Photo from the book The Horizon: History of Africa, American Heritage Publishing Co., New York, 1971, page 452.
17 February 2010 (gadaa) — The staunch supporter of Mr. Meles Zenawi’s land-grabbing policy, Mr. Ben of EthiopiaFirst.com, reports from Addis Ababa (Finfinne) about one of the latest prime farmland acquisitions in Gambella, southwestern Ethiopia. The conference eerily resembles the 1884 Berlin Conference convened to divide Africa among European colonialists (the Scramble for Africa) – photo is shown above.
Part II can be watched here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpXkf-9qmfY
Does This Really Benefit Gambella?
Tons of rice will be grown in Gambella, exclusively for exports. The State of Gambella has been promised by the central government, or to be specific, by the Office of the Prime Minister in Addis Ababa, that they would experience record employments, and basic facilities (health, schools, etc) would be built for them. The reality seen at similar megafarms acquired through Zenawi’s land-grabbing policy, however, is far from that.
In Beko, Oromia, a Washington Post journalist has reported that workers were turned from being farmers to being laborers with no improvement in their standards of living. Seeing some of the pictures from that report, it’s clear that the farmers-turned-laborers have been stripped off their dignity and reduced to “gebbars” on their own land.
In addition, let us not go any further and look at the coffee farmers of Ethiopia, who have produced, for generations, coffee grains worth billions of dollars, but their standards of living have continued to deteriorate while everyone else in the coffee industry has become filthy rich. What makes the rice export industry in Gambella or other land-grabbing projects elsewhere in the country so different from the coffee export-cum-exploitation industry? If you have not gotten the chance to see Black Gold, the documentary movie that exposes the unfairness of the coffee industry in Oromia, watch it here: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8rd0p_black-gold-part-1-of-8_news.
Clear Violations of State Rights
Notice that no representative of the State of Gambella, even for photo op purposes, was present at the “Scramble for Land” conference that Mr. Ben reported about. Even by the mediocre federalism standards of Zenawi’s government (where state government puppets are assigned and controlled by the Office of the Prime Minister), it’s an utter violation of state rights. It’s to be recalled that Mr. Meles Zenawi has disclosed (to Ben of EthiopiaFirst.com again) that the central government had taken over all land-grabbing activities (watch the interview here) because states (namely, Oromia, Gambella and Benishangul-Gumuz, where prime farmland is being sold to foreign governments like hot chocolates and cookies) were not qualified enough to administer such “grand undertakings.” Of course, they are no qualified personnels in state governments across the country – which proves the puppetry of the current system of federalism.
Without the States being represented there, who negotiates for their interests? With the interests of the little guys shunned out, the word “development” becomes a cunning for “exploitation.”
It is to be noted that Medrek, the major opposition coalition challenging the Zenawi government in the upcoming election, strongly opposes the violations of state rights at will by the still-strong central government, such as the case seen above. Analysts say Medrek’s stance on state rights is its strongest position appealing to Unionist southerners in Ethiopia.