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[Dehai-WN] Eurasiareview.com: The Ethiopian Land Giveaway

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Fri, 1 Jun 2012 00:05:54 +0200

The Ethiopian Land Giveaway - OpEd

By: <http://www.eurasiareview.com/author/graham-peebles/> Graham Peebles

May 31, 2012

What's yours is mine what's mine's my own.

It is a colonial phenomenon, appropriate land for the needs of the colonists
and to hell with those living upon the land, indigenous and at home. Might
is right, military or indeed economic. The power of the dollar rules supreme
in a world built upon the acquisition of the material, the perpetuation of
desire and the entrapment of the human spirit.

Africa has for long been the object of western domination, control and
usury, under the British, French, and Portuguese of old. Now the 'new rulers
of the World' large corporations from America, China, Japan, Middle Eastern
States, India and Europe, are engaged in extensive land acquisitions in
developing countries. The vast majority of available land is in Sub-Saharan
Africa where, according to The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous
Issues report, 'The Growing demand for Land, Risks and Opportunities for
Smallholder Farmers' "80 per cent (of worldwide land) -about 2 billion
hectares that is potentially available for expanded rain-fed crop
production" is thought to be. Huge industrial agricultural centres are being
created, off shore farms, producing crops for the investors home market.
Indigenous people, subsistence farmers and pastoralists are forced off the
land, the natural environment is levelled, purging the land of wildlife and
destroying small rural communities, that have lived, worked and cared for
the land for centuries. The numbers of people potentially affected by the
land grab and its impact on the environment is staggering. The UN in it's
report states "By 2020, an estimated 135 million people may be driven from
their land as a result of soil degradation, with 60 million in sub-Saharan
Africa alone."

This contemporary 'Land Grab' has come about as a result of food shortages,
the financial meltdown in 2008 and in light of the United Nations world
population forecast of 9.2 billion people by 2050, and three main resulting
pressures. 1. Food insecure nations - particularly Middle Eastern and Asian
countries, seeking to stabilise their food supply. 2. To meet the growing
worldwide demand for agro-fuels and thirdly, by the rise in investment in
land and soft commodities, such as coffee, cocoa, sugar, corn, wheat, soya
and fruit. Often investors are simply speculators seeking to make a fast or
indeed slow buck, by 'Land Banking', sitting on the asset waiting and
watching for the price to inflate, then selling, the Oakland Institute in
its report 'The Great land Grab' found "along with hedge funds and
speculators, some public universities and pension funds are among those in
on the land rush, eyeing returns of 20 to as much as 40%". Land not as home,
land as a chip, to be thrown upon the international gambling table of

Chopping trees cutting Costs

As well we know everything and indeed everyone 'has its price'. Even the
people and land of a country, sold into destitution by governments motivated
by distorted notions of development, where people, traditional lifestyles
and the environment come a distant second to roads, industrialisation and
the raping of the land. People too poor to hold on to their dignity, too
weak in a world built and run on power and might, to protest and demand
justice for themselves and their families and rounded, responsible husbandry
for the environment. And the price of land, well as one would expect bargain
basement, with 99 year leases the norm and various government incentive
packages. In some cases the land is literally being given away, as the
Oakland Institute (OI) states in its report 'The Great land Grab' "In Mali
one investment group was able to secure 1000,000 hectares (ha) of fertile
land for a 50 year term for free. Elsewhere "$2.00 a hectare (roughly equal
to two Olympic size athletic grounds) is the going rate." According to The
Guardian (21/3/2011) "The lowest prices are in Africa, where, says the World
Bank, at least 35 million hectares of land has been bought or leased. Other
groups, including, Friends of the Earth say the figure is higher."

Ethiopia. For sale

The Ethiopian government, through the Agricultural Investment Support
Directorate is at the forefront of this African Land Sale. Crops familiar to
the area are often grown, such as maize, sesame, sorghum, in addition to
wheat and rice. All let us state clearly for export to Saudi Arabia, India,
China etc, to be sold within the home market, benefitting the people of
Ethiopia not.

The Oakland Institute research "shows that at least 3,619,509ha of land (an
area just smaller than Belgium) have been transferred to investors, although
the actual number may be higher." The government claims that the land
available for lease is unused and surplus, this is disingenuous nonsense.
Large areas of land are in fact already cultivated by smallholders
subsistence farmers and pastoralists using land for grazing, all of which
are un-ceremonially evicted. Villages are destroyed and indigenous people
expelled from their homeland and forced into large scale villagization
programmes. Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report 'Waiting Here For Death'
states, "The Ethiopian federal government's current villagization program is
occurring in four regions-Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, Somali, and Afar.
This involves the resettlement of approximately 1.5 million people
throughout the lowland areas of the country-500,000 in Somali region,
500,000 in Afar region, 225,000 in Benishangul-Gumuz and 225,000 in
Gambella." Imposed movement then, often applied with force, in order to
provide pristine land, free of any inconveniences to the corporate allies.

Level growing field

There are five areas of prime, fertile land up for grabs. Gambella is the
largest where unbelievably a third of the region (around 800,000 hectares)
is available. Indian corporations have already snapped up 352,000 hectares
(ha) and around 900 foreign investors have so far taken advantage of this
giveaway. Afar, The Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region, where
200,000 hectares has been leased or sold, Oromia, where three Indian
companies have leased a total of 138,000 ha and Amhara, make up the reduced
to clear rail.

With the land grab crucially goes water - and the appropriation of this
vital resource, both surface and ground water. Investors are allowed to do
what they will with the land they lease, this includes diverting rivers,
digging canals from existing water sources, building dams and drilling bore
holes. The Oakland Institute in its report 'Land Investment in Ethiopia
quotes Saudi Star stating "that water will be their biggest issue, and
numerous plans are being established (including the construction of 30 km of
cement-lined canals and another dam on the Alwero River)." There are no
controls imposed on foreign corporations whatsoever and no payment structure
for 'appropriating' water is in place. These politically favoured investors
are being offered carte blanche. Water supplies in Ethiopia are poor, even
in the capital, where irregular mains flow is common in many neighbourhoods.
There is water galore 90% of the Nile e.g. flows through Ethiopia,
distribution though is inconsistent, maintained to be so some say, the
people drained, exhausted and kept firmly in their place.

In Gambella the government in 2011 offered huge areas of land to
Bangalore-based food company Karuturi Global for the equivalent of $1.16 per
hectare, to lease more than 2,500 sq. km (1,000 sq. miles) of virgin,
fertile land for more than 50 years. This cost compared to an average rate
of $340 per ha in the Punjab district of India, no wonder then that the CEO
of Karuturi described "the incentives available to the floriculture industry
in Ethiopia as "mouthwatering," including low air freights on the
state-owned Ethiopian airlines, tax holidays, hassle-free entry into the
industry at very low lease rates, tax holidays, and lack of duties," reports
Oakland in its Ethiopia report. Up to 60,000 workers will be employed by
Karuturi, who are paying local people less than $1 a day, which is well
below the level of extreme poverty set by the World bank. The company will
cultivate according to The Guardian 21st March 2011 "20,000 hectares of oil
palm, 15,000 hectares of sugar cane and 40,000 hectares of rice, edible oils
and maize and cotton. "We could feed a nation here", says Karmjeet Sekhon,
Karuturi project manager. Land and people for a few rupees, cushioned by a
cocktail of sweeteners offered by the Ethiopian government, allowing the
decimation of the environment and the destruction of lifestyles -
generations old. And in a hurry, The Guardian found "the [land] concessions
are being worked [by Karuturi] at a breakneck pace, with giant tractors and
heavy machinery clearing trees, draining swamps and ploughing the land in
time to catch the next growing season. Forests across hundreds of square km
are being clear-felled and burned to the dismay of locals and
environmentalists concerned about the fate of the region's rich wildlife."

Unstable supply of staples

Around five million people in Ethiopia rely on food aid and live with
constant food insecurity that will only increase under the land grab
bonanza. According to the Oakland Institutes report "commercial investment
will increase rates of food insecurity in the vicinity of the land
investments" and Open Democracy reports an interview with Ethiopia's Prime
Minister Meles Zenawi, for the Financial Times (7 August 2008), in which he
'predicted that "large-scale farming could bring some employment, but "not
much". It would not solve the problem of food insecurity." Intensifying food
insecurity is the transfer of vast areas of land used for the cultivation of
traditional staples such as Teff to other crops. This is largely responsible
for costs of Teff (used to make injera - the daily bread) quadrupling in the
last four years. The Guardian (Monday 23 April 2012) reports Friends of the
Earth International "The result (of land sell offs) has often been . people
forced off land they have traditionally farmed for generations, more rural
poverty and greater risk of food shortages" Food security will be realised
when local smallholders are encouraged to farm their land, given financial
support, machinery and the needed technology, as Oxfam in its report 'Land
Power Rights' points out, "Small-scale producers, particularly women, can
indeed play a crucial role in poverty reduction and food security. But to do
so, they need investment in infrastructure, markets, processing, storage,
extension, and research."
Keep development small, for, of, and close to the people in need, and see
them flourish.

Land rights, human cost, environmental damage

The land rights of the indigenous people of Ethiopia are, as one would
expect somewhat ambiguous. As a legacy of the socialist dictatorship of the
1960s and '70s, the government technically owns all land. However there is
protection in law for indigenous people. The Ethiopian constitution Article
40, 3 states "Land is a common property of the Nations, Nationalities and
Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or to other means of
exchange. And 4) "Ethiopian peasants have right to obtain land without
payment and the protection against eviction from their possession." And in
regard to pastoralists affected by the land sell off, paragraph 5)
"Ethiopian pastoralists have the right to free land for grazing and
cultivation as well as the right not to be displaced from their own lands."

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Ethiopia
signed in 2007, making it a legally binding document, states in Article
26/1. "Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and
resources, which they have traditionally owned, occupied or other- wise used
or acquired." And paragraph 2."Indigenous peoples have the right to own,
use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they
possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation
or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired." The
declaration also outlines compensation measures for landowners. Article
28/1. "Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can
include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable
compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have
traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been
confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and
informed consent." Paragraph 2. "Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the
peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories
and resources 10equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary
compensation or other appropriate redress."
The law it would appear is clear, implementation and respect for its content
is required, and should be demanded of the ruling EPRDF by the donor
countries to Ethiopia.

Land and People

People are not being consulted or democratically included in the decisions
to transform their homeland. This contravenes the Ethiopian constitution,
that states in Article 92/3. "People have the right to full consultation and
to the expression of views in the planning and implementations of
environmental policies and projects that affect them directly". Hollow words
to those being evicted from their land, like Omot Ochan a villager, from the
Anuak tribe whose family has lived in the forest near the Baro river in
Gambella for ten generations. Speaking to The Observer Sunday 20 May 2012,
he "insisted Saudi Star had no right to be in his forest. The company had
not even told the villagers that it was going to dig a canal across their
land. "Nobody came to tell us what was happening." He goes on to say "This
land belonged to our father. All round here is ours. For two days' walk."
Well that was the case until the Government in their infallible wisdom
leased some 10,000ha to their friend, the Ethiopian born Saudi Arabian oil
multi millionaire, Sheik Al Moudi (In 2011, Fortune magazine put his wealth
at more than $12bn) to grow rice for his Saudi Star Company. Omot continued,
"two years ago, the company began chopping down the forest and the bees went
away. The bees need thick forest. We used to sell honey. We used to hunt
with dogs too. But after the farm came, the animals here disappeared. Now we
only have fish to sell." And with the company draining the wetlands, the
fish will probably be gone soon, too. Sheik Al Moudi plans to export over a
million tonnes of rice a year to Saudi Arabia. To ease relations with the
Meles regime and as The Observer states "to smooth the wheels of commerce,
Amoudi has recruited one of Zenawi's former ministers, Haile Assegdie, as
chief executive of Saudi Star."

Traditional land rights for people who have lived on the land in Gamabella
and elsewhere for centuries are being ignored and in a country where all
manner of human rights are routinely violated, legally binding compensations
are not being paid.

Government drafted lease agreements with investors state the Meles regime
will hand over the land free of any 'encumbrances' - people and property
that means, anyone living or using the land to graze their livestock or
pastoralists moving through. The Independent 18th January 2012 reports
"Ethiopia is forcing tens of thousands of people off their land so it can
lease it to foreign investors, leaving former landowners destitute and in
some cases starving." The Government says any movement is voluntary and not
enforced, a clear distortion of the facts. HRW in their report confirms the
government's criminality "mass displacement to make way for commercial
agriculture in the absence of a proper legal process contravenes Ethiopia's
constitution and violates the rights of indigenous peoples under
international law."

A price worth paying it would seem, to the Ethiopian government and those
multi nationals appropriating the land, seeing a market and capitalizing on
the countries need for dollars. Desperate in a world propelled by growth to
maximize the value of every so called asset, even if it means prostituting
the land, sacrificing the native people and destroying the natural

About the author:

Graham Peebles <http://www.eurasiareview.com/author/graham-peebles/>

Graham PeeblesGraham is Director of <http://www.thecreatetrust.org> The
Create Trust, a UK registered charity, supporting fundamental social change
and the human rights of individuals in acute need. He may be reached at


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