An Open Letter to the People of India, a Day Light Robbery in Ethiopia: “Doing Business” With African dictators

June 15th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

“If it is unacceptable for Ethiopians to go to India, China or Saudi Arabia and clear their land without consulting the people, it is unacceptable here. We are human too and we care about the future of our children like everyone else…my message to the foreign investors is, listen to the owners of the land!” (An Anuak man from the Gambella region of southwestern Ethiopia)

Dear People of India:

I greet you in peace and hope that the good people of India, who have yourselves thrown off the shackles of colonialism only 63 years ago, will join with Ethiopians and other Africans in confronting the hundreds of Indian companies who are now at the forefront of colluding with African dictators in robbing the people of their land, resources, lives and future! As either prospective buyers or simply as justice-loving Indians, you deserve to have full disclosure regarding the nature of these Ethiopian “business deals,” the impact it is having on “real people” on the ground, and the risks of “doing business” in Ethiopia with the current dictator of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi.

On June 8, 2011, Oakland Institute (OI) and the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE) released a joint investigative report on Ethiopia, Understanding Land Investments in Ethiopia,, part of a larger study of nine African countries affected by the new phenomenon called land-grabs. In Ethiopia, these “land-grabs” are being carried out as foreign investors make deals to lease some of the most fertile agricultural land for up to 99 years at negligible prices. Because private land ownership is prohibited in Ethiopia, “land deals” are being negotiated in secret agreements between these foreign investors and the Ethiopian government; without any consultation with the people.

My name is Obang Metho and I am writing this to you on behalf of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE), a non-violent, grassroots social justice movement of diverse Ethiopians committed to bringing truth, justice, freedom, equality and the respect for human and civil rights to the people of Ethiopia and beyond. Our guiding principles are based on putting “humanity before ethnicity,” or any other distinctive that dehumanizes other human beings; and secondly, that “no one is truly free until all are free,” meaning that ignoring or contributing to the injustice, exploitation and oppression of our neighbors, near or far, creates greater insecurity and disharmony for all of us in this global world.

I come to you first and foremost as a fellow human as I call you to join our effort to stop the plundering of Ethiopia and Africa by African dictators, their cronies and their foreign partners—some of whom are Indian—who are hungry for our resources but care little for our people. An indigenous Ethiopian man described it this way: “This regime is one of the most hated regimes in Ethiopian history… they kill the people like they are nothing and with no remorse.” In light of this, I must warn you that those who are “doing business” in Ethiopia, are partnering with an illegitimately elected dictator and his authoritarian regime built on the brutal suppression of the rights of its citizens. The intent of my open letter is to expose the dark underside of these “deals” with the hope of joining forces with those in India who demand justice and human rights for all.

Ethiopia is controlled by a repressive regime, posing as a democracy, which maintains its power not by the ballot, but by the bullet; clearly shown by its99.6% claim to victory in the 2010 election and complete closing off of any political space. All sectors of society are tightly controlled by a one-party minority regime (TPLF), which politicizes all benefits—including business opportunities, education, jobs, agricultural supports and even food aid (see recent Human Rights Watch report )—and punishes any dissent; creating a silenced Ethiopian society.

Ethiopians are pro-business and pro-investment; particularly as Ethiopia is reported to be the second poorest country in the world with 90% of the people living under the poverty level. What we oppose is the daylight robbery of Ethiopia by modern day bandits who are willing to make secret deals with a corrupt government that would be illegal in India and other more developed countries. Abundant resources; combined with a disenfranchised public, few protective regulatory mechanisms, a lack of transparency, duty-free deals and regime promises of cheap labor have brought opportunists from all over the world—from India, China, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Egypt, Turkey and beyond—all hungry to eat off the weakened carcass of the future hopes of the Ethiopian people.

Into this environment, have come over 500 Indian companies—more than from any other country in the world—to capitalize on this “goldmine of opportunity.” One Ethiopian from the Oromia region protested: “Our land is being given to the Indian companies and anyone who speaks out against it is labeled as a terrorist who is not supposed to have any rights or question any actions by the government.”

Why would any Indians be part of this? Any who resent the colonial past of your own country, should know that it began through the British East India Trading Company; where some of the more unscrupulous often colluded with corrupt indigenous government officials. What would Gandhi say today were he to know that Indians, who were only freed from the shackles of colonialism in recent history, were now at the forefront of this “land-grabbing” as part of the race for foreign control over African land and resources; currently being called the Neo-Colonialism of Africa?

Karuturi Global Ltd, (KGL), the largest investor, has now leased 300,000 hectares in Gambella for 99 years; allegedly paying only $1.19 US per hectare; starting six years from now. This is the equivalent of 55 rupees per hectare! The local people have not been consulted nor compensated and are now being forced from ancestral land and told to build their own homes in resettlement villages.The Karuturi contract, as well as others that have been seen, show no benefits to the local people despite what was said publically. Instead, the regime promises foreign investors that the land will be handed over to them as “vacant” land, free of any impediments. Because villages of people have been living on this newly leased land for centuries, their resettlement elsewhere is being assured in these contracts. Anticipating resistance from the displaced, the regime also promises to provide “security” to these companies.

No one is representing the people or refuting government claims. One indigenous Anuak man in the highly fertile Gambella region complained, “This land is not just “nobody’s land” as the government claims; it is our life! Without it, we could have never existed as a people. I don’t think we will accept our land being given away to foreigners without resisting.” Many Anuak have already been displaced and many more have been warned to leave their homes so Karuturi Global Ltd, can take possession of their land but the people have refused. Please watch the following 12 minutes video of the families who have been forced from their ancestral land. In response, Ethiopian troops have arrived in Gambella; arresting increasing numbers of Anuak. Some have disappeared; others have been killed. Whenever the troops come, human rights violations increase. This is not new.
In 2003, 424 Anuak leaders who were opposed to the exploration of oil—due to lack of input from the people and adequate measures to prevent environmental destruction—were brutally massacred in three days. Extra-judicial killings, arrests, rape and destruction of property continued for two years. See Human Rights Watch report: Targeting the Anuak: Human Rights Violations and Crimes against Humanity in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region Investigations by Genocide Watch called these acts of genocide and crimes against humanity; linking culpability to top Ethiopian leadership. The case is now referred to the International Criminal Court.

As Ethiopians are threatening to rise up against the large-scale robbery of land and resources; accompanied by the widespread perpetration of human rights abuses; the Meles regime just has purchased 200 new tanks for $100 million (USD) rather than meet the growing food needs of the 13 to 16 million Ethiopians who must rely on falling levels of food aid from donor countries in the coming months. Who will these tanks be used against if not Ethiopian citizens who are only wanting to survive in their own land?
Companies like Karuturi, Ruchi Soya Industries Limited, Enami Biotech, Supra Floritech, Sharpoorji Pallonji and Co, Praj Industries and others doing business in Ethiopia, should be warned of the risks of complicity in human rights violations or corrupt practices—including bribes and kickbacks—when partnering with a regime known for both; particularly as the government attempts to evict citizens from their land.

Additionally, once this TPLF/EPRDF regime ends—something inevitable considering the rising outrage surrounding these deals—a whole new set of laws will be put in place and any prior agreements will not be binding. Instead, companies seeking to do long-term business in Ethiopia should put pressure on this regime to ensure that no unethical business practices were followed and that the civil and human rights of the people were upheld. As Gandhi warned, “There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it—always.”

My fellow people of India, from far away, you may not hear the cries of the Ethiopian mothers, see the tears flowing on the cheeks of the children, feel the pain in the hearts of the elders or know the desperation of the fathers as they lose hope in providing for their families. You may not see the increasing numbers of Ethiopian children with swollen bellies, the emaciated people dying in the streets or the homeless children searching for food, for Ethiopia is already widely known for these images of suffering; however, to Ethiopians, the level and depth of poverty has tragically deepened despite claims of double digit economic growth—the profits of which all must be ending up in the pockets of those in power who have sold out on the people. Only good leadership, accompanied by good governance, will change the image of Ethiopia. As the people of Ethiopia engage in a fervent struggle for such change, will the people of India support or hinder them?

What would you do if an Ethiopian company came to India and evicted citizens from millions of hectares of their own land in order to grow food for export; affecting food security for generations? Would you stand for it? As Indians anticipate the vote on the National Right to Food, does that same right apply to Ethiopians?

In 1947, the Brits did not offer independence to the Indian people, but liberation only came when the Indian people rose up to peaceably demand their God-given rights—something that has made India a shining example to the world. Will you deny us the same? Ghandi’s fight for Indian independence was undergirded with a deep belief in the worth and dignity of every human being. It inspired the greatest movements for freedom and rights in the 20th century; including the Civil Rights Movement of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We Africans have been the target of colonialization, slavery and exploitation in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and a target of African dictators and their foreign cronies in the 20th century. We have had enough and will not tolerate this new onslaught of exploitation and dehumanization in the 21st century! Many want to keep us Africans poor, disenfranchised and vulnerable only to more easily take advantage of the pillaging of our continent.

Will you help work within India to bring greater transparency and compliance with whatever protective laws and safeguards are in place in India? Will Indian individuals, social justice groups, the media, policy making groups, religious groups and all other stakeholders join us in our struggle for freedom from a dictatorial regime robbing us of our future?
Ethiopians are ready for their liberation and they will slowly, but surely claim it, but we ask you not to be a roadblock. Africans know that when two elephants fight, the grass in the middle is trampled. Right now, the people of Ethiopia and Africa are in the middle of a giant struggle for African resources. Many who are profiting want Africans to stay just as they are—struggling for survival so they “do not get in their way.” Yet, behind the scenes of these business deals, real people are suffering.

Gandhi said, “Non-cooperation with evil is a sacred duty.” What does this mean today? As investors, companies and nations seek opportunity; let none of us forget the shared humanity of our brothers and sisters both near and far and our God-given responsibility to live “humanely” among each other. Only then will we have reason to hope for greater peace, harmony and cooperation among peoples and nations, for “no one will be free until all are free!

Your African brother,
Obang Metho, Executive Director of the SMNE
Phone 202 725-1616. Email: Website:
You can find more about The Oakland Institute (OI) through its website at

  1. Lemma
    | #1

    Thank you Obang for your wonderful letter. The land which our ancesstors fought and kept it for centuries is just given away for nothing by dictators. It is disgusting to see the greediness of this Indian companies to grab our land and to stay there in the name of business. I hope from your letter they will understand what awaiting for them in the near future. Our families who have been forced to live their village one day they will be back and reclaim it. It is only the matter of months or years. When that time comes you will leave in peace as you entered.

  2. Koster
    | #2

    Thanks Obang and this letter should be posted on all peace loving medias, organizations etc. Meles is the leader of a Tigrean Liberation Front and is only in Addis because of the weakness of the central Government and is looting and killing from Menelik palace to build what is his dream “GREATER TIGRAI”. How long is possible to cheat, loot and kill sooner or later Meles will end up either like Saddam Hussien or the last communist leader of ROMANIA.

  3. Tariku
    | #3


  4. Manoj
    | #4

    Dear Obang, I am from India and happened to come accross this site. Your views are one sided. Land grabbing, eviction, human rights etc etc. Point number 1 is that any development to take place, someone who has the business acumen, sufficient funds will have to step in. Hence came the Indian companies. Point 2, Development will not happen without any incident. Any development even in India leads to friction and ultimately benefits will be derived. I will give an example of one state in India where there are people like you who raise hue and cry on issues and finally one of the biggest industrial house pulled out car project from that state. Immediately another state who is very progressive gave lands and facilities to the industry and everyone prospered in and around. Now this state if the number 1 Indistralized and developed state. On the other hand, the state which threw these industries are having huge proverty, unemployment issues and crime.
    I request you to think rational. Allow companies to Invest, let ecomomy grow. Convince govt to have some profit sharing mechanism with companies to develop ethopia. Later someone from ethiopia can develop similar way..
    It is like “You cant do, You wont others to do” attitude. Open ip Obang.. come and see Bangalore where so many foreign companies have set shops..

  5. Ram
    | #5

    Dear Brother Obang Metho,
    Ethiopia had the best of natural resources but still there was no progress and many people suffered and are still suffering as described by you above. In such a context, it makes economic sense to enter into mutually beneficial partnerships and to invite foreign investments and expertise. Your views are anti development and your ideas will not improve the living conditions and standards of your people. Even countries like India have seen economic prosperity and growth only after liberalisation. You seem to be highly influenced by the opinions of foreigners and organisations who may have their own self interest or your organisation might have altered your perception of truth and justice. Who knows, they may wish to see your people as half naked tribals living in jungles for all ages and those people may wish to retain your country as a tourist attraction and a wild life sanctuary to satisfy the curiosity of their children. Dont be mislead by their propoganda. If you really care for your people, growth and development are a must. You should ponder why the land and natural resources were not utilised till now. Investment will generate employment and benefit millions of people and after a critical mass is acheived, your own people will become self reliant and competitive.

  6. RespectEthiopiaOrElse
    | #6

    “second poorest country” ? What is your source Mr. Obang ?
    My information is 10th poorest.
    Anyway the truth is Ethiopia is richer than all it’s neighbours. God has blessed our country.
    I can understand if a person lies to let his country look good, but to lie to let one’s country look bad is strange.
    Let us not forget also that Ethiopia today is not a normal country that can be compared with other countries led by patriotic governments, which are i think all countries except Ethiopia.
    Mr. Obang must be familiar with that fact.
    We all know that the regime that USA imposed on Ethiopians in 1991 has an interest in keeping Ethiopians poor, hungry, disconnected, divided and dependent because that way it can maintain its power.
    Social and economic problems are intentionally created by the regime. There is no other regime like that in the world. Ethiopians are a colonized people, they are not in charge.

    It is quite interesting to observe that you guys in the diaspora,in particular those in the USA, are scared to death to say anything bad about the USA but have no problem to speak in the most disrespectful ways about Ethiopia.
    To his credit Mr. Obang is among the few courageous and
    independent-minded as statements like “we are here(in the west) because we had to flee from oppression and human rights abuses” by a western puppet dictator i would add.

    In addition “the image of Ethiopia” is a bad choice, i would have written western propaganda,western portrayal or character assassination. And that is related with their inferiority complex, with our anti-colonial history and the victory at Adwa in 1896. Haiti is targeted in a similar way for the same reasons.
    Let me give you an example, to formulate the message “USA wants Russia to back the resolution” you can write:
    1. USA calls Russia to support the resolution or
    2. USA calls Russia not to block the resolution.

    The funny thing is some of you guys in the diaspora often decide for a formulation that is harmful to Ethiopia and beneficial to your host countries.

    To be honest i did not understand why Mr. Obang thought it was necessary to talk about Ethiopia so disrespectfully in his open letter. By the way he appears to have more respect for India.

    What i have to say to the Indian responder here and to Indians as a whole is that people in Ethiopia used to think favourably about India but this land grab story has changed that, and Ethiopians will resist this foreign occupation of their land, including by violent means, and Indians may soon relive the nightmare of Uganda of the early 1970s.

  7. Petha
    | #7

    Dear RespectEthiopia, you are mixing politics in business. Tell me where is grabbing. It is on lease. Let me tell you one thing,Ethiopia and Africa and in some cases some of Indian and Chinese states are receiving technologies on a silver platter. Use it. Dont bring USA here. After communism was ejected the Eth.govt.was more interested in investments and cooperation from Europeans and USA, but they did not come. It took time for Ethiopia to decide to open up for the 2nd layer of developed investors like China and India etc…and yet no body came. After some time Indian ventured with their money, labour and technology,which Eth.couldnt get unfortunately since last 2000 yrs. It is time some Ethiopians stop looking a compelled charity. Development comes on give and take business. What Indian businessmen are doing is also profitting Ethiopia. For.ex. FLOWERS. Now how many flowers did Ethiopian farmer grew for Ethiopian or the World Market. It should be appreciated that this new business was done to profit the Nation, get the employment in rural areas and plenty of foreign currency just from water ! But if you dont want to appreciate that, no one can compell you to do so. You respect India and Indians, right and thank you, but you threat us that we will relive Uganda of Idi Amin who killed a million Ugandans. Would you do this to your own coutnry for to foreign investers? Then please stop it. Many of in foreign countries doing business and not charity. A development is done thru give and take policy . Whatever we may think of the grandness of our country, continued charity for centuries only brings loss of dignity and we all know Ethiopians are dignified people. I have taken a note of your threat about Uganda. It is surprising you remember the dates of Idi Amin. On the other hand, see the pace and quality of development. It is breath taking. This comes from business. We in India have a great respect for Ethiopia, probably more than Ethiopians respecting us. We dont want any unhappiness in your minds. Beleive me, Indian way is right way for India and Ethiopia and their peoples. NOTHING COMES FREE. If Mr.Obang has some respect for India you seem to disrespect us. All the investments have been done thru the law and we respect the law and people of Ethiopia.

  8. Manoj
    | #8

    yeah RespectedEthiopia, you are right. Throw out Indian and other investments. I guess with this attitude you folks deserve gun trotting bunch of hooligans in Jeeps creating anarchy. Anaother Somalia in the making.
    There is no free lunch anywhere. In India software companies were given dirt cheap land in early 1990 in Bangalore. Now take a look at what it has given back – 500,000 people in the Software Park employed directly with billions of USD inflow. Anyway its your land and your call. Enjoy.

  9. RespectEthiopiaOrElse
    | #9

    Petha and Manoj,
    assuming both of you are Indians, the issue Mr. Obang raised here is about land grabbing, not investment per se.
    Most reasonable Ethiopians welcome foreign investments when they are beneficial to the country.
    But most of us and many foreign observers cant see the benefit of this land grabbing for Ethiopia and other African countries.Please read the paper with the title ‘Land Grab in Africa: The Case of Ethiopia’, written by a respected Ethiopian residing in the USA,Fikre Tolossa, Ph.D for details.

    Of course India is not the only country involved(though the biggest investor in this sector)Saudi Arabia,China,Egypt and others are also buying tens of thousands, in some cases hundreds of thousands of hectare land. And Ethiopians have repeatedly protested including Mr. Obang, and warned that a future government will declare those deals null and void.
    You are informed that you are dealing with an illegitimate regime that has not the best interest of the country at heart.

  10. Risky Gambler
    | #10

    Hello all,

    The situation can be summarized very quickly:

    1. The current situation in Ethiopia does not allow any domestic investments in an unutilized resource of the country – land.

    2. I have articles to support how a few companies that have actually taken up the lands on lease already are making the lives of local population better. I also have documented evidence of letters written by local population, local woreda heads and also the various people employed in it. The problem comes if the land is taken and then nothing on that land is done to make things progress. This issue to some extent has been resolved by the government taking some of the lands back from such companies.

    3. If anyone has any experience in getting things done in Ethiopia, they will know what I am talking about. It is a nightmare to get even the basics to the remote parts of the country. There are recorded events of how some people have come on these projects for various things such as medical help (which would not have been possible with the earlier situation), fuel, food and jobs. How would these nice but neglected population deal with such emergencies without the companies who have taken the risks that they have to set up such operations. If required, the little number of people who have such idiotic issues, must go to these places and speak to such people (Ethiopians) themselves if they are so concerned to ask how things have changed.

    4. Speaking about the government and their dealings with foreign investors. The stances, rules, as well as the functioning from top to down keeps changing. However, the intentions are noble which is to make it attractive for investors to invest in Ethiopia (and there are a whole bunch of countries in Africa who are advertising to get the same investors to come to their country instead) without any investment from the government. In that scenario, an investor is taking a huge risk of leasing lands for 25 years when for the first 8 years it is only risking capital to get any development and then once the lands are completely developed, the government can take the land back and release it to anyone. The new investor and the country has a developed and cash rich property which was just not possible in the current scenario.

    5. Has a single investor till date in such projects been able to make even $1 and taken it out from Ethiopia. No. However, Ethiopia has received a whole bunch of funds in the form of fees, airlines is making money due to the number of travelers, as well as the hotels are booming, there not sufficient decent cars to rent because most of them are reserved, local population which had no option to be employed have money to now take care of families who otherwise would have been deprived of bare necessities. Who has come out as the winner. The Ethiopian government as well as the local Ethiopian population. The rest of Indians / Chinese etc., are still losing money.

    6. Ultimately, if we look at the world being a single place, there is food shortage and by utilizing the said lands, such companies are only increasing the food production which will feed some mouths. May be some of it will be Ethiopians and some not. However, what happens if the additional food is just not there. We all know that the world just has 30 – 40 days of food inventories down from a year of inventory about 6 years ago. Will this not benefit the poor in some way or the other?

    I could go on and on with each point. I have dealt with people who write such articles and explained to them. They agree, however, everyone needs a topic to make themselves feel important.


  11. Guest
    | #11

    You people don’t understand that the land is generating nothing when it is with the govt. I agree the rent amount is little less or really very low but Is there anybody offerred a similar offer before karaturi .
    Further This land will generate revenue not only for the company but also for the Euthopian economy .Plus you will get employment .
    My friend business is something hard to understand , the prevailing condition is not attracting any investor in your country and if karaturi is coming , respect them , However govt. would have kept a clause of increasing rent once company starts production .

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