents vehemently speaking out.
“I’m not happy with the cafés, restaurants and bars being built at the lakefront,” Admasu Hailemariam, another resident, says.
In fact, music beats played at the restaurants can disturb one’s connection with the nature. Moreover, many complain that the drinks, hustles, and inconvenient settlement of the fish-inns, which they say are “an invasion on nature.”
“I really feel bad as I always come here when I’m tired of the rampant city-life,” Bethlehem says.
For some, the calm lake’s paradise sounds purring to them the whole day, suddenly turned into sounds of merry-making because of the loud music, annoying laughter and intruding footsteps. Despite the employment opportunities, the micro-businesses have brought their own employees; many blame these youth for creating commotions.
However, according to the mayor’s advisor, the inns and shops are owned by youth who never had employment before, but following the inception of their micro-business, they have become reliable tax-payers. The advisor also pointed out the significant contribution the youth have brought to keep the lake clean and make the area a safer place whether day or night. He further states their association completely stopped illegal fishery.
“It’s a complete change here. I think there has to be something to be put in place to help us and to keep the surrounding attractive,” Alemayehu Sissay, member of the association, says.
According to Alemayehu, the association has made them stronger and powerful enough to operate in the surrounding. He proudly speaks about the changes they have made since the association was formed about eight years ago.
“We have changed wooden boats to motor-boats and cleaned the shores to put cultural inns there and hire more youth to serve,” he says. However he feels sometimes the music and other incoherent activities carried out by visitors would bring in a trouble to the lake. “I think we have more responsibility now.”
Contrary to the association’s position, Ermiyas Shanko, fisher, says life has become harder for him and other youth who have been living on the source of the lake for many years. Even if he hardly cares for the visitors who show discontent over the settlement at the lakefront he fully agrees with those who claim the lake is facing a man–made catastrophe since the arrival of businesses.
“I see a greater decline in the number of birds and fish. I only catch a few fish after spending almost a full-day of fishery,” he says.
According to him, the price of a single Filleto (local name for the fish species of the surrounding) has spiked dramatically. He used to sell fish he caught in traditional fishing equipment for 10 birr only a few years back, but this time, he feels a kind of amusement seeing a single fried Filleto sell for 35 birr at the inn around the lakefront. Moreover, he is also dissatisfied about the wooden boats getting replaced.
“In the past, I did fishing and boat-riding side by side. It was 2 birr per person for a boat-cruise,” he says, remembering happier days.
In fact, Ermiyas appreciates the progress made to advance the ferry and other services at the lake, but he remains unmoved by the incoherent activities happening around the lake.
“I doubt today’s visitors are enjoying it at the level of those who had come here ten years ago,” he compares the natural setting the lake had before.
Because he does not want to leave the surrounding where he grew up fishing, swimming and riding boats, he prefers to face challenges.
“I have strong connection with the surrounding. I have many undying memories and childhood plays here. So I will live here forever,” he says.
Pondering over the fast development the city is going through to become a destination for both national and international visitors; he predicts the reality of the aspiration the city is materializing. Nevertheless, he resumes voicing his discontent over the activities being carried out against nature. Vacationing in Hawassa will help create a pretty awesome schedule for many who want to escape the hustle and bustle of city-life and refresh themselves. For the time being, however, service providers and residents believe that vacationing in Hawassa will continue regardless of environmental concerns and the weekly commotions made by hundreds of Addis Ababans and tourists alike.