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Etenesh Abera

Addis Abeba, May 25/2018 – Since five days, chaos and anger have been boiling in and around Tewekel mall in the heart of Merkato, known as the largest open market in Africa, here in the capital Addis Abeba.

According to several traders who spoke to Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity, officials from the revenue and costumes authority Addis Abeba branch, have first arrived with security forces on Saturday May 19 with court warrant letters to confiscate Niyala cigarette merchandise, which the officers said were imported via contraband.  “They have confiscated several packages of the said brand cigarettes and have taken them loaded on dozens of mini trucks,” said one trader, “however, they continue coming back as of Monday and starting from Wednesday the security forces are confiscating almost every merchandise they find from Tewekel mall and other shops in its surrounding.”

Hailay Argaw, an officer at the Merkato branch of the revenue and costumes authority, one of the two branches of the authority catering Markato and its environs, said the office told the traders to provide receipts of all the merchandises traded in Tewekel mall “because we know that contraband is rampant in this particular area.”  However when asked by Addis Standard to show the decision making processes and letters, the office declined, adding he was not authorized to speak to the media. He also said the name he gave to our reporters was not his, and declined to reveal his position.

The traders contradict his claim. “They have taken more than five trucks of Niyala cigarette packages on Saturday, but when they returned on Monday, they demanded to see receipts for the rest of our merchandises. When most of us produced the receipts they then told us to come to the headquarters of the customs and revenue authority,” said another trader, “the court warrant was facilitated by the Merkato branch of the authority and the same branch should have stopped this day daylight robbery instead of referring us to the headquarter.”  The revenue and costumes authority has two branches dealing with Merkato and its environs. Officials at the second branch said they have no knowledge of the matter.

On Tuesday, the traders have tried to boycott market but were forcibly made to leave their businesses open. “I don’t understand, on one hand they are confiscating our merchandises but on the other the security forces are forcing us to stay open’ a third trader said. None of them want to be mentioned by their names fearing repercussions and security forces wouldn’t allow Addis Standard inside or near Tewekel mall. But the traders insist authorities and anyone interested to comes inside and witness “the empty shops looted by security forces.”They also said the police have used force on Thursday when the forcibly tried to confiscate goods and many have been injured.

Recently, Ethiopian authorities have vowed to crush contraband trading throughout the country. On May the 17, Ahmed Shide, Minister at the federal communication affairs bureau, said that a government led coordinated crackdown against organized contraband & human trafficking has landed 13 people in jail who were suspected of conducting both human trafficking contraband in different export-import trade corridors surrounding Addis Abeba, as well as several locations in Oromia and Afar regional states.

The traders insist there has been a random crackdown beyond legal bounds. They are now trying to organize and “fulfill the legal formalities with lawyers to press charges”, but said it is proving impossible since the traders inside Tewekel and its surrounding are busy “trying to protect their shops.” Due to restrictions by security forces, Addis Standard could only observe from a distance that as of yesterday, several trucks have continued loading and shipping merchandise from Tewekel mall. AS  

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