Karuturi tries all tricks to raise $180 million he badly needs to develop Gambella farm he rented for chickenfeed and without having the resources 31 JAN By Keffyalew Gebremedhin
Ramakrishna Karuturi, owner of 310 000 hectares of agricultural land in rural Ethiopia is both controversial and ambitious. He is a person possibly possessing dangerous combinations of humour and mercilessly shady qualities that in future too may underlie his successes in Ethiopia in his determination to pursue fame and fortune through the control of ten percent of the world’s rice production and market.
There is nothing wrong with such ambition and getting rich with good integrity. Nevertheless, the problem with Karuturi — a person with big ego and a mouth that because of his arrogance betrays his entire bag of tricks to go about it — is dangerous. He is prepared to deploy anytime his unsavory schemes so long as they serve his goal of getting rich quick.
Unfortunately for him, he sets out to this goal by underestimating the capacities and intelligence of people he is dealing with in Ethiopia. So far, there is no doubt that because of their folly those in high government positions have facilitated everything he needed. To this day, I say it with all sincerity, I cannot see the gains for Ethiopia those people in power see.
One thing he has not realized about Ethiopians is that we all share the common trait of valuing integrity. It means that we are likely to remain wary of controversial individuals, such as him, that go for success by any means. In some sense, he compels my mind to line him up with the class of Gordon Geikko, who deified greed in the Wall Street movie with Michael Douglas played an impeccable performance in depicting the real character.
What I hear is the voice of Karuturi with similar tone as Geikko’s, lecturing in the video one of his admiring lieutenants on his Gambela farm about his principle that “some times scandal is good.”
Not surprisingly, therefore, in late August and September Mr. Karuturi floated the idea that he was about to rent out 20,000 hectares of the land to Indian farmers. The 12 October 2011 issue of the Bangalore also confirmed the story.
Addis Fortune also reported on October 30 that Karuturi Global was in talks with the Indian Water & Power Consultancy Services (WAPCOS) that is empowered by government to enter joint ventures and subsidiaries to provide consultancy services in flood control and the design of irrigation and drainage systems to build dike around the farm. It is not clear if Ethiopia’s institutions were consulted whether this would have any other implications.
His plan could not materialized, least of all not because the Meles regime opposed it. When protests all over the world reached crisis points about this scandalous move, Karuturi denied he had any such designs. The external pressure forced him to retract the plan, at least for only a while.
Not long after, however, the Indian Ocean Newsletter on 13 January 2012 reported that the first clash between Mr. Karuturi and the Meles regime occurred in late 2011, when the Indian investor approached the ministry of labor and social affairs (MoLSA) to issue work permits for a few hundred Indians he allegedly brought into the country as workers on his farms.
The truth came out when MoLSA consulted the ministry of agriculture (MORAD), whether this is in accord with the country’s laws and needs. For the first time, MORAD washed its hands off Karuturi’s shady affairs, in small ways though, according to the newsletter, stating that permits would be issued to foreigners only when local manpower is lacking or insufficiently qualified for the relevant jobs, but not for farming. With that Karuturi was told to return those people back home.
Perhaps this is not the end of this story. Although the terms of the contract would prohibit him from doing so until 75 percent of the farmlands he has rented are developed, Karuturi may still be knocking at the doors of top TPLF officials to get this by past this hurdle. He may also involve the Indian government to stand by its native son, who is trying to expand employment opportunities for Indian laborers in Ethiopia. After all, for India and Karuturi, Ethiopia may only appear as mere aid and loan seeker. Please bear in mind that Ethiopia deserves something better than mortgaging the future of our children — as happened to generations of millions of East Africans that lost their right to properties and power to Asians.
Wonders never end with Mr. Karuturi. Addis Fortune of 29 January freshly reported that the Indian investor/farmer “is planning to go public, floating 200,000 shares worth ETB 1,000 each to local investors, once it gets the nod from its board of directors. The shares will be short-term, with a guaranteed annual return of 10pc in dividends.” It is attractive.
The question is how can the agreement allow him to do such things, when he has not developed any part of the land? The TPLF regime would need to see this for what it is. They dispossess citizens of their leased lands for not developing them. What makes it right for this foreign investor who took this huge chunk of land for chicken feed to get away with it?
Why is Karuturi going the crooked ways to raise money? When everything else he has tried failed to raise an additional $180 million Karuturi Agro Products Board has agreed to develop the land, he now seems to prefer to hitchhike to his goals with the sell of shares ETB 1,000 each.
I will bet anyone, we have not heard the last tricks of Managing Director Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi of Karuturi Global!