Land Grab in Gambella By Ephrem Madebo

September 3rd, 2011 Print Print Email Email

It is inexplicable rather disgraceful that on one side western countries paint Africa as the bread basket of the world, but most western countries and their media talk about dictatorship, corruption and hunger in Africa [which actually is true]. (more…)

It is inexplicable rather disgraceful that on one side western countries paint Africa as the bread basket of the world, but most western countries and their media talk about dictatorship, corruption and hunger in Africa [which actually is true]. On the other hand, western banks and investment companies, university endowments funds, and large corporations buy large quantity of land from poor African countries and turn it into a breadbasket of the rich countries of the world. The technology and/or capital transfer analysis of the development model indicates that large foreign investment in the agricultural sector of poor countries helps agrarian economies to transform their agriculture and ultimately lead to economic development. However, empirical studies of the past few years clearly indicate that foreign investment companies are profiting from “land grab”, and “land grab” in developing countries has failed to deliver its promise of jobs, infrastructure, schools, and health facilities. In fact, the land grabs; due to investors’ recklessness and lack of control from the host countries have led to huge environmental and social problems in developing countries.

In the last 10 years, a strange phenomenon known as ‘Land Grab’ has ravaged the continent of Africa that has already been suffering from the failed growth models of the classical, neo-classical and Marxist schools. In Ethiopia and many other African countries, the Chinese, the Indians, and the Saudis are buying a huge amount of farmland to satisfy the food demand of their own population. Ethiopia is one of the reckless countries that denies ownership of land to its own poor peasants and sells the nation’s top level fertile land for a knockout price that wows the buyers themselves.

The last twenty years history of Ethiopia is full of many dull and eccentric moments, and no moment of that history is as dull as the TPLF’s silly moment of cheap land sale. The TPLF calls the cheap land sale a ‘land lease’, but from the point of view of the grabbers, this new phenomenon is called ‘land grab’, and from the point of view of poor the Ethiopian farmers, it is called ‘free land give away’. For over two decades, we Ethiopians have heard how weird Meles Zenawi and his gangs are. I think their recent economic policies; especially their land policy has left them naked that now we can see just how weird and wacky they really are. Ethiopia is a country that suffers the most from hunger and hunger related problems. Currently, more than 13 million people or about 15.3% its population depends on food aid from rich countries. But, ironically, the regime in Ethiopia is selling its most fertile land to foreigners whose only focus is to secure current and future food supply in their own countries.

Much has been said about the land grab in Ethiopia, and I believe there is a whole lot left to say. In Ethiopia land is not just an economic asset; in many parts of Ethiopia land has spiritual, cultural, ancestral, and sentimental values. Ethiopians, whether they are pastoralists or settled farmers, their livelihood has an important cosmic link to their land. Their past and current way of life is rooted in the land where they were born and have defined their humanity. For example, for the people of Gambella, their land of origin in the grass lands and forests of the Gambella area is not only the source of their sustenance; it is also home to their identity and culture. When one sells or leases this land against the will of the people, the item being sold is not just land, its culture and identity.

The land grab in Ethiopia generally has negative economic and social consequences, and these consequences differ from place to place within Ethiopia. For example, the land grab problems in economically forgotten Gambella are very different from other relatively better-off places. We all know that there was genocide in Gambella and the current human right abuse in the region is beyond imagination. Now on top of all these crimes and wicked acts, Zenawi’s regime is selling the most important cultural and economic asset of the Gambella people. These problems touch the life of every citizen in Gambella, and may have a far reaching political consequence if they continue unabated. Here are there areas that I thought were neglected or not even considered when a decision was made to sell Gambella’s land.

Eco-system in peril

The Ethiopian region of Gambella is home to Africa’s second-largest mammal migration, with millions and millions of animals [some of them endangered species] moving through its grasslands. The region is one of the most attractive places in Ethiopia with breathtaking sceneries and remarkable biodiversity. The Gambella National Park that hosts lions, African Buffalo, elephants, Roan Antelope, Lelwel Hartebeest, Olive Baboons and many others, was created in 1974 primarily to protect endangered species. Sadly, today, the reckless regime in Ethiopia is selling a major part of the Gambella National Park to Indian companies who are planning huge farms on a land designated to protect endangered species. The Indian company Karuturi has already started bulldozing the park endangering the environment and one of Africa’s great animal migrations.

I hope we all remember that some two years ago, the Ethiopian ministry of agriculture declared that, whatever the wildlife credentials of the Gambella National Park, the park had a huge agricultural investment potential. Today, sandwiched between the Indian Agro giant Karuturi Global on one side and Mohammed Al Amoudi’s Saudi Star on the other, the Gambella National Park that hosts the 2nd largest mammal migrations in Africa is quickly being transformed into a large foreign owned commercial farm jeopardizing the future of Gambella as a human habitat and the great migration.

Blind Investment Decisions

I remember, in the 1980s, Colonel Mengistu was the key decision maker behind every national and regional investment endeavors. Today, the Colonel may have been gone for over twenty years, but his brutality, stubbornness and ways of doing business are still the major parts of the ethnic regime in Ethiopia. National and regional economic priorities and alternative economic approaches mean little or nothing to both Mengistu and Meles. They make decisions on the fly and the outcome does not bother them as long as it meets their political goal.

Meles Zenawi has made many nonsensical political and economic decisions, and one of them is his decision to sell the nation’s fertile land to anyone that comes with dollar. His recent decision to sell 100k hectares of land in Gambella is a blind decision that totally failed to consider alternative uses of Gambella’s rich resources. For example, tourism wise, Gambella has the same potential as Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks in Kenya. Kenya’s tourism industry employs 11% of the nations’ work force and generates 21% of Kenya’s foreign exchange earnings. Ethiopia has the same, in fact, a much better tourism potential than Kenya. What we don’t have is far sighted leaders who invest in the future of Ethiopia. What angers the Ethiopian people is that such very attractive alternatives were not even on the table when decisions were made to sell Gambella’s land. The decision was all about money and selling land was the quickest way.

The cheapest fertile land on earth

One of the most bizarre and uncomforting issues about the land grab in Ethiopia is the price the Indian and Chinese companies are paying to acquire one of Africa’s most fertile land. In my very short and mostly anxious life, I have seen the price of goods and services go up and down, but I have never seen such rock bottom prices for a quality good that has limited supply. It is so amazing that Karuturi Global had not even seen the land when it was offered by the Ethiopian government. “It’s very good land. It’s quite cheap. In fact, it is very cheap. We have no land like this in India,” says Karmjeet Sekhon, project manager for farms in Gambella. “There [India] you are lucky to get 1% of organic matter in the soil. Here [Gambella, Ethiopia] it is more than 5%. We don’t need fertilizer or herbicides. There is absolutely nothing that will not grow on it. By the way, with all of these natural amenities and rock bottom prices, Karuturi still enjoys a five years tax holiday.

Ethiopia is a classic example of Africa’s inability to feed itself, hence, many Ethiopians inside and outside the country argue that the government shouldn’t dispose its farmers and sell the land to Indian and Chinese cash crop growers when more than 13 million of its own people depend on food aid. Ethiopia has a great mass of arable land and many perennial rivers; moreover, it has a swarming population whose occupation is largely agrarian. Therefore, it is embarrassing when Ethiopia fails to feed itself, especially, when its government claims a seven years of continuous ‘double digit economic growth’. Actually, it is even more embarrassing to have a government that dispossesses land from its own citizens and sells it cheap to foreigners who are in Ethiopia to secure food for their own people.

According to the contract signed between the Indian company Karaturi and the Ethiopian regime, the annual lease rate per hectare is only 20 birr or about $1.17 which is less than the value of a small quarter pounder in Seven Eleven. The value of the contract is expressed in terms of birr, so every time the value of birr depreciates so does the amount of dollar Ethiopia receives from Karuturi. The contract expires in 2058 [after 50 years], and Karuturi pays 2million birr every year for a total of 100 million birr in fifty years (20 x100, 000). This may look like a huge sum of money, but it is only $5.8 million. Yes, fifty years, 100 thousand hectares of fertile land for only 5.8 million dollar.

Here is the most shocking part of the contract. Meles Zenawi and his puppets here in the Diaspora told us that one of the advantages of the land sale was that the party that buys land builds infrastructure, schools, health facilities, and residential areas. But, according to Article 3 of the contract, the lessee is not at all obliged to build infrastructure, schools, health facilities, and residential areas. In fact, it has clearly been stated in the contract that building anything on and around the farm is the right of the lessee not an obligation. This makes it clear that the sale of land to Indian and Chinese companies has nothing to do with technology transfer; it is simply the transfer of Karaturi farming from less fertile Indian fields to the more fertile lands of Ethiopia.

The architect of Ethiopia’s land grab policy is none other than Meles Zenawi, but we must not forget that there are many sold outs that perform the day to day activities of the land sale. In this article I will expose the name and picture of Zenawi’s henchman and the contractual document he signed with the Indian agro giant, Karuturi Global Limited. I want every reader to closely look at the contractual documents and see how shallow and un Ethiopian the TPLF regime is. May God bless Ethiopia!

  1. bimm
    | #1

    Many people in Ethiopia are asking ‘how did we get into this mess?’.

  2. bimm
    | #2

    as if the crime on people and violation of their personal and national liberty is not enough, how is it that the Tigre People liberation front (TPLF) is so much against Ethiopia;
    -slicing up the country ino parcels and selling the land to foreigners who have no interst and are not expected to have any interst or sympathy towards the land and the people.

    What makes the TPLF, so vengeful and bitter that they have to embark on humiliating and mistreating Ethiopia.

  3. Anonymous
  4. Anonymous
    | #4

    Thanks and allow me to congadulate you with your informative article on “Land Grabs in Gambela” It is just amazing !! I am wondering how such a wicked person could stay as leader of this country for so a long time?

    In Addis and serounding areas, Ethiopians buy a land for about 2000 birr per km. whereas foreigners buy fertile land for 20 bir per hectar.

    The dectator has concern for Ethiopia or Ethiopians, his only concern is how to stay on power and there by weaken and destroy Ethiopia.

    Ethiopia shall overcome all forms of intrigues against it, by the dectoter Meles and his cliques!!

  5. Ethio-lij
    | #5

    bimm :Many people in Ethiopia are asking ‘how did we get into this mess?’.

    Simple answer; we Ethiopians forget our oun country while dreaming about the Eritrean port of Assab!

  6. Dawi
    | #6

    The key issue is the extent to which the country benefits from foreign investments spillover into the domestic market. In other words, an increase in food supplied for the Ethiopian market. Ethiopia presently imports huge amount of palm oil.

    The recent news tells us that the farm plan to grow according to Karuturi [[The intention is to sell the 80,000 tons of palm oil produced on an Ethiopian market that he expects to expand threefold to 300,000 tons per year.]]

    Other benefits should arise from capital inflows, technology transfer leading to innovation and productivity increase, upgrading domestic production, quality improvement, employment creation, backward and forward linkages and multiplier effects through local sourcing of labor and other inputs and processing of outputs.

    “But, according to Article 3 of the contract, the lessee is not at all obliged to build infrastructure, schools, health facilities, and residential areas”

    According to the contract the Meles Dictatorship can terminate the Land Lease Agreement subject to six month written notice. In other words, If Karuturi don’t do what the land lord Meles expects him to do he will be kicked out the country in six month time.

    You can read the agreement at:

    You can read the agreement at:

  7. Anonymous
    | #7

    Mr Madebo
    Why are you even bothered about the land grab. You have already signed to the biggest land grab in history ,giveing Ogaden and Oromya “independence from the colonial Ethiopia”.so, dont worry, if you succeeed.there will be no Ethiopia.Land grab should worry those of us who are concerned about united Ethiopia. for those who dont beleive in its very existance, the issue is different.

  8. aha!
    | #8

    You do do not have to navigate all over the globe to establish a cause-effect analysis with respect to humanitarian, economic and political crises in Ethiopia, and particularly with respect to the landlease/sale to foreign crporations by TPLF/eprdf regime with ethnic and secessionist politics and/or policies under ethnicfederalism and secessionism with underlying totaliarinism. As a cuase effect analysis this type of set up of the constituional set up and governance does not allow for the capitalism and democracy to prevail for the silent majority of Ethiopians as it does in Noth America and Western Europe. One could not deny, that this set up has made available land and capital for TPLF and TPLF affilated enterprises and and land for available for foreign corporations as means of production, but as you also indicated “Ethiopia is one of the reckless countries that denies ownership of land to its own poor peasants peasants and sells the nation’s top level fertile land to foreign corporations, as one of the causative agents curtailing capitalism and democracy.

    The other anomaly that comes to mind is the absence of independence of the three branches of the government.

    The last but most important is the set up of of the constitution and governance in terms of ethnicfereralism, instead of state feralism of the original provinces and ethnic secessionism along with totaliarinism, mentioned above.

    It should be understood all this conditions in place as the set-up/operating system of the TPLF/eprdf regime are indirect contradiction to Ethiopian Nationalism, Ethiopian National Intersts, Soveregnity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians in addition to curtailing capitalism and democracy to the silent majority of Ethiopians in a similar manner as it functions in North America and Westen Europe, not East Asia.

    Having said that, the foreign influence in terms of investment funds for the land lease/sale come from Middle Eastern and Eat Asian contries, which also suspected to have an ipact of Neo-colonialism, in additon to exploitation by PLF and TPLF affiliated enterprises and lately foreign corporations producing commodities to satisfy the commodity demand of their respective countries, rather than to alliviate shortages of food supply in Ethiopia. You probably narrowly defined them as “Meles gangs”.

    I also believe also contrary to your assertion the western donor nations do not have anything to do with invetment of land lease/sale, particlary in Ethiopia, but what probably benefit from may be the outflow of aid funds back to this countries and deposit from individuals in various banks, including banks in East Asia as reported previously as a way of depleting capital from Ethiopia.

    The other point you failed to mention as a matter of government policy of the sale/lease of land wich goes to the credit of the previous regimes, is that that they never sold land to foreign govrments /corporations. During Emperor Hailesellassie’s regime the government may have allowed a bilateral arrangement on with governments to undertake plantation scale of sugar cane and sissal crops for manufacturing process of sugar and fiber, I presume, and may have encouraged large scale farms under irrigation and rainfed crops by those graduating from Alemaya Agricultural and Mechanical Arts college, which may have aroused contraditions by emerging Marxist movements, I presume.

    As far as funding from North Ameria and Western Europe to the TPLF/eprdf regime in terms of humanitarian aid, long-term development aid and budget support, comes from these countries but not from Middle East of East Asian countries for its alliance on War on Terrorism with USA and its pledge to democratization, which never materialised, because of flaw in the constitution.

    But the undertakings of the current regime, much to the dismay of what later formed UDJP, with the slogan, “no change but durable democracy”, is the slogan of the current regime of economic development before democracy in the East Asian style, with the capital from North Ameririca and Western Europe in what they call Develpemtantal State theory/capitalism, which is run for the most part by TPLF and TPLF affiliated enterprises.

    Has there been any democratization process taking place though the independent juduciary for creation of National Election Board idependent of Executive Branch, or there been independent Judiciary and Parliament in the first place eatablished in the constitution in the first place, to debate issues like the land lease/sale policy and policy for private ownership of land as means of production, including availability of capital, access and private ownership of all types of comminication media in the parliament, with out the interference by the Executive Branch?

    Are the complaints and the cause effect analyis as in this case the land lease to foreign corporations looked at from the perepective of restoring Ethiopian Nationalism, Ethiopian Nationalism Interests or leaving the constitutional frame work in tact, or basically, where the complaint leading to?

    As far as TPLF/eprdf regime being a steward of the ecosystems of the vaious ecological regions to be left in pristine conditions in the form of National parks, had a poor performance in tems of averting floods, soil erosion and water retention and carbon dioxide sequestration by leaving a certain portion of the water catchment basins in tact and/or reafforstation of the these sites, let alone landlease without any guidance for largescale farming that may end up in a diminishing return on the land resources exemplified by the regions in India and Bangladfesh’s Green Revolution, and let alone the concept for the danger of Neo-colonialism.

    Having steamlined the cause-effect relationships in the Ethiopian context, I suggest we make a choice between having to align ourselves with national agenda for unity, territorial integririty, sovereignity of Ethiopai and Ethiopians or leaving ethnicfederalism and secessionism with underlying totaliarinism in tact as a way forward in engaging ourseves in a non-violent uprising to freedom and /or democracy. Then and there it becomes a revival for ethnic fedralists and ethnicsecessionists to join forces to join forces with those with national agenda with its goals and strategies to achieve those goals, will overcome the the negative forces of disinteration of Ethiopia.

  9. Bekalu
    | #9

    Anonymous #7,

    If you are man enough like Efrem Madebo, please come out of the closet and argue with him using your real name instead of hiding behind a keyboard. Efrem is one of the first individuals to write opinion oriented articels using his real name. I know Efrem from our days in Comboni Catholic elementary school in Awassa. He was my classmate who alwys was the first boy form the entire school. He was bright and he is bright now. How can he sell Ethiopia? Stop this stupid political attacks. This all you do when you have no idea to share and no couragte and knowledge to fight Efrem and the organization he leads. I don’t know you so I can’t say anything about you. Efrem is a person that dies for Ethiopia’s unity. He is not a key board person like you, he is the man of his words.

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