« The Historic North African People’s Uprising and Its Implication for American Foreign PolicyEthiopia Does the constitution apply to the EPRDF? »

Land Grab in Ethiopia intensifies Gambela’s woes



  10:04:16 pm, by admin   , 4091 words  
Categories: Ethiopia, Genet Mersha

Land Grab in Ethiopia intensifies Gambela’s woes

Ethiopia : International agri-capital farm renting intensifies Gambela’s woes

By Genet Mersha

A sketch of an entangled web of conflicts

In terms of area, Gambela is 25,802.01 sq. km (2.9 million hectare = 6.4 million acre), the magnitude of which is best realized by thinking of it in terms of 57 Cairos or 27 metropolitan New Yorks or 24 Moscows being its equivalence.

Throughout its history, studies have shown, the Gambela region of Ethiopia has known little else than low level of existence and inter-communal conflicts, mostly driven by local economic interests (land, water, forests, cattle, women) and tribal dominance. There are five ethnic groups in Gambela claiming to be indigenous. Therefore, the first level competition and rivalry has been between the two major ethnic groups—Nuer, representing 40 percent of all inhabitants, and the Anuaks 27 percent, according to the 2007 census. Of the three remaining, Majangir is estimated at 6 percent, the Opo and Komo 3 per cent each.

In terms of faith, over 70 percent of Gambelans are Protestants (215,092), followed by Orthodox Christians (51,454), Catholics (10,356), and Islam (14,919), traditional (11,682) and other (3,413), as registered in the census data. Gambela is the least developed and historically most neglected part of Ethiopia, for which successive governments had little interest other than being frontier with neighboring Sudan, with whom Ethiopia used to have difficult relations and anticipates an uncertain future. Moreover, Ethiopia on one hand and the Khartoum government and the Southern Sudan liberation forces on the other have used one group against the other, deepening the seeds of conflict in the region.

By the estimates of the 2007 Ethiopian population census, Gambela’s inhabitants are 306,916. This number includes 144,703 migrants. These are locally referred to as “highlanders” with the animosity the word entails, as they are a resettled group escaping drought and famine from all affected parts of Ethiopia. The resettlement project, an initiative of the World Bank, is sill continuing, as the most feasible response to the recurrent cycles of drought in the country, and has been supported by both past and present governments. Since that census, the number of internal migrants from drought-affected parts of Ethiopia has significantly increased, deepening Gambela’s woes as a boiling pot, instead of a melting pot.

Unlike its past, today Gambela is in uneasy calm; so was told UN-IRIN last September by a “well-placed local source.” Unfortunately, as if the heavy lid placed on the unresolved inter-ethnic problems of the region is not enough, all the more people have been made uncertain about their future, following their rude awakening since 2009 by a new form of disenfranchisement by international agri-capital. Today, Gambelan villages are swarmed by a high number of Asian and Arab entrants with large farms here and there. The guests seem determined to displace the people from their natural environs. Between the areas they have lived in and are attached with have now come huge plantations, seemingly rushing to touch horizons of the skies they have known all along.

The tense political environment in Gambela is also an amplification of the multi-layered struggles within Ethiopia, where the individual citizen is repressed, deprived of human and civil rights, judicially short-changed wherein the nation remains politically unsettled and economically endlessly distressed. This view would bring criticism of obliviousness to the changes that have been taking place until now. That criticism may be legitimate, if the attributes of citizenship and what it entails are differentiated by some criteria or measures. Otherwise, such criticism arises from pure turf protection of a political and economic nature, the specifics of which may reflect possible alignment with either the power center or proximity to the economic pot.

For a good reason, the situation in Gambela has offered everyone issues to pick from. We have seen for over a decade local and international human rights groups fighting in defense of the human dignity of all Gambelans. Defenders of indigenous people’s rights have picked the rights of minorities for over two decades, seemingly narrow, but very important for a country such as Ethiopia that has pockets of minorities not only as entities in its hinterland, but also with all its implications along the shared frontiers with more unstable neighbors. Not only that the latter group underline the responsibility of the national government under international law to protect minorities. But they also stress the delicacy of the issue and the dangers of forced acculturation or assimilation as Gambela’s tinderbox.

Like all other hostilities and conflicts in Ethiopia, past and present, governments have systematically chosen to tip their hands to serve their interests of control and exercise of power. Also, neighboring Sudan and its internal rebel forces have played far more harmful roles than can be described, owing to the conflicts they exported into Gambela. Perhaps Gambela is one region where the formation of modern states, Ethiopia and Sudan, against the canvas of ethnicity has exposed the heavy-handedness of the processes that resulted in the split of same ethnic groups, for instance as in the case of the Nuers of Ethiopia and the Sudan.

While the border is invisible for these people, it has also reminded them its presence in times of clan conflicts. Today, the sum of all these has shortened the fuse for escalation of conflicts at anytime, especially in future, depending on developments in the soon to be borne nation of Southern Sudan and what would be left of the divorce in the north and the Nile River flowing north. In the meantime, Gambela’s political problems remain unaddressed, as forced assimilation remains. In a June 2007 publication of the Centre for Policy Research and Dialogue (Gambela: The impact of local conflict on regional security, 2007) and, having conducted field studies in Gambela, Medhane Tadesse sees the problems as consequences of past and present actions and inactions.
He observes, “Successive projects of state building and wealth accumulation driven from the centre have targeted their peripheries, entrusting client groups with the task of policing the frontiers. This combines with the increasing availability of guns and veterans to help militarise ethnicity, weakening civil dispute and traditional conflict mechanisms.” He adds further states:

This is attributable in part to the nature of the state, which presides over unequal distribution of political power and natural resources. Owing to misguided or failed nation-building processes, most of the states in the sub-region [Horn of Africa] do not reflect the interests and character of all their citizens. This is compounded by the nature of coercive powers of the state, the projection and use of power by governments to suppress conflict (mainly along their peripheries), and ultimately the strength of militarism as a political culture. Throughout the Horn, certain ethnic groups, typically living in borderlands, have become tribes-in-arms, their social structure and even sense of identity closely bound up with their military organisation and the AK 47.

Although calm has returned, Gambela is far from having found the ultimate solution to its problems that all along have mired it into conflicts. The ethnic federalism in which the TPLF prides itself and was recently celebrated for its “miracles” in “ending decades long conflicts” with an international conference, in Medhane Tadesse’s assessment, it has not provided the concerned “local actors” [I take it he means the people] the power and influence to prevent conflict. He describes the problem as follows:

The primary reasons that the new political structure has so far failed to bring stability to the region is because the post-1991 political order produced new political minorities, and the various groups have failed to strike a political bargain and articulate a regional interest. Instead, they have sought to capture fragments of the regional state and its institutions.

I wish Prof. Medhane Tadesse had ventured further to find out whether that is intentional on the part of the architects of Ethiopia’s regional decentralization and federalism due to their own political interests or a reflection of the limits of their of vision! To my mind, this problem would linger as long so long as Ethiopia does not establish by law and culture clear separation between the state and government, political party and the nation. This continued lumping together of these has only encouraged in anyone that seizes power the attitude “we own everything and can do anything under the Ethiopian sky.” This has enfeebled citizens and made the country booty for the few and prison for the majority.

Rule by international agri-capital

Modern agricultural and earth moving machineries of all sorts, owned and run by agri-companies, are turning the soils inside out, destroying forests and beginning to pollute the environment in that hitherto mostly unopened land to get more produces. Even the much-awaited World Bank report on farm renting was reasonably transparent in stating that in Ethiopia “few agricultural investment projects had an environmental impact assessment (EIA) as required by law. Key reasons were a lack of capacity and a rush to approve projects by the investment authority that precluded sectoral agencies from performing due diligence”(Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits? 2010).

Naturally, the locals feel completely helpless and resent their guests, for they have mercilessly destroyed the forests legacy of generations. Further, limits are set on fishermen, farmers regarding grazing lands and in general what they can and cannot do or use and cannot. It was reported that persons with police and military backgrounds armed with AK47 are protecting the investments. After interviewing local framers, Addis Fortune (23 August 2009) wrote:

The farmers, however, claim that they are no longer able to farm teff and nigger seeds to support their lives, albeit the land does not belong to them. Their access to grazing land has been taken over, leading to a rush to sell their herds, they say. Local farmers have told Fortune that the price of cattle in a nearby market has gone down from ETB 2,500 to 1,500.
After examining the land contracts, a report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) confirmed the concerns of the locals noting, “The long-term nature of the leases – commonly up to 100 years – mean that local communities will be separated from the land for generations. This threatens to eradicate longstanding livelihood strategies and agricultural knowledge. Also, some contracts grant investors priority rights over water, which can have adverse impacts on other water users in times of water shortage.” In unusual candidness, the above-mentioned World Bank report also states, “some large investors not only received land and water free of charge, but also got tax benefits. This gave them an advantage over local smallholders who had to pay land taxes and various other fees but, to the extent that compensation is paid only for improvements rather than land itself, also constituted a regressive subsidy from the poor to the rich.”

The government has often reiterated the purpose of farm renting as a vehicle for job opportunities for the local people. True, some have been offered jobs for meager pay by any standard, about which a former Indian sugarcane cutter, now an employer within Karuturi Global, opined with a mix of shock and a ‘do gooder’ sense, “People here are very poor. They would work for 1 birr ($0.060) and no one else pays more than 5 birr ($0.30). So we are paying double" (Ethiopia – country of the silver sickle – offers land dirt cheap to farming giants, The Guardian, 15 January, 2009). He was actually shedding crocodile tears. Farmers told Addis Fortune that his company promised ETB 20 -25 [$1.78 to 2 then, now $1.20 to 1.50]. When Karuturi started work they were only offered ETB 7 to 8 a day.

Again, in that regard, the unvarnished conclusion of the World Bank’s report establishes, “Expected job creation in Ethiopia is similarly limited, with an average of 0.005 jobs/ha for cases where figures are given. Planned capital investments also vary widely, from US$27/ha for mixed livestock farming to US$21,000/ha for sugarcane.” The view circulating with high frequency in the corridors of power in Addis Ababa is to continue to give more lands to solve the problems of peace and poverty in the country. That was the purpose of the mission of the minister of agriculture to India from end January to beginning of February. So far Indians have received 1.8 million hectares in Ethiopia, the bulk of it in Gambela, without including the hundreds and thousands of hectares more requests already in the pipeline (Walta Information Center, 2 February 2011).

The government thinks such remote and long neglected people could only change with more jobs promised, now at a rate of $0.030 an hour (2011 rate), promises of cheaper food being sold by agri-companies in the local market. For instance, Sheik Al-Amoudi told the press his offer to sell 40 percent of his production in the local market. Al-Amoudi’s offer is not part of the farm rent deal, nor is it also clear for how long he would do that. Surely, it would help him soften the criticisms against him. For instance, when this story of selling part of the produce to the local market arose, an irked Indian investor-farmer recently said he was not bound by any of that, pointing to his contract with the government. How could a government count on this, instead of helping local farmers to improve their productive on capacities? After the collapse of its agriculture-led industrialization policy, the TPLF-led EPRDF government has turned to eradicating poverty, without building capacity of individual farmers to produce for themselves, to the market and build assets for themselves.

I have not stopped wondering what makes farm-investors this time around any different from oil companies? All the same, e.g. Shell produces oil, mainly to benefit the company and its investors. Large-scale food produces have also done the same, paying meager subsistence wages to farm workers. Their contribution to poverty eradication is negligible, if not non-existent, limited to fattening the pockets of elites in power. Since the 2008 escalating food prices, investors have moved in with vengeance to produce more and more food with modern machinery and technologies. I have no doubt that food production would dramatically increase, without the food and oil producing developing countries ever benefitting.

Countries such as Ethiopia—the epitome of famine and poverty the world has associated with emaciated people—looks forward to changing the lives of its people by renting farmlands and producing cash crops to buy food with the earnings, as the State Minister of Agriculture Abera Deressa told Bloomberg in October. Because of that, policy positions one hears from Ethiopia and the actions the policies they operationalize do no indicate that in future food prices would repeat the same price unaffordability with increasingly shorter spans of time. What the current policy of farm renting does in Ethiopia is denying future generations any options, locked in century-long contracts and every time opening new lands in the process accelerating environmental damages

In contrast, the dividends of investors in agri-companies, such as private equity capital or any of those several investment vehicles or networks of funds or the vast wealth of individual tycoons such as Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi or Mohammed Al-Amoudi increase all the time, taking more and more control of peoples lives across countries. For instance, Sheik Al-Amoudi is a wealthy person with businesses in many countries around the world and has made agribusiness his latest platform through Saudi Star aiming at his next billion(s). In 2010, his net worth, according to Forbes list of billionaires, is estimated at $10 billion. Between the last publication of the list in 2009 and 2010, the sheik has made another billion dollars, demonstrating his keen awareness of where fortunes lie—which the Ethiopian government cannot see. With no malice, I say good for him!

Needless to state major beneficiaries from the existing model of food, oil, mineral, and etc. production are investors (companies and wealthy individuals). They should, because they have put their wealth and knowhow into the production processes. Nevertheless several decades of experiences have shown that the lives of common peoples in the countries where food, oil or minerals are produced have not changed and are unlikely to change—because they are not beneficiaries or are not helped into becoming asset owners. Otherwise, had that not been the case, the level of global human distress and the sharply rising level of poverty at the end of a decade of the UN Millennium Development Goals should have shown a different picture.

The problem is in the quality of the deals and the secrecy behind them. These deals are made between companies and individual investors on one side and the elites in power that are the second line beneficiaries. For a simple relative quality differences one should compare the Ethiopian farmland deals with that of Liberia. The key here is what IIED’s Lorenzo Cotula has put his fingers on:

Very large land deals are bound to impact on existing rights, even if the intensity of current resource use is low. Dealing with these situations fairly requires careful weighing of individual and societal interests. But the gap between legality – whereby the government may formally own much if not all the land – and legitimacy – whereby local people feel the land they have used for generations is theirs – exposes local groups to the risk of dispossession and investors to that of local contestation. The fact that many land deals are negotiated behind closed doors and without local consultation compounds these problems, with negative impacts not just for local people, but ultimately also investors and host governments (source: IIED, Why it makes more sense to invest in farmers than in farmland, July 2010).

Why this article now?

On 11 February 2011, I felt hammered on the head. That was the time I read the announcement on the state-owned Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) that the Ethiopian-Saudi tycoon Sheik Mohammed Hussein Al-Amoudi owner, among others, of the Saudi Star Agricultural Development Company would develop more than 250,000 ha of land with rice in Gambela State. For the last two years, he has already been operating, among others, 10,000 ha of land in Gambela state, whose rice was exported to Saudi Arabia. Al-Amoudi said the rice development project for the 250,000 ha has now cost him more than $450 million.

Saudi Star was established on 20 August 2009, with a capital of ETB 500 million [about $394 million at the time], according to Addis Fortune of 13 Dec. 200. At the time, Mr Al-Amoudi had requested the Investors Support Directorate of the agriculture ministry to take 200,000 ha more land. With a promise that he would be given more when he was ready and was granted then only 10,000 ha. Esayas Kebede, head of the investors’ support directorate of the agriculture ministry officially confirmed at the time for the media, “We will give them [Saudi Star additional] land in the same area once they have started operation.” Saudi Star’s long-term plan is said to be to develop 500,000 ha. Saudi Star promotes itself as the first rice producer in Ethiopia and is also planning to grow maize, wheat and sugarcane, possibly in the Benishangul Gumuz Regional State and the Amhara Regional State.

On his part President of the regional state Umod Ubong indicated 1.2 million hectares of land has been identified in the state for potential investors. In dismissing as propaganda of anti-development forces the concern that the present model of development chosen for Gambela and other regions Ethiopia would impede balanced development for individuals working hard, the president expressed his elation at the fact that the flow of local and foreign investors [far renters] has been increasing in the region.

The fact of the matter is that Afar, Somali Gambela and Benishangul Gumuz Regional states are far behind than the others in underdeveloped Ethiopia. They are also among the five that do not have areas demarcated for development purposes nor for national forests, or certification available for landholders. Therefore, it has been seen with sufficient evidences even in states with land certification, where small farmers are pushed off their lands in favour of agri-developers.

It is unfortunate that we lack capacity to recognize crisis situation and call it by its real name, as it happens. Often, we only acknowledge it, after it has affected several lives. One may say that this view is missing the point. However, that would not change the reality that crisis is in the making in Gambela and elsewhere farm renting has taken place under shady deals. Still there may be some who might wonder why we could not cheer for the immense investments to develop Gambela and benefit Ethiopia?

The simple answer is that with $0.030 cents an hour labor cost, the whole venture is only designed to benefit the investor, but not the people of Ethiopia. Secondly, as mentioned above, the lives of the people would not improve without being able to hold assets and become producers. With this model of development, the workers would not make reasonable earning, even if on the side to supplement their income. That is not possible.

Thirdly, in this envisioned structure of production, the people in the region and in the country elsewhere would be left with weak and undeveloped labor force and underdeveloped agrarian system. The country cannot cope with further diminution of its vital resources—the small-scale farmers—natural resources, rare biodiversity assets, some of them new to science. We have repeatedly been given the baloney of job creation and technology transfer. Instead what we see is the beginnings of accelerated environmental destruction and destitution.

We need to worry today as more and more foreign companies and investors take possession of agricultural lands in developing countries. For in Ethiopia, while some protected forests and national parks have already been defined, designated and demarcated, according to some studies the latest including by Imeru Tamrat, even some of those that are designated have not been demarcated nor protected by law. The main problem, as these studies have found out, is lack of human resources, institutional capacities and visionary leadership that is willing to see beyond immediate foreign exchange needs and is in the habit of resorting to expedient measures.

In view of these inadequacies, gambling with unbridled human encroachments is likely to impede protection and preservation of the few remaining forests and wildlife sanctuaries. Already the record of the TPLF-led EPRDF government in the development, protection and preservation of forests and natural resources has been terribly bad, as can be seen from the tables below, compiled on the basis of FAO data sources. More appropriately, in its Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 the FAO has designated Ethiopia as one of the eleven countries in the world an example of “largest volume of wood removals.” In terms of ranking on that score, it stands in seventh place between China and Indonesia.

Investment is not a question of charity. The driving vehicle of any investment is money making. Sheik Al- Amoudi’s charity of putting 40 percent of his produce to the domestic market is, let say, a good gesture in difficult times such as severe problems with availability of food for the government to buy and distribute. As a businessman, he is fully aware that this will not empower the Ethiopian people or stop hunger and poverty. The best solution, as the saying has it, is to give fishing tools and equipment, instead of fish. That cannot be emphasized sufficiently as the primary role of government to create conditions for that.

A little over a year ago, we heard from Asegide Haile, a former Ethiopian government minister, now a senior official in Al-Amoudi’s company saying, Saudi Star is “examining the possibility of handing over some of the land in Gambela to local families once it has been developed,” according to the Irish Times of 31 January 2010. Mary Fitzgerald, who travelled to Gambela and interviewed MIDROC officials as well as Sai Karuturi, further heard from Asegide saying, “We are doing a study on it at the moment,”… assumed to be probably “allocating one hectare per family….It will be a type of outsourcing . . . Our interest is not only to harvest rice, wheat and corn, it is also to develop the region.” If they stick by this pledge, it is an idea whose time has come, subject to the small prints.

Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi of the Karuturi Global is at least frank. He said in 2010, he wants to become the largest global food producer. He sees himself as person on a mission. He told Mary Fitzgerald, “We are on a mission to make a difference . . . when we produce three million tonnes it will be nearly half a per cent of the world’s cereal production,” he says. “How many people will have the opportunity to do something which meaningfully impacts on humanity like that?”

I have no problem with that, so long as he builds his food empire without denying possibilities to others, especially those who work or him and their families, and does good by the region.


Comment from: Africa [Visitor]

This women is very intelligent and knows her issues so well. I only get educated every time she writes. Only if there is a way for her to share her views more often

02/19/11 @ 23:28
Comment from: [Member]

I was expecting from this writer and almaria, on their weekly rant, to write about the chaos Ethiopia is gonna have to topple EPRDF. Looks like the long awaited unrest which was salivated by all Ethiopian enemys, didn’t happen. Will never happen. So this writer chose to change his/her attantion to the usual land grab accusation.
Our govt is working hard by attracting investors and implementing the on going transformation and growth plan accordingly. While our enemys call CULTIVATING LAND being land selling. How else are we going to feed the ever growing population in Ethiopia or how are we going to be self sufficient, if we just keep watching and admiring our natural foresteries and wait for the usual WOFF ZERASH?

02/20/11 @ 00:41
Comment from: -Nati [Visitor]

The article if full of detailed informations which gives some further clarifications on farm renting dispute specially in Gambela. Even though I have no a sufficient knowledge on this issu I would say that every investement brings some benefits to the local people and also likely brings some profit in the country’s economic future. At the same time such kind of decision will certainly have some important negative consequences on the population particularly on the people living in that particular area as well as in the whole environment. So my point is that Since many years, despite of these fertile farm lands in different parts of the country, we are still unable to feed our population. So why don’t we try it now with these foreign investors who are planning to inject the modernized agricaltural system to our backward farming system ? Why don’t we dare to take this risk ?

02/20/11 @ 05:07
Comment from: Next call [Visitor]
Next call

Gambela is the most sparsely populated region in Ethiopia and there is more than ample land for a quarter of a million residents. Mersha is missing this fact and bombarding us with numbers and articles which wont cut it. The kind of investments being undertaken need millions of dollars and more importantly know how. The Indians have proven in their capacity and time will tell how this will evolve. As for the Good Sheikh, He does put his money where his mouth is and has been good for the country. His vision for building the first five star hotel known as the Sheraton ushered the new building boon in Addis. It looks the locals are following Mr Alamoudi and Khartori as an article in Reporter stated that local Ambo investors have taken 200000 hectares from the Oromia region for similar type of ventures. Now we know, Mersha and others should catch up and set up share companies like the folks in Ambo and join the bonanza instead of wasting their times scribing all sort of nonsense. Genet seem to be caught in the latest fanfare of opposing land allocation for agriculture. They don’t offer an alternative. Only 15% of arable land is cultivated in Ethiopia and this is the most important factor which should be taken into consideration, every time so called ‘ concerned xenophobic’ intellectuals decide to abhor govt. As much as i think the lease price could have been better, i can’t advocate for letting the status quo prevail just because ….

Finally I want to quote President De Lula of Brazil, who in the recent Major International Economic Forum held in Dakar,Senegal, stated that 10% of African Savannah can feed the World.

02/20/11 @ 05:44
Comment from: Next call [Visitor]
Next call

A Nation of 80 million can’t be at the mercy of a quarter of a million inhabitants of Gambela who will still have ample land left once a million or so hectare is given to those who have the means and resources to develop it!

02/20/11 @ 05:49
Comment from: Akilo [Visitor]  

They should join South Sudan

02/20/11 @ 06:41
Comment from: Werner2010 [Visitor]

Dear author,
I appreciate your concern for Ethiopia, but what have you done so far for your country, except scribbling frequent inflamatory articles finding faults about every thing that the current government does? It is true, that the land deals (details on tax, rent and lease time) should be more transparent. Concerns of the local people as well as environmental and labour aspects should have more weight in future negotiations.
By the way, the minimum wage paid by Karuturi is 600 Birr/month = $0,60 Cent a day plus 3 meals) and that is more than what a soldier earns in Ethiopia (450Birr). Further Karuturi says that he “creates up to 20,000 jobs and has plans to build a hospital, a cinema, a school and a day-care center in the settlement.” I hope it is true. Alamoudi’s company pays a much higher wage and has benifites, that many young people want to work for him.
Your claim that the government didn’t care for the environment is not correct. The government has a sound policy and plan to rehabilitate the country’s forest, and the people are becoming increasingly ecoconscious.
There are many aspects of these land leases that are not clear and should be critisized, but don’t exaggerate and give credit where it is due.

02/20/11 @ 09:09
Comment from: tulu [Visitor]

I am uneducated person so can anyone help me understand what LAND GRAB means?

The way I understand it is those white people grab our land and take our land to their own country leave us with no land… is that what it means?

I think our govt. should check every white man or women who try to go out of Ethiopia hiding any land with them. in fact they should be forced to wish their feet before they leave Ethiopia even our dirt should not leave our beloved Ethiopia.

One more point Ethiopians who live in Ethiopia should buy American land, I mean GRAB it and take it to Ethiopia then only those American will understand how it feel when outsider came and grap their land….

02/20/11 @ 09:31
Comment from: Kena Keb [Visitor]
Kena Keb

I am commenting on Genet Mersha’s article as an Ethiopian who has travelled extensively in Gambella Awraja(as it was called then) and who can proudly contend that I know much more than what Genet claims. Nothing makes me so thrilled to see the asphalt road that is nearing completion from Gore to Gambella- Jikawo(I used to drive a 4-wheel drive car on a very rough road from Gore to Gambella for 6 hours at least,and drive from Gambella to Jikawo on a non existing road during the few months in the dry season or by motor boat on Baro river,which took at least 10 hours or so).
Because the 85% or so of Ethiopian farmers were unable to produce enough food and combined with the incompetent food distribution system that existed then, two big famines epitomized Ethiopia where horrendous images of emaciated children and adults were flashed on tv screens all over the world. It was soon realized by the present government that it would be a futile attempt to maintain this status and expect the 85% of farmers to miraculously solve food shortge in Ethiopia. By allowing foreign as well as local investors to produce food on less than 5% of the land that is not even used by the farmers, seems to have caused fury by people of all walks of life including fierce and baseless reactions by people like Genet Mersha and Aklog Birara from the world of the anti-Ethiopia diaspora elites and their disciples.
True, Gambella has been an area where conflicts were common primarily because of the problems in the then South Sudan(soon to be an independent country)and the maladministration that existed then but as Genet surprisingly admits, calm has returned and Gambella has become the centre of attraction,among other things, for agricultural development.
The characterization of the situations in Gambella as the “production of new political minorities” by professor Medhane Tadesse can only be termed, in my opinion, a bigotry which disapproves minorities from deciding on their own fate. Government officials, police officers etc assigned even at the woreda level, used to be highlanders and no indigenous people were to be trusted. Now appointing people like ato Omod Obang(and not Umod Ubong as Genet misspelled which shows how little she knows about the people and the region!) as the chief administrator of the region,is a proof that ethnic federalism is real and working.
Cattle raising and farming teff is not a life style that would describe the people in Gambella. The presence of tsets fly would not simply allow raising cattle in many parts of Gambella and teff was chiefly brought in to Gambella from the highlands of Illubabor and Wollega. There were no people who one can really call as fishermen in Gambella since people lived for their daily consumptions from the fish they cought in Baro river and other rivers in the area. Hunting wild animals,catching fish from the rivers and planting mashila,maize etc along the rivers, was the source of nutritious food which can characterize the people of the region as very healthy and strong except tropical diseases like malaria and sleeping sickness(trypanosomiasis) that were the major health problems.
Coming back to the trendy word “land grabbing", would Genet Mersha, Aklog Birara and other so called environmentalists who only want people to live in very backward living conditions to quench the disres of tourists on safari holiday trips to take sensational photos of naked people who they would term as savages?? Or are we waiting miracles to happen from the 85% or so farmers who live on the meagre produce they earn from their farms not even enough to feed themselves, to feed over 80 million Ethiopians? True, there are always some undesired effects that can be encountered in any process of development be it agriculture, urbanization,health projects etc etc . The government is well aware of these problems and has candidly said that it will try to avert this problems from happening. Sheik Al-Amoudi, an Ethiopian by the way, is not running a charity organization in Ethiopa. He has invested so much of his wealth in Ethiopia whose end products he may not see in his life time. Pointing one’s fingers at him is only a behaviour which we are very familiar with from the world of the anti-Ethiopia diaspora elites and their deisciples who do not wish any good for Ethiopia.
I adivice Genet Mersha and others to watch a clip( on what Sheik Al-Amoudi said in front of a television camera crew in Gambella about his project and his plans for the people there as well as what the workers there say what fascilites the project provides to them and how much they earn.
Using less than 5% of the uninhabited land does not in any way jeopardize the lives of farmers or people living on the rest of the 95% of the land in Ethiopia. Using this argument to pick points against the Ethiopian government can be described as a futile attempt by the diaspora community to perpetuate their bigotry and spread barrages of misinformation only to satisfy their political ends. What is being done in Ethiopia is not only “land grabbing” as Genet Mersha and her friends want to call it, but other developmental projects all over the country,whose combined effects will force poverty for good into the archives of history in Ethiopia. Genet Mersha(who, I hope will retreat and apologize from the lashing comments she made in criticizing Dr Elleni G/Madhin, who founded the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange which is now an exemplary success story that has caught attention internationally)and her friends in the diaspora community will soon bow their heads in disgrace and total submission to the realities that is unfolding at a greater pace in Ethiopia,which they refuse to stomach.

Ethiopia shall prosper!!

02/20/11 @ 10:02
Comment from: YD [Visitor]

People of South Sudan should act as soon as possible to save their brothers in Gambella (Nu’eri and Anuwak) from blood sucker abyssinians who is now selling these humble people to greedy Arabs. Historically people of south Sudan had been sold by North sudan to Arabs but now same people are being sold alive with their lands by by genetically illetrate habasha people to new version of Arabs who buy humanbeing with their own land. Gambella, historically and genoelogically, is part of sudan and they deserve help of south sudan.

02/20/11 @ 10:09
Comment from: Samory Ture [Visitor]
Samory Ture

Why will the $0.030 an hour labor cost be a back breaker for the worker? Explain your arbitrary number.

You also said that the lives of the people would not improve without being able to hold assets and become producers.

What does Al Amoudi has to do with people not being able to hold assets or not. Was it al Amoudi who prevents people from holding asset? where?

You also said that with this model of development, the workers would not make reasonable earning, even if on the side to supplement their income. That is not possible.

What is it you call a “reasonable” earning? Is it 0.05 0.07 0.09 0.112 what is it? Now be reasonable with your claims and provide a number and the basis upon which that number is built.

You also said : Thirdly, in this envisioned structure of production, the people in the region and in the country elsewhere would be left with weak and undeveloped labor force and underdeveloped agrarian system.

How is Al Amoudi’s project would lead to weak and underdeveloped labor force?
Now suppose Al Amoudi decides to suspend his operation in Gambela? Now what? Would that make the labor force stronger and developed?

Now go on, make your case. Explain yourself.

02/20/11 @ 10:09
Comment from: k A [Visitor]
k A

Mrs Genet It is not important to spen time to argue with you the facts about the land lease in Ethiopia. it is easy to tel you YES, YES , because it doesnot make any change to you huge and heap of lies and fabrications.What are you going to do ? you are still going to tell a lie any ways . You guys (Almariam, Elias K . etc) like to tell and make lies,Trust me if do not tel a lie ,I think your rectum irritates you, I dont know why?Is it DELLUSION? Is it Illusion? or obsession?God give us mercy!! wha kind of era are we living??In your mind Ethiopia is sold ,including its air zone the last 5 or 6 years ago ,according to your fabrication, so where does it come a land now to be sold? wasn’t it finished yoers ago ?
Are you (you all, Almariam, Genet, Elias ,Isayas A, )live to lie? created to lie.
keep lieing till you die ,because you don’t fear God you don’t fear to lie!!!!!!!

02/20/11 @ 10:52
Comment from: [Member]

Woizero Genet what is the point of your article? Are you suggesting farming in Ethiopia to stay on subsistence level? Are you suggesting that ethiopia doesn’t need big mechanized farms to self sustain food production?
or are you suggesting Ethiopia to go back to socialism? Woizer Genet there are only two ways one is to encourage large scale mechanized farming or embrace the old way and rely on subsistence farming. The latter didn’t work so the country has to follow a new direction and this is progress and it is nothing to whine about. I admire one thing from your article, you are one of the few who knew how many tribes live in Gambella

02/20/11 @ 11:29
Comment from: C'moi senait [Visitor]
C'moi senait

To be honest ethiopia needs à devlopement which is Fare .I have no any objection to India/ china WHO are now doing à great job compared to the western donners and beggers development.

We ethiopians are should stop begging . I Know it is à sensetive political matter but let’ s see in five years time…

02/20/11 @ 11:53
Comment from: tulu [Visitor]

Yes I am wasting my time

This very hot topic it seems the moderation…

The dead king of Ethipian refused to allow the oil company to find oil in Ethiopia saying “my own kids will find the oil” This onle liner was a reply to American company demand to keep 75% of the profit to themselves instead of sharing 50%-50%

The stroy goes the same company accpeted by the Arabs with only 25% profit sharing… now it is only a matter of arument who had it good the dead king or the Arab king.

Now the Arab or international investors come to invest in our country yes they might keep the 75% profit at the begining my point is once the international investors invested for 20 years they would be better off staying in Ethiopia by sharing much of their profit.

Again let do the math if we have 100million investor to day Ethiopia will get only 20 million that would not look much but with in few year the investment grow to 100billion and Ethiopia or Gambela will get 20billion dollower the part of profit sharing…

LOOk China they didn’t develop by themselves the American companies invested billion dollers at that time the china could have said we will not allowed American company to come and explit our people and closed their door

Food is worth more the oil if you have no money you will not import oil but you will not die but food if you don’t have it you will die therefore the whole world need food without food they will die…

Imigin if America want the can stop the import of china goods but food you can’t stop otherwise you die hence Ethiopia can become the world supplier of food just like china is the world workshop…

Ethiopia is very neer to all Arab counties and EU… WE can export our food very cheap and and we can afford to grow nutural food hnce just like china we will under cut every one

Todo that we can’t do it by ourself we need interenational hlep… just look Arab cunry they didn’t develop their country using their own people they imported cheap worker from india that doesn’t hurt their own country

Ethiopians wakeup from your 3000 seelp and open your eyes even American need outsider to develop….

we can’t closed our door to outsider and develop we try it for the last 40 years if not 3000 years… even India are open for business after closing their door to outsider for the last 60 years…

02/20/11 @ 14:15
Comment from: Imperial Body Guard [Visitor]
Imperial Body Guard

The neo-colonial land administration of ethnic federalism will be drawing to a close along with its weak foundation which is on the verge of collapse. Surely the alien puppet billionaires can sense the instability in the North of Africa due to oppressive regimes which will not stand the test of time. No longer will EPRDF be considered legitimate by foreign governments once the people of Ethiopia take back their God given human rights and land rights.
Self-sufficiency for Ethiopia must be the common goal for all agricultural produce alongside proper land administration respecting the declaration made by the Emperor,"For those of you who possess the land and labour but lack capital, We have made credit available at low interest. For those of you who have the necessary capital but do not possess land to work on, We have, in accordance with Our proclamation which entitled every Ethiopian to ownership of land, established offices in every province through which you may be able to acquire land. Those who have neither land nor money will be granted land and a financial loan at low interest. For those of you who possess land, who have financial resources and manpower, We have made experts available to furnish you with the necessary guidance and advice in your undertakings.” Selected Speeches of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, page 486
“Ethiopia cannot, as some would suggest, look to industry for these funds. Without agricultural expansion, industrial growth is impossible.. Great strides, it is true, have been made in introducing industries into Ethiopia in recent years. But in any less-developed agrarian country, possessing only limited possibilities for selling the products of its factories in the world export markets, industry can grow only if there exists an increasingly prosperous rural consumer population. Industrialisation is not an alternative to the development of agriculture; rather, the development of agriculture is the essential pre-condition to the growth of industry.
The fundamental obstacle to the realisation of the full measure of Ethiopia’s agricultural potential has been, simply stated lack of security in the land. The fruits of the farmer’s labour must be enjoyed by him whose toil has produced the crop.” Selected speeches of HIM Negus Haile Selassie I, pages 492-3
The neo-colonial regime of ethnic federalism claims to own all rural land holdings, depriving Ethiopian families of their right to a gasha of freehold land given to them from the Emperor, which is why the corrupt oppressive regime keeps begging for food aid and restricting exports for Ethiopians other than themselves and their alien puppets.
“Every structure must be built on a solid foundation, for those constructed otherwise would soon collapse. The proclamation by which We made land grants to the entire Ethiopian people is the foundation of this scheme.” Selected Speeches of HIM Negus Haile Selassie I, page 487
Long Live the Constitutional Monarchy!
Long Live the Kebra Negast!
Long Live the Charter of the United Nations!
Fire burn down the satanic star of secession
Rise with the Lion of Judah!
Gasha for Ethiopians!
Long Live Independent Ethiopia!

02/20/11 @ 14:57
Comment from: [Member]

Well written article, thank you Ms Genet Mersha.

The TPLF led EPRDF must seriously look at it’s policy of land leasing,70 to 80 years of lease contracts are a joke and need to be lowered significantly, local farmers must be given all the support they need so they can produce crops for the local market as a start which can be further exported to other regions.

To avoid conflicts any true governing body must focus on the people first instead of placing its interests ahead.

In a society when we first behave in the interests of others we always get a reciprocal of our effort.

Why is this so hard to implement.

02/20/11 @ 15:21
Comment from: Tulu Proud ET [Visitor]
Tulu Proud ET

Al-Amoudi is not only working for himself but he is an agent of Saudi Arabia.

Calling himself a billionaire is not true. Most of the money is coming from Saudi Arabia and TPLF and Meles as the second beneficiary of the sell of land knows that.

Saudi Arabia was forced to leave land they bought from Meles in the south of Ethiopia because they couldn’t find anyone to work for them. Gambela people also should do the same thing to force the Indian and Pakistanis out. Burn that field as well.

02/20/11 @ 16:13
Comment from: [Member]

Ethiopians from other regions should migrate to Gambella. The tribes in Gambella should work together with ethiopians from other regions (Tigreans, Amharas, Oromos, Sidama etc). No land sell to foreign investors. Ethiopians investors should be given the lands that are being leased to foreigners.

Gnet Meresha as always writes very good articles. Please ignore the comments of some of the eri-tigreans, who are planning to undermine Ethiopian sovereignity by selling or leasing land to foreign investors at very cheap price. Eri-tigreans are ethni-fascists and their fall is inevitable.

02/20/11 @ 16:53
Comment from: Handeso [Visitor]

infact there is no objection if lands be leased to one who can invest on large farmings to generate income so long you have legitimate government elected by the people of Ethiopia.we have unfortunately a comglomerate of mafiosos and Thieves with unsatiated desire of enriching themselves by way of extortion ,laudering the government coffer and stashing to foreign countries.So how come one invest trust on these big time swindlers when we are sure that the dollar generated from the sell out of lands will strictly deepen ,as usual ,the pockets of Melese and co-horts.That was why genuine Ethiopians seriously and adamantly oppose the woyanes french connection .

02/20/11 @ 17:34
Comment from: gambelaw [Visitor]

They are not talking about a small farm land, but a land as big as 27 New yorks or 47 times as big as Addis Ababa. No matter what anyone says this is not just a land grab but it is the selling of a country and a nation in broad day light. Thank you Genet for this truthful article.

02/20/11 @ 22:49
Comment from: obsa [Visitor]

Gambela is systematically given to Ethiopia during the time of Hailesillasie I. Gambella belongs to South Sudan. It must be given back to them.

02/21/11 @ 01:32
Comment from: SKassa [Visitor]

In my opinion, there is no question a mechanized agricultural investment will benefit the peoples of Gambella in so many ways. At least, the farmers who always depend on rain for farming will have additional opportunity to work and generate income to support their families by working for these investors on their spare time or during scarce rainfalls. It does not matter how much they get paid, I think it is much better to survive with a minimum wage than to see people dying from drought and its sub-consequences. But, the question has to be how do we get these investors encouraged all the time to feel responsible and give back for the community so they build hospitals, schools, water wells, and other important structures to change the living conditions of the people in a positive ways. If the investors instill the value of education in the minds of these people and give them all the opportunity for a good education, which is a great investment that leads to development. Investors, please realize that the order of the day is to be a philanthropist (not to amass wealth on the expense of others.)

02/21/11 @ 11:05
Comment from: C'moi senait [Visitor]
C'moi senait

To My drar Genet

This is the final alternative to mother ethiopia to develop and FEED it’s self. It is pur stupids Pride that put US backward.
Let Us give à Chance to India/ chines or those failthy arabs to invest their oil money and see in 5 years time the changes.
We have been begging the world for the last 30years and why not now allow these investers and see the outcome of the challange and Voice our anger later rather than barking like à mad dog when ever the dog sees à new person.
Those WHO Voice in the name of environment are those begger org. That are invading US for the last 25+years, and they want US to be begger rather than develope, they can collect in the name of starving ethiopia so that their bank account fill annual badget they require to live às à king in ethiopia.
Ask your self why did not the west invest like India/chines?
What have the west succéde in africa for the last 200+years?

02/21/11 @ 12:39
Comment from: jigjiga [Visitor]

Mis Genet,the girl of former feudal landlords and perhaps a Neftenya Ahmara.In which that probably her time consuming homework article merely it shows to the readers,particularly to the Ethiopians how far mis Genet Marsha the envy and jealous towards Melese blinding her the reality on the ground.In her article she talks full of blatant analysis the land leases of Gambela,Ogaden and Binishangoal Gumise regional states.She further demonstrated and illustrated for sake of reasoning her naked complaint against government the cheap prices government leased the lands of those regions as well the ased in cheap prices and she further explains the local cheap labor hire princes.She also mentioned the historical border wars and yet unresolved conflict issues of these regions.Here,she is clearly emphasizing to legitimize her blames,that the government of Melese is doing wrong investment to insecure lands and disputed in-demarcated borders.Obviously Mis Genet in hearsays it simply reflects and perhaps she meant of why this EPRDF regime cares the people of those regions and why the government of Melese Zenawi wasting Ethiopian $$ dollars to instable regions.While in the past,a previous governments never wasted $ dollar of Ethiopian money for the building of social projects these regions,however they wasted a huge amount and a countless of money to equip they occupier army of those regions.Of course to secure kingdom’s scrambled African lands during their territorial land expansion era.
On the other hand what Ms Genet,she is trying here to summon and conjure according in the phenomena of her article illustrations is, despite of her devil spirits that blindings her from all the good impressive works and speed developmental projects and
sides the truth because of her jealous and haters to the EPRDF
regime is in fact to others very impressive and fast progressing economic growths.
In conclusion,Mis Genet has chance to liberate herself from the old mentality that surrounding her.She has to accept the birth of New Democratic Federation systems.

She shouldn’t has been focused the regime and the leader from which ethnic they are belonging but she should focus of what they done for the country.
Yes.I do agree to some extent in Africa no regime is perfect specially in Ethiopia, a country with multi ethnic diversity lived and a country never had been ruled in fairness and country never has had the peace but her peoples lived in wars of bloody and oppressive governments.Thus for long time war ravaged and neglected regional states of the Somali state,Gambela,southern and Binishangoal Gumsi regional states, Mis Genets despite of your blatant long writing against Melse regime,unfortunately we see things in differently.
As you might not aware of those regions you mentioned,this government of Melse Zenawi is the first government at least reaches out with some,Social development projects.In the previous government,these regions the only project they had been receiving were military occupation and nothing else.Although,this regime isn’t perfect one,again the people from those regional states didn’t complaining about the first land lease of foreign investor projects,they rather see a new lives that starting in their fertile untouched vast lands. Nonetheless,the majority Ethiopians are deaf the crocodile tears that shading Nefteniga for the cheap leased lands.Mis Genet,it’s better for you to get out from that small circled Ahmara box.Ethiopia was changed for good and that changed for her betterment way.It’s a great having a country like Ethiopia a multi ethnic diversity,different,cultures,religion and colors like this great USA.

Good luck Mis Genet!
Mis whoever brought the democratic system but she would’ve be admits the reality of that “Ethiopia shook off the shackles of the past”


02/21/11 @ 14:32
Comment from: HAYELOM [Visitor]

OBSA you have to go to the nearest library and read before you spit your ignorant venom.Gambelaw reread the article the comparison is to create an image to the reader how big Gambela is ,it is not the land acquired by the investors.For those who are talking against foreign investment, i would like to say we had the land with us for thousands of years and we couldn’t even feed our selves and the reality calls for a different kind of approach large scale farming, we have to do that.

02/22/11 @ 09:12



The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of The views are solely that of the author. Become a blogger of, the #1 Rated Ethiopian Website according to Alexa. Contact us for details


  XML Feeds

free blog software