By Abebe Gellaw (ESAT News) — The founding Executive Director of the Oakland Institute (OI), an independent policy think tank based in California, USA, has condemned cheap land giveaway deals that have been displacing indigenous communities from their ancestral land. In an exclusive interview with the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), Anuradha Mittal has said that the deals are illegal and should be voided.
She says that the land giveaway deals in Ethiopia have been causing great misery to the indigenous people, who are not even being consulted when their fertile land is given away to foreign agribusinesses to produce food and cash crops for export.
Mittal further pointed out that the land deals that has been destabilizing and detrimental to ordinary Ethiopians are illegal and should be voided. “These deals are illegal. The people’s voice has not been taken into consideration. These deals need to be voided,” she said.
“These leases are pretty atrocious. If you look at the price of land of this fertile land, which is close to water being given away for leases, which are 45, 50 or 90 years leases. There are no environmental, social impact assessments done,” she said. Mittal further noted that the Ethiopian government cares little about the impacts of these deals on powerless local communities that are being displaced as a result of the land giveaway. “You don’t find any kind of consultation process with the local communities because in Ethiopia land belongs to the government,” she noted. Lack of democracy and good governance is at the heart of such a situation, according to Mittal.
“We don’t find investment scheme that would result Ethiopia as a country, as an economic power, gaining any kind of advantages,” she said adding that the scheme appeared to allow “strategic investors” to rob Ethiopia’s rich resources and taking the benefit out of the country.
Earlier this year the Oakland Institute published special reports on seven countries severely affected by land grab. In its country report on Ethiopia, OI underlined that the land lease deals would aggravate food insecurity, have negative environmental impacts and devastate indigenous communities. According to the report, published earlier this year, over 3.6 million hectares of land has been transferred, largely to foreign agribusinesses.
Despite the fact that Meles Zenawi has been arguing that leasing away millions of hectares of “unutilized land” would ensure food security, OI’s chief says that the land grab rush has the opposite effect and can even sustain hunger and famine. “In the case of Ethiopia, you talk about a country where 13 million people are dependent on food aid. So you can imagine trucks full of aid coming to Ethiopia. On the other hand you have trucks full of cereals, cut flowers and agro fuels leaving the country. So it is just the juxtaposition of the two pictures that base the reality in Ethiopia.”
The OI chief emphasized that the commercial agribusinesses are not growing food for consumption within Ethiopia but for export. “This is food that is leaving Ethiopia. So has nothing to do in terms of food security”, she said.
“The kind of foreign investment in land that we are seeing in Ethiopia is basically a recipe for continued famine in Ethiopia. This is not going to lead to improved food security. This is not going to be supporting small holder farmers. It doesn’t provide a kind of incentives you need to grow and develop as a country,” she added.
Mittal further indicated that OI researchers who travelled to Ethiopia to investigate the impact of land giveaway discovered rampant violation of human rights and the indigenous people are denied their basic rights to raise their concerns. “Our researchers reported a lot of repression. They reported indigenous communities were hunted down like animals where they constantly asked if they support these plantations. They are supposed to say yes. If they would have say no beatings follow, rapes follow,” she said.
The OI director blamed the Ethiopian defense forces for enforcing the land giveaway deals. Mittal says that the defense force uses tanks to monitor “the areas where people are constantly being beaten or arrested if they voice their dissent.”
In Gambella, a region severely affected by land grab deals, the institute’s researchers found out that one of the Gambella National Park is being deforested and devastated by investors operating in the region including Karuturi and Saudi Star, which is owned by Sheik Mohammed Al Amoudi.
Another OI finding contained in its country report on Ethiopia and that has raised eye-brows is that up to 75 percent of land grab investors in Gambela affiliated with the TPLF. The OI country report on Ethiopia states: “It is widely perceived that Tigrayans receive beneficial treatment in relation to investment are given land freely and receive preferential access to credit. All but one of the domestic investors that we visited were from the Tigray region…One regional government official in Gambella estimated that 75 percent of the domestic investors in Gambella were from Tigray.” Mital said such a practice is a kind of colonialism.
Mittal argued that Ethiopia is a rich country with massive resources that can feed itself. She highlighted that people have to figure out how to remove the governance obstacle that is hindering the nation’s progress.
“History shows that if a country like Ethiopia continues to marginalize its own people, continues to ignore and show no respect to human rights, continues to practice schemes which will cause more food insecurity, we do know that there will be more hunger and poverty in Ethiopia. We do know from history that increased hunger and poverty leads to increased insecurity that leads to political instability,” the OI chief said.
Author of several books and reports, Mittal, is an internationally recognized expert on development, trade, human rights and agriculture issues. Recipient of several awards, she was named as the Most Valuable Thinker in 2008 by The Nation magazine.