We begin our series on the phenomenon which is generally referred to as “Land Grab” in Africa. While this phenomenon is not unique to Africa, and has in fact been going on all over the world, it has, however, taken on increasing urgency due to shortages of arable land globally. There has been an explosion of land dispossession all over Africa since 2008, leading to political instability, insecurity, increase in internally displaced persons (IDPs), starvation, and at least in the case of Madagascar, a public revolt that led to a coup. These land transactions between African governments, wealthy international agro-businesses and foreign countries are often opaque, lacking in accountability, and are rarely made public.
In the first of our Land Grab Series, we examine Ethiopia’s “Land Grab”, and the dispossession of tens of thousands (if not millions eventually) of Ethiopian citizens, under the 20-year old authoritarian and brutal regime of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, which is leasing Ethiopian land for up to 99 years to foreign businesses and governments without any significant consultation with the people most affected.
We explore why a “beggar nation” like Ethiopia which cannot feed many of its people, that is suffering from famine, perennial food shortages, endemic hunger, and chronic dependency on foreign aid, is selling off its fertile lands and natural resources to foreign agro-businesses to grow food that will be exported to their own countries. Ethiopia is currently experiencing its worst drought and famine in sixty years.
To help us make some sense of the land grab in Ethiopia, and why such a poor country with a repressive government, and a well documented history of serious human rights violations, is a major US (and western) ally in its geo-strategic posture in Africa and in its war against terror. Our guests on today’s program on AfrobeaRadio on WBAI, joining us on the phone are, Mr. Obang Metho and Mr. Abdikarim Rabi.
Mr. Obang Metho is the Executive Director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE). According to its website, SMNE is a “non-violent, non-political, grassroots social justice movement of diverse Ethiopians; committed to bringing truth, justice, freedom, equality, reconciliation, accountability and respect for human and civil rights to the people of Ethiopia and beyond.” SMNE is also a co-author of a recent report on Ethiopia Land Grab with the Oakland Institute.
Mr. Abdikarim Rabi is member of Ogaden Youth and Student Union, a member of ICARE, and Americans Against the Genocide in Ogadenia, an anti-genocide movement.
A World Bank report Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can It Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits? reveals that the government of Ethiopia transferred 1.2 million hectares of land between 2004 and 2009, noting that in most cases, “the expected job growth and net investment were very low.” The following table from the report shows countries with the “large land acquisitions.
According to the California-based think tank, the Oakland Institute:
“in 2009 alone nearly 60 million ha– an area the size of France – was purchased or leased in comparison to an average annual expansion of global agricultural land of less than 4 million ha before 2008.”
And in its latest published report on Ethiopia: Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa; Country Report: Ethiopia in May 2011 in collaboration with the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE), the report finds, among others, that 36% of the land so far given away by the Meles Zenawi regime is in Oromia (i.e. 1,319,214 Hectares of the 3,619,509 Hectares of land grabbed by neo-colonizers throughout the region as of January 2011). On the other hand, 42% and 27% of the land in Gambella and Benishangul-Gumuz, respectively, has already been grabbed or is up for grabs. The figures according to the report by the Oakland Institute and the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia “likely understate the true extent of land [grab] as only the most reliable information was [provided].”
Despite having received billions of dollars in aid, Ethiopians remain among the poorest in the world, largely due to poor government policies and practices. Nearly a sixth of all Ethiopians are on some form of food assistance. Food aid is itself often used as a tool of patronage, doled out as a reward for political support, and also withheld as punishment to those labeled enemies of the government. The Ethiopian government has also imposed commercial food embargoes on entire regions and populations as part of its repressive policies and practices.
In a report filed by Thomas Mountain on AfrobeatRadio, Ethiopia Buys Arms As Millions Starve, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced the purchase of 200 military tanks at a whopping price tag of $100 million, a day after Britain announced its pledge of $60 million in food aid to Ethiopia.
In response, Thomas Mountain wrote:
“One of the primary reasons Ethiopia needs 200 tanks is to conduct its counterinsurgency campaigns against the ethnically based armed uprisings slowly engulfing much of the country. From the Ogaden in the south east, to Tigray in the north to Gambella in the west, and now [as ] reported, even spreading to much of Oromia in the south west, the Ethiopian regime needs to be able to crush its own people and the latest installment of armor is long over due. It is already 11 years since Ethiopia invaded Eritrea and in the process lost its best armored divisions, including at least 2 in one day long disaster called the Battle of Tsorona (last part of this not clear).”
Tanks work well against lightly armed guerilla fighters and even better when it comes to crushing civilian uprisings, something those in the western and UN “aid” agencies are fully cognizant of. Now that Ethiopia has become a source of “peacekeepers” in Sudan some of these Ethiopian tanks may be used to uphold Pax Americana on the North-South Sudanese border which includes Sudan’s oil fields.
According to several humanitarian organizations including Human Rights Watch, Ethiopia’s military campaigns have triggered a serious humanitarian crisis. Ethopian military crackdown has led to widespread violence in which entire villages have been destroyed. Citizens also suffer from arbitrary arrests, theft, rape and murder by Ethiopian soldiers. “In October 2007, The Independent reported that the situation in Ogaden had begun to mirror the Darfur conflict, with refugees stating that government troops had burned villages and raped and killed civilians.”
In its report, Human Rights Watch claims that;
“civilians have been killed in what appears to be a deliberate effort to mete out collective punishment against a civilian population suspected of sympathizing with the rebels.”
HRW says it has documented dozens of cases of severe abuse by Ethiopian troops in the Ogaden, including gang rapes, burned villages and what it calls “demonstration killings,” like hanging and beheading of populace, meant to terrorize the population.
by Wuyi Jacobs
Produce by AfrobeatRadio and broadcast on July 09, 2011.
- Oromia-Ethiopia: Latest Updates on Land Grab – Reports from the World Bank and the Oakland Institute
- Oromia/Gambella/Ethiopia: 36% of Land Grabs in Oromia; Half of Gambella to Be Grabbed
- Rising Global Interest In Farmland
- Abuses perpetrated by the Ethiopian military
- Ethiopia ‘blocking MSF in Ogaden
- Human Right Watch quote: Ethiopians Said to Push Civilians Into Rebel War