A call for Responsible Investment in USA and in Africa !!!! ByTedla Asfaw
It was a very educational and activism in its best form on the Fund Raising and Celebration night for Responsible Endowments Coalition (REC) in Manhattan on Feb. 15, 2012. I and other Ethiopians came to “A Celebration and Fundraiser to Promote Responsible Investing in Higher education” thanks to Anuradha Mittal Director of the Oakland Institute a honoree of the night. Guest Speaker Professor Joseph Stiglitz a Nobel Laureate from Columbia University who has just arrived in NY from his Burma trip was a rare opportunity for his admirers. Mostly young crowds about 200 who came from various colleges and universities shared their experience on Responsible Investment that empowers their communities. I brought the Vanderbilt students protest against their university ” Irresponsible Investment ” through hedge funds buying poor African lands for cheap for a higher return in our informal discussion and interview as a good example of working together.
The various speakers are calling for “Responsible Investment” that empowers their communities. Universities that do not positively affect the lives of their communities by investing in their own communities are challenged by students activism on various campuses more than 60 of them. The endowment of American universities which worth more than 400 billion dollar share holders are students, their families and the whole university community. They have a voice and have unified their activism since 2004 under Responsible Endowments Coalition (REC). Their work and the Oakland Institute work have got a common interest when it comes to universities and colleges “Irresponsible Investment” on African land. Harvard, Vanderbilt and Spelman colleges and some others have recently investing on hedge funds which are buying African lands for high rate of return and the research and the reports that came out through Oakland Institute helped Harvard recently to pull out its 500 million dollar investment from Emergent Asset Management a well known land buyer that promised high return for its investors.
The students activism in Harvard which started early before the “Irresponsible Investment” on land surely benefited from the Oakland Institute study on Land Grab in Africa. All eyes were on Africa since 2008 to “feed” the world. Food riots all over the world brought land buyers and sellers on one platform here in New York in 2008.
The students activism for responsible investment brought the land grab issue once again to the public thanks to the Fox news coverage on the Vanderbilt campus last week. Vanderbilt students challenged their chancellor the “secret” of their endowment when it comes to buying land in Africa. The students asked “Why did you hide it if you claim it is a win win situation ?” The truth of the matter, it is unethical for higher learning centers to maximize their return at the expense of poor farmers in Africa. It is Irresponsible/Predatory Investment, period !!!
As Joseph Stiglitz said the endowments on various universities might not be big to have huge impact but he said if all grass movements work in coalition as they are doing now to bring the responsible investment in higher education to the policy makers and their representatives it will bring a positive change as a whole. On her eloquent and passionate speech Anuradha Mittal told the participants most of them which are new to land grab issue on what has been going on poor Africa. I have no doubt she got new passionate energetic followers. She asked all of them to sign the petition by going to www.oaklandinstitute.org This petition which as of now has 800 signatures will be taken to the Obama Administration especially to USAID in the coming few weeks.
USAID is a facilitator of farmers dislocation in Gambella Western Ethiopia. The recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) research showed that more than 70,000 people were kicked from their land to be given away to foreign investors like Karuturi Global an Indian company and Saudi Star. USAID is giving food and temporary shelter to buy the silence of these poor people. USAID is also facilitating the entrance of more Indian Corporate farmers in Ethiopia.
Ethiopian farmers are forced to live on food aid like 15 million of them have been doing while Indian and Saudi companies both to be a strong ally of USA to export food to their people. Meles Zenawi the seller of our farm land is also a strong ally of USA. Where are our people allies ? The African farmers voice has now started to be heard in the university campuses of USA and African students should get involved in their campuses for responsible investing in higher education because it matter to them whether they live in America or in Africa.
Let us take the 10,000 signature to the Obama Administration and to the Indian Embassy in this spring according to the plan I was being informed. Both these countries are democracy where the people voice are heard and we will make sure the unholy alliance on “Land Grab Project” between India and America when it comes to Africa/Ethiopia should be defeated by mobilizing millions of African farmers, Yes We Can !!!.
For the totalitarian Saudi regime I have a message. You leave our farm land or we will kick you out !!!! I and the rest of my Ethiopian activists who were on last night program learned and made many new friends. The few minutes one to one chat we had with Joseph E. Stiglitz was very nice. He has limited information on the farm land issue and would like to know more. His voice has a heavy weight and that is why I “declare” from the podium calling his name Joseph, We Need You !!!!!
Thank You the organizers especially Dan Apfel the REC Executive Director for giving us time to give our own Ethiopian honor for Anuradha Mittal for being the Voice of the Voiceless African Farmers. She and the Board Member of Oakland Institute Jeff Furman were humbled to receive the badge of “Yenesew Gebre” who was martyred in Ethiopia on 11-11-11 but whose torch we carry on until Ethiopia becomes a Land of Free and Home of a Proud Farmers !!!!