Local communities are often unaware of land grabs until bulldozers
arrive and begin clearing terrain. The Ethiopian Heritage Society is appalled
at social and ecological consequences.
Ancestral Heritage Falls to Spurious Economic Development
Pushing for what it says is as a way for needed economic development and
the betterment of indigenous populations, the corrupt Ethiopian regime has put
up vast hectares of ancestral or heritage farmlands and pastures for lease to
the highest bidder.
The ruling party, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), has
used the nation’s socialist laws, that deem all property to be government-owned,
as license to lease away heritage lands across the country to foreign
corporations or investors from among Ethiopia’s political elite.
Ancient Legacies Ignored by Socialist Regime
The tribes people of Ethiopia have ancestral homelands in these vast
swathes of territory dating back thousands of years and have no formal deeds to
the property. The land legacies are preserved in generations of spoken history.
Since the use of these lands is cyclical, due to the unique ecological
niche the ancient peoples have carved in their Ethiopian environment, the TPLF
has deemed the lands as unused and therefore eligible for lease through the
regime’s land bank.
The indigenous populations are rarely consulted and are usually unaware
of any leases until the investors show up with their machinery and start
reworking the landscape to suit their horticultural or pasturage needs.
Ethiopian Heritage Society of North America Slams Homeland Leases
Concerned as it is with safe-guarding the heritage, the dignity, and the
fair compensation of indigenous peoples, the Ethiopian Heritage Society of
North America is appalled at the social and ecological effects of the regime’s
effort to lease tribal heritage lands and it condemns the continuation of the
present policies by the regime’s land bank.
Entering its second year of operation, the mission of the Ethiopian
Heritage Society of North America (EHSNA) is to promote and preserve the rich
heritage and traditions of the Ethiopian culture and its progenitors. Through
its efforts it hopes to establish a strong link between that heritage and the
new generation of Ethiopians born and raised during the Ethiopian Diaspora.
Cheap Labor, Thousand of Hectares for Plantations
In the central Oromia region alone, Indian investors have leased over
100,000 hectares for oil seed production, 28,000 for sugarcane plantations, and
10,000 for tomato cultivation. A Chinese company is poised to sign a 25,000
hectare concession to produce sugarcane in the Gambella region of western
Ethiopia. (One hectare is approximately 2.5 acres.)
Apparently the investors have also been told that they will have access
to cheap and abundant labor as well as practically unlimited water resources.
The prospect of further damming of the headwaters of the Nile has nations
downriver grumbling. Many tribal elders see their young people becoming
disenfranchised plantation workers laboring on their heritage lands with no
profit-sharing and little benefit.
International Organizations Decry Land Transfers
The Oakland Institute recently released a study, “Understanding Land
Investment Deals in Africa, Country Report: Ethiopia.” The report explains how
Commercial investment will increase rates of food insecurity in the
vicinity of leased lands.
Large discrepancies exist between publicly stated positions, laws,
policies and procedures and what is actually happening on the ground.
No limits on water use, no Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), and
no environmental controls weakens the indigenous people.
Displacement from farmland is widespread, and the vast majority of
locals receive no compensation.
There is no meaningful pre-project assessment, and little in the way of
local benefits associated with these land investments.
EHSNA and Survival International, a British charity that campaigns for
the rights of indigenous people, argue that communities’ rights are being
trampled. Activists spoke of a widespread fear of reprisals for speaking out
and predicted armed resistance to what they see as a government land grab.
A report this month from Survival also claimed that over 100 individuals
from the Mursi and Bodi tribes were arrested for protesting a lease plan.
“Africa Rising: Economic progress vs. cultural preservation in Ethiopia,” a
news report in the Christian Science Monitor dated October 27, 2011, affirmed
the above circumstances.
Leaders and Journalists Arrested in Mid-September
These reports of land grabs come on the heels of arrests made in
mid-September by the TPLF government police of renowned Ethiopian journalist
Enskinder Nega and Andulalem Andargie, the popular vice president of Unity for
Democracy and Justice (UDJ). They were hauled off to the TPLF’s infamous
Those arrests came in the wake of over 30arrests made earlier; among
them were actor Debebe Eshetu and opposition party leader Bekele Gerba of the
Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM). Leaders and members of the Oromo
People’s Congress (OPC) were also rounded up. Both parties are legally
registered with the current government.
The regime has recently charged journalists with acts of terrorism;
among them: Reyot Alemu (columnist, Fiteh), Woubeshet Taye (Deputy Editor,
Awramba Times), Elias Kifle (editor, US-based Ethiopian Review website), and
Swedish journalists, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye.
Ethiopian Heritage Society of North America Seeks Support
EHSNA demands release of all detainees without conditions or charges. It
calls on Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans to appeal to the U.S. government,
their elected representatives, and to the American people to end the land grabs
and to lend their moral and financial support to those arrested and their
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