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The Great Ethiopia Land Grab

13 July 2011 13 July 2011 Tags: , 7 Comments Print This Post Print This Post

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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 lead 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 violation, is none-the-less 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].”

To Read Oakland Institute/SMNE Full Report Document, click here

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 to this conduct, 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.

Compiled and hosted by Wuyi Jacobs


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
This program was broadcast on AfrobeaRadio on WBAI 99.5 FM PACIFICA Radio on Saturday July 09, 2011. AfrobeatRadio on WBAI broadcast every Saturday from 4 to 5PM EST.



  • Senbet said:

    Really, I have been very much impressed on the interview to the two "Beautiful Sons" of Ethiopia hence Afrca. This is the write way of the struggling tyranny in Africa. This is the way to fight the dictator in Ethiopia. Mr Metho and Rabi are those come from highly oppressed people in Ethiopia.What they speak and describe are platinum pure truth which can unify the struggle towards liberation. All Opposition parties, movements and social entities that struggle to overthrow EPRDF/TPLF regime follow the enthusiastic personality and tailored emotion. Bravo My Brothers

  • Beza tigistu said:

    Now a day 4 millions people affected by drought and need immediate assistance in Ethiopia, but in the contrary PM Meles buying 200 tanks to protect himself. Sorry for this, do you remember during Mengistu regim in 1985 drought, The Woyane Radio in the forrest said that “Mengistu was drink whisky but military do not have cloth and peoples affected and dies by hunger”. Now eventual there is a serious problem from the Ethiopia government all events repeatedly doing by Meles Government. Look; forced military campaign, money contribution in the name of Aby, mind you telecommunication is the once tools to collect money (500 Birr/subscriber-with out knowing), replacement and resettlements, torture … every things repeat and more to be done.
    God bless Ethiopia
    Beza tigistu,

  • Sofia (author) said:

    An interview revealing the sorry state of Ethiopia by a bruthal racist regime.

  • Getachew Ghirmay said:

    Ethiopia has a future as long as it has people like Obang Metho and Abdikarin Rabi

    I am proud of you guys. keep the fight we are on your side although we are in a far away continant.


  • Ann_Garrison said:

    Great report, though I'm afraid that the guests' hopes of making Americans care about this are unrealistic.

  • Ann_Garrison said:

    Also, thanks to one of your guests for pointing to the oil and natural gas in the Ogaden. I just looked it up on the Web: http://somalilandpress.com/ethiopia-opens-biding-

  • ahmed said:

    an garrison yes u right we want emerican people to know what is happening in Ethiopia with is bad government and only one tribe woyane and guess what the money they get from western government instead of feeding the people they pay weapons ok remember that

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