Over 80% of the 85 million population of Ethiopia live in rural areas, in settlements and villages, and work in agriculture. Many are small-scale farmers who, according to government figures, farm “eight percent (about 10,000,000 hectares) of the national land area”, and traditional pastoralists who have, for generations, lived simple lives. Huge tracts of agricultural land with water supplies are being leased to foreign companies for food export. The Oakland Institute, a US- based policy think-tank and leader in the field, have produced in-depth reports on worldwide land sales stating that, between 2008 and 2011, “3,619,509 hectares were transferred to domestic investors, state-owned enterprises and foreign companies”. Amounting to a third, if government figures are correct, of the land farmed by Ethiopians themselves, an area the size of a small country, e.g. Holland. The government proclaims land sales are part of a strategic, long-term approach to agriculture reforms and economic development, that foreign investment will fund infrastructure projects, create employment opportunities, help to eradicate hunger and poverty and benefit the community, local and national. What growth there will be will benefit onl the rich, privileged minority, mainly members of the ruling party.
With the coming of industrial-size farms in Ethiopia, local people, villagers and pastoralists deemed superfluous to the government’s, economically-driven development plans are being threatened, and intimidated by the military; forcibly displaced their homes destroyed and herded into camps. Along with vast agricultural complexes, dams are planned and constructed, water supplies re-directed to irrigate crops, forests burnt, natural habitats destroyed. Dissenting voices are brutally silenced.
In Ethiopia, land sales are occurring in six key areas. Oromia and Gambella in the south, Amhara, Beneshangul, Gumuz, the Sidaama zone, or SNNP and the Lower Omo Valley – an area of outstanding natural beauty with acclaimed UNESCO World heritage status. Genocide Watch considers the Ethiopian government’s conduct in Omo and Oromia “to have already reached stage 7 [of 8], genocidal massacres” It is a regime whose loyalties rest firmly with investors, corporations, multi-nationals and the like, and who cares little for the people living upon the land, or indeed in the cities.
Conditional within land lease agreements is the requirement that the government will clear the area of ‘encumbrances’, meaning indigenous people. The national Villagisation program aims to move people from their ancestral homes, over four states, into large settlements is well under way, as these 2010 figures from Cultural Survival show, “by February 1987, 5.7 million people (15 percent of the rural population) had been moved into 11,000 new villages. By the end of this year, 10 million rural inhabitants (25 percent of the population) are expected to be villagized in 12 of Ethiopia's 13 provinces.” This mass movement is being carried out without consultation or compensation, contrary to federal and international law, which requires the free, informed and prior consent of the people, no matter the official claims to the contrary.
“Fear and intimidation” is endemic, not just in areas associated with land sales, but throughout the country; suppression is common and freedom of expression greatly restricted. The media – TV, radio, press as well as print companies, are state-owned, so too the sole telecommunication company, restricting access to the internet, which is monitored. The judiciary is simply an extension of government, lacking credible independence, the political opposition marginalised and completely ineffective. International media are frowned upon and, in some areas (e.g. Ogaden) completely banned.
What about the bumper benefits promised, particularly the numerous employment opportunities? The Oakland Institutes states, “the basic facts and evidence showing growing impoverishment experienced on the ground”. It turns out industrialised farming is highly mechanised and offers few jobs; overseas companies are not concerned with providing employment for local people and care little for their well-being, making good bedmates for the ruling party. They bring the workers they need, and are allowed to do so by the Ethiopian government, which places no constraints on their operations.
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