Ethiopia Speaks: Call against forcible land grab

Land deals with big business groups, including Indian companies, are being negotiated without any consensus, or prior consent of the indigenous population, forcibly evicting them from their land where they have lived for centuries with little or no compensation

Souzeina Mushtaq Delhi

To understand land investment in East Africa, a two-day Round Table Discussion was held from February 5-6, at India International Centre, New Delhi. The discussion entitled, ‘Indian-Ethiopian civil society seminar on land investments’ was organised by Council for Social Development (CSD) in association with Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), New Delhi, Kalpavriksh, Pune, Popular Education and Action Centre (PEACE), and The Oakland Institute, Oakland, USA.

The discussion focused on the ‘other’ aspects of land acquisitions in Sub-Saharan African countries that have high rates of food insecurity, and traditional agricultural systems. While many think that Africa is an emerging business frontier where large-scale investments are being made, as by China, paving way for ‘development’ in these areas, the discussion revealed dark facets in the underbelly of this manufactured ‘dream sequence’.

In a research conducted by the Oakland Institute, USA, it was decisively revealed that foreign governments, private and big business agro enterprises and private equity funds have acquired more than 6o million hectares of land for commercial farming ventures, in what is clearly one of the biggest forcible land grabs in history. Factors like rising food prices and a demand for new fuels have caused a huge rush for gigantic land deals. Most of these unilateral deals by the dictatorial government in Ethiopia are in favour of corporate lobbies and companies; these deals are negotiated without any consensus, or the prior consent of the indigenous population, forcibly evicting them from their land where they have lived for centuries with little or no compensation.

“Development that doesn’t benefit the majority is no development at all,” said Anuradha Mittal, academic, and executive director of the Oakland Institute. According to her, between 2008 and 2011, 3,619,509 hectares were transferred to domestic investors, State-owned enterprises and foreign companies, including Indian agro enterprises.

In a research conducted by the Oakland Institute, USA, it was decisively revealed that foreign governments, private and big business agro enterprises and private equity funds have acquired more than 6o million hectares of land for commercial farming ventures, in what is clearly one of the biggest forcible land grabs in history

“Ethiopia is the preferred destination for agricultural investments. Indian enterprises are largely concentrated in Gambella and Afar, where the government offers extra major tax incentives. Karaturi Global, the largest Indian investor, is acquiring land at a low rate of $1 per hectare, and investors have acquired land at $6 to $8,” she said.

According to Oxfam, land equivalent to eight times the size of Britain was sold or leased worldwide in the last 10 years. In northern Mozambique, a Brazilian-Japanese venture plans to farm more than 54,000 square miles —comparable to Pennsylvania and New Jersey combined — for food exports. In 2009, a Libyan firm leased 386 square miles of land from Mali without consulting local communities that had long used it. In the Philippines, the government is so enthusiastic to promote profit-centric agribusiness that it lets foreigners register partnerships with local investors as domestic corporations.

While the Ethiopian government argues that foreign investment in agriculture will bring economic development and eventually reduce hunger and poverty, the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) 2012 Global Human Index considers Ethiopia as “the fifth hungriest nation in the world, with majority of the Ethiopian population suffering from endemic poverty and food insecurity”.

The discussion also marked the release of two research papers, ‘Unheard Voices: The human rights impact of land investments on indigenous communities in Gambella,’ and ‘Omo: Local tribes under threat.’ Both the papers focus on the ill effects of the land investments and land grab and calls upon the Ethiopian government to put an end to the illegal forced evictions of the indigenous people, often with State sponsored violence and private armies of big business groups.

 

‘Unheard Voices’ also features testimonies of two indigenous human rights defenders, who have been forced to leave their country because they were violently hounded, who had travelled to Delhi to call on Indian investors to respect human rights of the indigenous people while making investments.

Obang Metho, from the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, and Nyikaw Ochalla, Coordinator, Anuak Survival Organisation, were also present in the discussion and spoke about the rampant human rights abuses against local, indigenous populations in the Gambella region of Ethiopia.

‘The Ethiopian government is depriving the local people of their memories, homeland and traditional farming system. They are now moved to a land that cannot be inhabited, with no water and no access to education’

“When the Ethiopian government met with (investors), the local people were never consulted and never compensated. The decision was made without involving the people,” said Obang Metho, adding, “For the indigenous people, (their land) is their identity, but has been taken away by the very government that is supposed to protect them.”

According to the report, the Ethiopian government has displaced thousands of indigenous communities from their ancestral land since 2010, and given away their land to investors and companies from abroad. This relocation process, which is called ‘Villagization’, has destroyed livelihoods, rendering small-scale farmers and pastoralist communities dependent on food aid,  condemned and exiled in their own ‘homeland’, and fearful of their own survival. Ethiopian officials are also charged with beating, arresting and intimidating people who refuse to comply with government policies. The horror stories have turned into an epidemic, even though the local and international media seem oblivious to them.

“The Ethiopian government is depriving the local people of their memories, homeland and traditional farming system. They are now moved to a land that cannot be inhabited, with no water and no access to education,” said Nyikaw Ochalla.

The Oakland Institute called on the Ethiopian government to ensure that its agricultural policies are carried out in accordance with International Human Rights Laws. They also called on the foreign investors and corporates to respect human and fundamental rights of the people and exercise diligence while investing and occupying land to expand their business.

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