Harar, Ethiopia. Dualities, discursive meanings and designations

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Author : Laura Bisaillon

Year : 2010

Published in English with Italian summary in Urbanistica pvs (La Sapienza, Univ of Rome), 54/55: 28-37, 2010

Harar is a city of 120,000 inhabitants situated on a plateau in an agricultural region of eastern Ethiopia. The city is divided into new and old districts and is separated – spatially and symbolically – by high walls punctuated by six gates through which foot and vehicular traffic pass. Oral tradition has it that the old city, Harar Jugol, dates to the 10th century, whiles the new city, named New Town in this article, dates to the latter 19th century. Perhaps related to this newness, scant attention has been accorded to New Town’s built form in contrast to Jugol, the city located within the fortifications. In this article divided into three parts, a critical ethnographic lens is employed to problematize characteristics of Harar’s spatial and social terrain. Low’s (1996) theoretical framework for contemplating and analyzing cities is used to explore numerous dualities, boundaries and tensions that exist in Harar’s current urban environment, with focus placed upon New Town. This paper conceptualizes Harar as a discursive realm, where signs and symbols written on the city’s landscape and in the daily practices of citizens point to linkages to broader social processes, politics, policy, and ideology. The analysis concludes by critically exploring three challenges that currently face the city of Harar with respect to urban planning and land use that are challenging to reconcile because of dissimilar understandings of the city, competing roles in urban governance, and the unavailability of a sufficient local water source.