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Adwa and Abyssinia’s Participation in the Scramble for Africa:
Does that Have Relevance to the Ongoing Oromo Protests?
By Mekuria Bulcha, PhD, Professor
Whenever an Oromo scholar or politician mentions Menelik or his conquest of Oromia, the scathing criticism that meets him or her is that history is irrelevant for the current crisis. They are often advised to stop looking backwards and to focus on the future. Meanwhile, the irony is that in the lead up to and weeks after the 121st anniversary of the Battle of Adwa, many Ethiopian scholars and politicians have been engaged in intense debate about this event. In fact, I am all for a debate about Ethiopian history; however, I was surprised when I read an article written by Teshome Borago entitled “Adwa: When Oromos fought Italy as Abyssinians” published on the Ethiomedia webpage on March 3, 2017. Borago wrote the article to commemorate the anniversary of Ethiopia’s victory over Italian forces at Adwa in 1896. By and large, he talks about the victory of Adwa as an example of unity among the peoples of Ethiopia and calls on the peoples of Ethiopia to keep up that spirit of unity. But, the problem is that he did not stop there; he used the Oromo contribution to the victory at Adwa obliquely as a pretext to question the validity of Oromo grievances voiced by the ongoing protests. He laments the “new generation” Oromos’ failure to appreciate their forefathers’ contributions to the Adwa victory, and for not respecting the spirit of Adwa which was Ethiopian unity. He refers to their protests as an effort made in defense of “tribalism”. My criticism is that, using the victory of Adwa as a point of departure, Borago distorts not only Oromo and Ethiopian history, but also misrepresents the motives of the ongoing Oromo protests. Borago is not the only writer who has been labelling the Oromo struggle for freedom as a manifestation of “tribalism”, or to criticize Oromo views about Menelik and the creation of the Ethiopian state. There are dozens of commentators who, like him, have been distorting Oromo history and demonizing Oromo politics and scholarship. Haile Larebo has been one of the most vocal representatives of this group.
The views which are expressed in both Borago’s article and Larebo’s story about the Battle of Adwa, which was broadcast on March 22, 2017 on Aronios Radio are the points of departure for this article. The purpose of the article is to critically assess the meanings of the Battle of Adwa for the Oromo and other non-Abyssinian peoples who were conquered and forcibly incorporated into the Ethiopian Empire by Menelik. The following questions will guide my discussion: (a) what were the conditions under which the Oromo and the other non-Abyssinian peoples participated in the Battle of Adwa? (b) What “benefits” did they derive from the victory at Adwa? (c) In what ways was the Battle of Adwa a turning point in Abyssinia’s participation in the Scramble for Africa? (d) What was the relationship between the peoples of the south including the Oromo and the Abyssinian state before and after Adwa?
Menelik’s army at Adwa: freemen, gabbars, captives and slaves
As Wendy James has aptly pointed out, “without the contributions of Ethiopia’s southern peoples, whose sweat and blood go unrecorded in Ethiopianist annals, the Battle of Adwa in 1896 might not have been won and Menelik II might not have gone on to build his empire.” Obviously, one of those peoples were the Oromo. I am not denying Oromo contribution to the Ethiopian victory over the Italians at Adwa. My critique concerns the representation of the conditions under which their contribution occurred. I argue that Oromo human and material resources were not “contributed” voluntarily as Borago and Larebo want us to believe. By and large, they were robbed. To start, as Harold Marcus has stated, “Menelik had exploited the south and the south-west to purchase weapons.” He was “indirectly Ethiopia’s greatest slave entrepreneur and received the bulk of the proceeds” from the slave trade. Marcus wrote that being a Christian Menelik was not directly involved in the trade, but “Many slaves were however supplied by him.” The “human merchandize” used in that trade were Oromos and others who were captured his conquest of the south. Pankhurst has also stated that “the supply of slaves was…swollen by large numbers of prisoners captured during Menelik’s southern campaigns.” The evidence is extensive to present in this short article, but it is important to not here that Menelik covered in part the cost of the firearms used at Adwa with revenue from the export of human merchandize.
What is also equally important to understand is that the fighters who marched north carrying those firearms were not all freemen, but also a motley of captives, gabbars and slaves, including thousands of women. Most of them were Oromo, Walaita, Kambata and Gurage and were from territories which were conquered a decade or a few years prior to the Battle of Adwa. They were used not only as fighters, but also providers of the services that made the fighting possible. They were bearers of firearms and supplies; they cooked for the fighters and looked after the horses and mules used by the fighters. In this connection, a remarkable story emerges if we look closely at the case of Walaita which was conquered in 1894 just two years before the Battle. It is also interesting to note that Borago who writes that “several kingdoms volunteered and mobilized from every region in Ethiopia to fight at the Battle of Adwa” claims Walaita ethnicity. According to archival evidence collected by the historian Tsehai Berhane-Selassie, one of the aims of the expedition against Walaita was slave raiding. She noted that it was carried out in order to replenish depleted manpower because of the severe famine of 1889-92, to pay outstanding debts to arms dealers, and to finance the impending war against the Italians. Describing the battle the French business agent Gaston Vanderheym who accompanied Menelik on his campaign against the Walaita, expressed the “crushing effects” of newly acquired guns on the southern conquests as “some kind of infernal hunting were human beings rather than animals served as game” and “where no distinction was made between fighters and civilians.” Prouty notes that according Menelik’s own chronicler, 118,987 Walaita were killed and 18,000 were enslaved. The King of Walaita Tona was wounded and captured and his kingdom was destroyed. Martial de Salviac wrote that the captives were made to march in a single line in front of Menelik who “chose the most robust and had a cross marked on their hands with a sharp object.” In fact, Menelik not only enslaved thousands of Walaita, he also drove 36,000 head of looted cattle all the way to Shawa. Two years later, the captives were used to transport food, weapons, ammunition from Shawa to Adwa in 1896.
The united country called Ethiopia, which according to Larebo and Borago existed centuries before Adwa, is a myth. The fact is that when he turned north to meet the Italians at Adwa, Menelik was in the midst of the conquest of the south. The entire Macha region – the Gibe and Leeqa states – was annexed only in 1886. Arsi was conquered in 1886 and Hararge in 1887. As indicated above, Walaita was conquered in 1894. The sores inflicted by the atrocities committed against the Oromo at Anole and Calanqoo in 1886 and 1887 by the conquering Abyssinian forces were still bleeding. Even Wallo’s conquest in the north was completed in 1878 after years of fierce battles between Menelik (then King of Shawa) and Emperor Yohannes IV on one side and the Wallo Oromo on the other. What is most remarkable is Larebo’s assertion that the Ethiopian people were united from corner to corner at the time of Adwa. In his interview on Radio Atronos, he posits that there was not a single village in Ethiopia which did not send fighters to Adwa. The absurdity of this proposition is that the Gujii and Borana Oromo and more than 80 percent of what is today the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SSNP), Gambella, Benishangul, Ogaden were outside the reach of Menelik’s empire. Needless to stress that Larebo’s assertions are not true because the country not only lacked unity, but, geographically, Ethiopia as we know it today did not exist at that point.
Indeed, the Ethiopian empire was defended by the blood and bones of Oromo fighters, but their blood was shed not for love of country as Larebo and others would have us believe. While the Abyssinians were defending their freedom, the Oromo had no freedom to defend against the Italians. They had lost it to the Abyssinians during the preceding decade. Their land was an Abyssinian colony. The “contribution” they were forced to make to the war effort saved the Abyssinians from European colonialism, but it did not help them to regain their own independence. There is no indication that they were beneficiaries of the victory over the Italians. In fact, as I will explain later, their contribution to the victory had reinforced colonial Abyssinian rule which Menelik had imposed on them a decade or two prior to the Battle of Adwa.
Ironically, like the naftanya elite, Borago and Larebo have few sympathetic words for the Oromo and the other conquered peoples of Ethiopia. It seems that they saw nothing wrong or immoral in the atrocities committed against them when they lay claim on Oromo loyalty to Menelik. They want the Oromo to see Menelik as their hero and an icon of their resistance against racism and colonialism. The Oromo admit that their forefathers had fought and defeated the Italian army together with Abyssinians. However, the war was not a joint undertaking, but an Abyssinian war with Italy. The Oromo were used as means to defend Abyssinia’s independence.Few believe Larebo’s repetitious story about Menelik being the defender of the black race against white colonizers. As the Oromo scholar Tsegaye Araarsa has expressed the matter, to call the empire built by Menelik the beacon of black freedom is a blatant “distortion of history intended to galvanize legitimacy for his rule.” It is a deceitful attempt to cleanse the history of the atrocious conquest from the stains of blood with which it was smeared. Given the great harm his conquest had inflicted upon them, one must be contemptuous of the Oromo to expect them to honor Menelik as their hero. I know that there are Oromos who take pride in the valor which their forefathers had shown at Adwa, but I have also seen their pride giving way to bitterness as soon as they discover the “rewards” they had received for their heroic contributions to that victory. Several years ago one of the Oromo admirers of Menelik II sent me a note and a picture of the Oromo cavalry who fought at Adwa.
Portrait of Oromo cavalry at Adwa
My friend who is an ardent “pan-Ethiopianist” was exhilarated when he read about the valor of Oromo fighters at the battle of Adwa in a book he came across. In the note he mentioned Fitawrari Gebeyehu as one of the heroes who made the victory at Adwa possible. Gebeyehu died in action leading the troops under his command in the forefront of the battle. However, he felt offended when he reflected on the fact that Gebeyehu’s name is rarely mentioned and his ethnic identity obscured by Ethiopian historiographers. He lamented, “The sad thing however is that Gebeyehu’s father’s name, Gurmu, is never mentioned in the history books. One day we will all be free from this and that type of racism little or big and the real patriots will be celebrated by all Ethiopians.” Gurmu is not a “genuine” Abyssinian name. However, Gebeyehu was not the only Oromo who was denied his social identity in Ethiopian history in that manner. Many Oromos who contributed to the defense of Abyssinia’s or Ethiopia’s independence were treated in that way. Even the ethnic origin of Haile Selassie’s grandfather was concealed. The reason was that the Abyssinian ruling elite were reluctant to recognize Oromos as partners in the making of Abyssinian-cum-Ethiopian history. As Hassen Hussein and Mohammed Ademo have expressed Gebeyehu’s “disappearance from Ethiopian history parallels the erasure of his people’s contributions from the country’s official historiography.” As the two authors have stated, “This is the root of Oromo ambivalence toward Ethiopia: the Oromo are good enough to fight and die for Ethiopia, but not live in it with their full dignity and identity.” This also underpins the lukewarm Oromo attitude toward the history of Adwa.
That the role of Oromo fighters was crucial for Menelik’s victory at Adwa is undeniable, but the victory did not help them as a people in any manner. It is remarkable that Borago and Larebo who come from conquered and marginalized peoples in the south, the Walaita and Hadiya respectively, could miss the cause of the unenthusiastic Oromo feeling toward Ethiopia and “Ethiopiawinnet”. Presenting Oromo forefathers as significant players in defense of the Abyssinian Empire does not change that reality or disprove the fact that the empire was a colonial creation and the Oromo are its colonial subjects. The point is, the Oromo did not fight at Adwa as ethnic Abyssinians or citizens of Abyssinia as Borago and other commentators try to suggest. They fought for their colonizers. They were not the first people to fight a war for their enemies. Colonized peoples had done that throughout history. For example, over 1,355,300 Africans fought for the British in WWII. They did not become Englishmen because of their contributions to British victory in that war. They returned home and struggled for their independence. The Oromo have not been silent subjects because of the victory at the Battle of Adwa. Although their struggle has been sporadic, as reflected in the current uprising, the hope for independence is alive and strong.
Did the Abyssinians participate in the Scramble for Africa?
Teshome Borago is suggesting that a “united Ethiopia” was in place long before Adwa when he says “One has to wonder, how could [did] we win unless a multiethnic Ethiopian nation existed long before the so-called ‘Abyssinian colonization’? How can we defeat a European superpower without sharing a sense of common identity and destiny?” With these rhetorical questions he joins the numerous Habesha politicians and scholars who deny Abyssinia’s participation in the Scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth century. Concerning Abyssinia’s conquest and colonization of the Oromo and the other peoples in the south, the attitude of Habesha politicians’ and scholars’ is like that of climate change deniers. They ignore volumes of historical and scientific evidence that prove the reality of what they deny. However, to answer Borago’s questions, a multi-ethnic Abyssinian state and nation existed for sure long before the Scramble for Africa. Its main ethnic constituents were the Amhara and the Tigrayans with Agaw, Qimant, Falasha and Shinasha ethnicities. Its territorial base was, to a large extent, the current Amhara and Tigray Regional States and parts of highland Eritrea. One sees them as an Ethiopian nation since Abyssinia and Ethiopia often are interchangeably used. In contrast, the Ethiopian nation Borago has in mind did not exist before Adwa and is not a reality even today. The reality Borago will not acknowledge is that in the Horn of Africa, there were nations like the Oromo, the Sidama, the Walaita, the Afar, Somali and the Kaficho that existed parallel to and independent from Abyssinia. The victory at Adwa not only saved Abyssinia from European colonization, it also encouraged Menelik to continue, with renewed vigour, the colonization of the rest of the Oromo territory and the greater part of what is now south and southwest Ethiopia. I will present, below, a summary of evidence gleaned from the works of scholars on Abyssinia’s colonial exploits during the Scramble for African. I will use “imperial ambitions”, “ideology” and “possession of firearms” as guiding themes to identify the parity of Abyssinia’s participation in the Scramble for Africa with that of the European imperialist powers of the day.
Imperial ambitions: The evidence for Abyssinian imperial ambitions is reflected in Menelik’s letter to European heads of state wherein he states “if Powers at a distance come forward to partition Africa between them … I do not intend to be an indifferent spectator.” In the words of Gebru Tareke, impelled by “the appearance of European colonialist in the region”, Menelik “embarked on a much larger scale of colonization in the 1880s” than what had been attempted previously. Bahiru Tafla wrote also that it was “European colonial acquisition in Africa [which] awakened imperialist interest in the minds of the Ethiopian rulers of the late nineteenth century.” The influence of European imperialism on Menelik is articulated further by Elspeth Huxley who figuratively states that “the Abyssinians had caught a severe attack of the prevailing imperialist fever” and they “were the only Africans to join the scramble for Africa.” In his Ethiopia: The Last Frontiers, John Markakis writes that Abyssinia “competed successfully in the imperialist partition of the region [Horn of Africa]. Not a victim but a participant in the ‘scramble’, Ethiopia doubled its territory and population in a burst of expansionist energy, and thereafter proudly styled itself the ‘Ethiopian Empire’. He notes that “the title [‘Empire’] is not a misnomer, since Ethiopia’s rulers governed their new possessions more or less the same way and for similar ends as other imperial powers were doing. The people who took the pride in calling themselves Ethiopians were known also as Abyssinians (Habesha).” He states that “Today’s ruling elite frown at the use of this name because it obstructs their effort to forge an inclusive Ethiopian national identity.”Here, it is interesting to note that the Abyssinian use the term today, particularly in the diaspora, to differentiate themselves from other black peoples. When used as such, it has racial underpinnings as indicated by Hussein and Ademo in their article mentioned above.
Ideology: Asserting the colonial ideological factor in the creation of the Abyssinian empire, the conflict researcher Christian Scherrer notes that “European and Abyssinian colonialism occurred simultaneously, pursued similar interests, albeit from differing socio-economic bases, and this was reinforced by comparable colonial ideologies of the idea of empire and notion of ‘civilizing mission’ and the exploitation of the subjugated peoples.” Writing on the ideological underpinnings of Menelik’s colonial conquests, Gebru Tareke, a historian from the north, has also stated that the Abyssinian ruling elite acted like the white colonial rulers in the rest of Africa. The language they used when describing their colonial subjects did not differ from the language the European colonialists were using. It was a language which was infused with stereotypes, prejudices and paternalism. He adds, “They [the Abyssinian elite] tried much like the European colonisers of their time, to justify the exploitability, and moral validity of occupation.” They “looked upon and treated the indigenous people as backward.” One can add here that stereotypes and ethnic slurs about the Oromo, popular in Habesha discourse are the product of this colonial ideology.
Military technology: Obviously firearms were the other crucial elements in making the imperial colonial penetration of the African continent in the nineteenth century possible. Therefore, drawing parallels between the Abyssinian and European and Abyssinian colonial expansion during the Scramble, Margery Perham notes “The speed with which this great extension of the empire was made ….is explained by the …firearms which the emperor [Menelik] was obtaining from France and Italy. This same superiority was carrying the European powers at the same speed at the same time from the coast into the heart of Africa.” The Swedish historian Norberg also says that “using the same military technology as the European powers”, Menelik managed not only to conquer the neighbouring African territories, but was also able to garrison them with large forces called naftanya who controlled and lived on the conquered populations. As suggested by Richard Caulk, “the system of near serfdom imposed on wide areas of the south by the end of the nineteenth century could have not been maintained had the newcomers not been so differently armed. The historian Darkwah notes that “Menelik succeeded in keeping the arms out of the reach of the [Oromo] enemy. He did this by imposing a strict control over the movement of firearms into his tributary territories and the lands beyond his frontiers.”
Menelik was not a manufacturer of firearms, but was a keen importer of them. The bulk of firearms in his arsenal numbered around 25,000 in 1878. According to Luckman and Bekele, he was able to import over one million rifles, a quantity of Hotchkiss guns and artillery pieces between 1880 and 1900. For that purpose, he used more than a dozen French and Italian commercial agents and suppliers of firearms. In addition, European states were also supplying him with modern weapons in an attempt to use him as a proxy in their colonial scheme in northeast Africa. As I will explain below, the support Menelik received from European powers in his Scramble for colonies was not limited to firearms; military training and diplomacy were also included.
Europeans in the making of the Ethiopian empire
The other dimension of the history of Abyssinia’s conquest of the south, which is bypassed silently by Ethiopian historiographers and is denied incessantly by Habesha politicians, is the involvement of European fortune seekers and mercenaries in the making of Menelik’s Empire. There is no research on how many Europeans were in his service but, whatever their number might have been, the role they played in his conquest of the south must have been significant. Darkwah notes that “in 1877 a Frenchman named Pottier was employed in training a group of Shewan youths in European military techniques. Another Frenchman, Pino, was a regular officer in the army which was commanded by Ras Gobana. Swiss engineers, Alfred Ilg and Zemmerman were employed on, among other things, building bridges across the Awash and other rivers to facilitate movement.”According to Chris Prouty, Colonel Artamonov together with other Europeans was attached to the forces commanded by Ras Tasamma Nadew in Ilu Abbabor. He adds that even Count Nicholas Leontiev, a colonel in the Russian army, was a commander of a force which was sent to conquer the southwest in the 1890s. Another Russian officer, Baron Chedeuvre was Leontiev’s second-in-command during the expedition. Several French and Russian medical officers were also attached to the Abyssinian forces, particularly those which were led by Menelik and European commanders. The Russian Cossack Captain Alexander Bulatovich wrote that with him, there were Lieutenants Davydov, Kokhovskiy and Arnoldi along with a command of Cossacks who had finished their term of service” and who were received in audience by Menelik and took leave from him and returned to Russia in June 1898.
Several advisors helped Menelik in different fields to build his Empire. The Swiss engineer, Alfred Ilg had served him in a variety of capacities including diplomatic contacts for 27 years. The Italians made not only material but also diplomatic contributions that enabled Menelik to compete effectively in the scramble for colonies. The idea and the contents of the circular letter which Menelik sent to European heads of state in 1891 delineating his territorial claims came, for example, from the Italian Prime Minister Francesco Crispi himself. Menelik was advised to send the letter to European heads of state because the European powers were about to meet in Paris and establish the boundaries of their colonies in Africa. The territories which were defined in the letter the Italians drafted for Menelik to claim extended “as far as Khartoum and to Lake Nyanza beyond the land of the Galla [Oromo].” The territories were those which the Italians were planning to claim for themselves through Menelik as their proxy. However, the European support in firearms and diplomacy given to Menelik was a double-edged sword. It helped him to conquer the Oromo and amass resources to defeat the Italians at Adwa. That said, the conclusion we can draw is that Abyssinia’s participation in the Scramble for Africa is crystal clear. As the historian Haggai Erlich succinctly stated, “While rebuffing imperialism successfully in the north, Ethiopia managed to practice it in the south.” It was also based on what is outlined above that Bonnie Holcomb and Sisai Ibssa have eloquently described the Abyssinian conquest of the south as manifestation of “dependent colonialism” and its outcome the “invention of Ethiopia”. By that they meant the direct and indirect meshing of Abyssinian and European interests in the making of the Abyssinian-cum-Ethiopian Empire. Thus, notwithstanding the inconclusive arguments being orchestrated by denialists, the historical facts lead to the unescapable conclusion that Abyssinia was an active participant in the Scramble for Africa.
Where colonialism did not have race or color
Based on what I have described above, it is logical to construe that colonialism had no specific color or nationality in the Horn of Africa – its color was white and black and its nationality English, French, Italian or Abyssinian. The difference is in the degree of brutality used against the colonized peoples and the severity of exploitation exercised in the colonies. The intensity of demonizing Oromo scholars, activists and politicians who write and speak about the colonization of Oromia and the cacophony of denials expressed in the flora of written and oral commentaries will not change this historical truth.
That a black African force had defeated a white European army at Adwa in 1896 is beyond doubt. But, the representation of Adwa as an anti-colonial war and an African victory over colonialism is an atrocious lie. Indeed, Adwa was a turning point in the Scramble for colonies in the Horn of Africa; Menelik relinquished the role he was playing as an Italian proxy at the battle of Adwa, retained for himself the territories he had hitherto conquered using the firearms he had acquired partly from the Italians, with the understanding that they would be partners in the ownership of the territories he was conquering. He became a member of the colonialist club in his own right. In short, as colonialism lost its color at Adwa, military might became the decisive factor in the share of the African cake. The European mass media of the time reported that fact. The Spectator of 27 February 1897, for example, reflected the British view of the matter stating that, although Menelik, his queen, and his generals care little for human life, “this native dynasty of dark men,” nominally Christian is “orderly enough to be received into intercourse with Europe.” The European colonial powers recognized ‘the dynasty of dark men’, as their junior partner in the scramble for colonies. Soon after Adwa, both Britain and France negotiated and signed agreements that delineated the colonial borders with Abyssinia.
The whole story about the battle of Adwa is not written yet. Its bright side has been illuminated time and again. But its ugly sides are deliberately concealed from proper scrutiny or distorted by self-appointed “gurus” of Ethiopian history with Professor Haile Larebo as their outstanding representative. In the following paragraphs, I will describe briefly some of the non-glamorous sides of the victory at Adwa, namely, the ‘recruitment’ of colonial subjects for the war efforts, their treatment in the aftermath of Adwa, and the atrocious treatment of black (Eritrean) prisoners of war.
The circumstances, under which the peoples of the south, such as the Oromo, who were conquered in the 1880s, and the Walaita, who were conquered by Menelik two years before the battle of Adwa, were made to march north and participate in the battle, remains uninvestigated. Did they march north to fight against Italian colonialism voluntarily? What had happened to them after the war? These questions are never raised or answered in the story. Were they rewarded for their contributions in the victory over the Italians? I will not delve into details, but the answer is a definitive ‘No’! They were, as indicated in the case of the Walaita, captives who were forced to march north and became cannon-fodder. The reward for those who had survived the war and returned home must have varied depending on their status. The probability for those who were slaves to remain as such was almost hundred percent. The probability that some were sold by their masters to cover expenses on their southward journey after the war or afterwards was significant. Thus, the Oromo, the Sidama and Walaita, who participated in the battle of Adwa, did not win any victory over colonialism for themselves. They helped a black colonialist to defeat a white colonialist in a war over colonies. They did not defend themselves or their peoples against the colonialists. They fought for their enemy and strengthened the grip of black imperialism on themselves by defeating its white Italian antagonist. It was after Adwa that Menelik imposed the notorious gabbar system on the conquered south. Slavery and the slave trade became even more rampant thereafter with the conquest of the rest of the south and southwest which became hunting grounds for captives and ivory. Ironically, it was the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936 which brought the outrageous institution and evil trade in human beings to an end. To suggest that it was a “united Ethiopia” that fought the Battle of Adwa or Ethiopia was united because of the victory achieved at Adwa is a charade.
In the interview he gave on March 22, 2017 to Radio Atronos, Larebo calls Menelik the most democratic emperor in world history and that Ethiopia was blessed to have had him as their ruler. However, this “most democratic” emperor had no mercy for black prisoners of war. In his book From Menelik to Haile Selassie II, (was used a history text book in grades four through seven in the 1960s in Ethiopia) the historian Tekle Tsadiq Mekuriya notes that “Menelik released the Italian and Arab [presumably Libyan] prisoners of war and gave them food and drinks, but he ordered with the approval of the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abuna Matewos, the mutilation of Eritreans caught fighting on the Italian side.”According to another source, “The Italians taken prisoner were treated well but Ethiopian [Eritrean] troops (around 800) who had fought for the Italians were mutilated with their right hands and left feet being cut off.” Where is the saint-like character Professor Larebo ascribes to Menelik? The cruelty with which the Eritreans were treated was similar to the crime committed against thousands of Oromo men and women whose arms and breasts were hacked off by the order of Menelik’s paternal uncle Ras Darge ten years earlier at Anole, in Arsi. The difference was that the Eritreans were Italian colonial soldiers while the Oromo were unarmed men and women who were invited to a meeting, which appeared to be for peacemaking, by Ras Darge many months after the Battle of Azule in September 1886. In that battle with the invading Abyssinian forces the Arsi Oromo lost some 12,000 warriors and were defeated.
James, W. “Preface” in Donham, D. & James, W. (eds.), The Southern Marches of Imperial Ethiopia: Essays in History and Social Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. xiv.
 Marcus, H. The Life and Times of Menelik II: Ethiopia 1844-1913. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1975: 140, 73
 Pankhurs, R. Economic History of Ethiopia, 1800-1935. Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University press, 1968: 102.
 Berhane-Selassie, T. “Menelik II: Conquest and Consolidation of Southern Provinces”, B.A. Thesis, History Department, Addis Ababa University, 1969.
 Cited in Prouty, C. Empress Taytu and Menelik II: Ethiopia 1883-1910, Trenton, NJ: The Red Sea Press, 1996
 Tareke, Gebru. Ethiopia: Power and Protest. Lawrenceville, N.J: The Red Sea Press, 1996:40
 Bairu Tafla, in Asmé, 1905 [1987: 405, fn. 584]
 Huxley, E. White Man’s Country: Lord Delamere and the Making of Kenya, 1967: 38-9
Markakis, M. Ethiopia: The Last Frontiers, James Currey, New York, 2011, pp. 3-4.
 Scherrer, C. “Analysis and Background to the refugee Crisis: The Unsolved Oromo Question”, in Scherrer, C. & Bulcha, M. War Against the Oromo and Mass Exodus From Ethiopia: Voices of Oromo Refugees in Kenya and the Sudan, 2002, p. 27
 Bulatovich A. Ethiopia Through Russian Eyes: A Country in Transition, 1896-1898, translated and edited by Richard Seltzer, Lawrenceville, N.J: The Red Sea Press. Two volumes combined in the English translation, 1900/2000: 162
 Holcomb, B. & Ibssa, S. (1990). The Invention of Ethiopia: The Making of a Dependent Colonial State in Northeast Africa, Trenton, N.J.: The Red Sea Press.
 See Darley, H. 1926. Slaves and Ivory: A Record of Adventure and Exploration in the Unknown Sudan, and Among the Abyssinian Slave-Raiders, for a vivid description of slave raiding by the conquerors in these areas in the 1920s.
 Tekle-Tsadik Mekuriya, The History of Ethiopia: From Emperor Tewodros to Emperor Haile Selassie. In Amharic. Addis Ababa: Berhan ena Selam, Printing Press. 7th Edition, 1961 Eth. C (1968). p. 98.
Ethiopia is descending into possible civil war. With the recent declaration of a state of emergency, the country is in turmoil due to exploitation of the long-suffering people of Oromia, Ogaden, Gambella and other ethnic groups by the ruling TPLF elite in partnership with international enablers such as China and the United States. TPLF exploitation and widespread repression have created highly rebellious resentment among the people.
The revolts in Ethiopia have the potential for creating radical, beneficial changes in the political order or instigating complete chaos that crosses its borders and destabilizes the entire fragile Horn of Africa region, for the outcomes of such uprisings have varied considerably from country to country. These protests can be the catalyst for building a new and democratic Ethiopia or end up in tears and disillusionment, as in Libya, South Sudan and many other places in the world. Countries emerging from dictatorships are particularly vulnerable and Ethiopia is certainly under a vicious dictatorship.
The events in Ethiopia are being described as “Intifada,” “Ethiopian Spring” or as something akin to the Color Revolutions in the Ukraine and Georgia and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China. During the uprising in 2005 protesting the rigged election, the late chief of the Tigrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) and Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, did say that there would not be any more Color Revolutions in Ethiopia. That uprising was put down with hundreds dead and thousands in concentration camps.
This time, however, the revolts are widespread and they appear beyond the power of the state to control and put down. Apparently, Mr. Zenawi spoke prematurely. Technological innovation is a very important part of this current political mass mobilization which is why the government has moved with cutting Ethiopia off from the internet and dismantling satellite dishes from the homes of ordinary citizens. Drawing on satellite television, mobile phones and the Internet, the revolts are spreading. Within seconds, activists send their messages against the tyranny. Unsurprisingly, the TPLF oligarchy is extremely fearful of social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and the diaspora media.
In this piece, I want to reflect on three points:
1. The celebrity factor: Feyisa Lilesa Versus Prime Minister Halemariam Desalegn
2. Mr. Abay Tsehaye’s reference to Rwanda
3. The newly declared State of Emergency
The celebrity factor: Feyisa Lilesa versus Prime Minister Halemariam Desalegn
In the wake of the Rio Olympics, the profile of the Ethiopian uprising got a boost from Feyisa Lilesa, with his heroic act of crossing his arms on winning the silver medal for marathon, a signature symbol of solidarity of the oppressed Oromo nation to which Feyisa belongs. The influence of the celebrity athlete for social change is formidable, and Feyisa has emerged as a powerful voice for the struggle of his Oromo people, causing nervous shivers in the beleaguered regime. What the death and imprisonment of thousands of Oromos couldn’t accomplish in Ethiopia was achieved by his symbolic act at the finish line. Now the whole world is clued into the terrible conditions in Ethiopia and beginning to learn about the plight of the Oromo people.
Other Ethiopian athletes have since used their successes to follow suit. Ebsa Ejigu, Tamiru Demissie and Hirut Guangul have used their international successes to publicize the plight of their country’s men and women to an international audience. This trend is likely to continue now as other athletes and celebrities are losing their fear of retaliation and becoming more and more willing to participate in what has become a growing national movement. Yes, these athletes will pay a price. Lilesa is now separated from his wife and children and beckoning an unknown fate. Life in exile will not be easy even for famous athletes. But compared to those losing lives and limbs to bullets in Ethiopia, it is a small price to pay. They are heroes, and their names are already inscribed in history books.
The TPLF reaction to Lilesa’s heroic act can be gleaned from statements given by PM Hailemariam Desalegn. Although the PM is from the Wolayta ethnic group, which was traditionally relegated to the periphery of the Ethiopian mainstream, he has become a willing accomplice and spokesman for the TPLF. Most people regard him as an accidental PM who happened to be in the right place and at the right time when his powerful boss, PM Meles Zenawi passed away in the summer of 2012. He was handpicked as Zenawi’s deputy because he wasn’t a threat and, as a non-Tigrean, served as a convenient cover and a token representing “diversity” for the TPLF. He is so loyal to the late PM, he still refers to the Meles “vision” in his public pronouncements. Most Ethiopians know that he is just a figurehead with no real power. Yet, in an interview conducted with the online Foreign Policy.com, he is quoted as saying:
“It’s me who sent [Lilesa] to Rio for the Olympics, and we expected him to come back after winning the medal. . . . [T]his is not the capacity of the man himself. It’s something which has been orchestrated by someone else from outside.”
It is remarkable that the PM has the audacity to say he sent Feyisa Lilesa to the Olympics, as if Feyisa needed his charitable permission. It is crystal clear that Feyisa earned his place in the Olympics.
One can readily concede that he may have acquiesced to nepotism by sending to the Olympics the unqualified son of the head of the sports federation, Robel Kiros Habte, who made Ethiopia a laughing stock with his hopeless performance in a swimming race. But no one can doubt that Feyisa went to the Olympics because he was Ethiopia’s best hope for the marathon. And he delivered in no unmistakable terms by winning a silver medal competing with the best and the elites in the world. It is hard to believe that Desalegn referring to Feyisa actually said: “This is not the capacity of the man himself” – thus exposing his own pomposity, shallowness and contempt for the Oromo hero. Clearly, Desalegn has sold his soul to the TPLF devil. To suggest that Feyisa cannot think for himself and act on his own is inexcusably ignorant and arrogant and unbecoming of a prime minster.
Feyisa is not only a fine athlete; he is also a dignified, proud, principled and articulate Oromo and Ethiopian, as he amply demonstrated during the press conference in the Washington D.C. rally where Congressman Chris Smith also spoke. Also, in a direct reply to the PM’s insult, Feyisa quipped:
“I was not surprised by his comments because individuals who are always controlled by others tend to assume everyone is that way as well. . . . Unlike the prime minister, I make my own decisions and speak for myself.”
Indeed, Desalegn is a sellout with little dignity, reading and parroting whatever script is given to him by the TPLF. The pretentious PM has replaced the real world with a make-believe virtual world. It is for this reason that he is unable to see realities on the ground; he is temporarily sheltered behind a wall whose mortar is sychophantic servitude and a wicked willingness to say and do anything to appease his TPLF benefactors.
It is beyond regrettable that Desalegn is unable to see the rapid downside toward further chaos and civil war in Ethiopia that is due to the abject misery and oppression suffered by the people who are subjected to the policies of those he is serving and to whom he has sold his soul. He calls himself a born-again Christian with a straight face. How would Jesus himself, who stood up to the hypocritical Pharisees and threw the money-changers out of the temple in Jerusalem, have regarded a man like Desalegn, who is in bed with the TPLF elites who are the modern day equivalent of the Pharisees in Ethiopia and whose words and actions rarely match? The human suffering that is the result of the violent and continuous repression cannot be seen from inside their ideological castles resting on the thin air of empty rhetoric and shameless self-promotion.
Desalegn would be well advised to keep his mouth closed to spare himself more disgrace. He has already sunk into the deep end of an abyss. It is depressing to see a human being selling out his people and becoming a slave of oppressors.
Invoking the specter of Rwanda
The TPLF ideologue and one of the real powers behind the throne, Mr. Abay Tsehaye, in an interview with the pro-government Radio Fana, compared the situation of Rwanda in the early 90s to the current situation in Ethiopia. He correctly stated that Rwanda was comprised of only two ethnic groups (the Hutu and the Tutsi), really not much of a country, and was on the verge of disintegration. He went on to say that reconciliation occurred and the country recovered. In Ethiopia with over eighty ethnic groups, if the situation goes “out of control,” he concluded, Ethiopia will cease to exist as a country. Every thoughtful person worries about this. However, one can reasonably surmise from his analysis that Ethiopia under the control of his Tigray-dominated government, who make up only six percent of the Ethiopian population, is his guarantee for holding the country together. Mr. Tsehaye fails to recognize the draconian hegemonic policies of his regime as the very reasons for the grim state of affairs in the country. As the Ethiopian uprising makes clear, the various ethnicities are no longer buying TPLF shenanigans and see the TPLF itself as the main cause of Ethiopia’s predicament, as the country descends into possible civil war.
For anyone willing to see the truth, Ethiopia is in a state of turmoil due to the exploitation of the long-suffering people of Oromia, Ogaden, Gambella and other ethnic groups by the TPLF elite in partnership with international enablers such as China and the United States, the principal rivals in Africa and the Horn region. The TPLF exploitation, in which valuable resources and political roles are dominated by a minority elite that has transformed itself into an oligarchy, has created highly rebellious resentment by the victims while reinforcing a sense of ethnic identity and consciousness. Faced with increased intrusion into their lands by so-called international investors, by the displacement and stunted developments they experience and by the breakdown of their social fabric, Ethiopians are mobilizing to resist.
The government’s state-driven development projects financed by international investors and partners bypass the rural peasants and pastoralists, alienating the people and reinforcing the politics of deep ethnic hierarchy. Recent events have made it clear that TPLF’s “constitutional federalism” has more to do with its divide-and-rule strategy and its elitist allocation of national resources, comparable to actions of the former Soviet Communist Party, which retained tight control over its regions through local parties. The TPLF set up People’s Democratic Organizations, local versions of the ruling party, which squeezed out traditional authority.
The co-opted ethnic leaders from these regions have either completely lost credibility, are sitting on the fence, or are jumping ship to support the resistance. Key former government figures like Junedin Sado are breaking their silence and speaking out with scathing attacks on the regime. He has apologized to the Ethiopian people for the time that he served under the regime. The so- called coalition that the TPLF built is beginning to unravel. Some Amhara and some Oromo are coming together against the TPLF, overcoming but not necessarily forgetting, the legacy of the historic oppression by Amhara elites which began with Menelik II.
Abay Tsehaye and TPLF leaders will need to face reality — if they have it in them to be truly concerned about Ethiopian unity. Oromo historical grievances are not myths, as some revisionist history asserts. Oromo land is the most fertile and lush in Ethiopia, in contrast to the northern Ethiopian highlands with its rugged mountains and thin soils contributing relatively little to national economic production, but the Oromo have been alienated from control over their land throughout the 20th century first by the Amhara and now by the new TPLF overlords.
Acutely divided societies in which no single faction can impose its view might find an ability to arrive at political compromises in a constitutional form. But in Ethiopia, the hegemonic Amhara and now the Tigreans have excluded others from real power-sharing making true constitutionalism elusive. The leaders see the state as a prize to be won, a basis for private accumulation and patronage. But there is not enough patronage to go around, and those excluded from it mobilize their co-religionists and ethnic groups in an increasingly unmanageable opposition.
The State of Emergency
In response, the TPLF is relying on intensified repression by security forces, ethnic loyalists and the army. And for the first time in twenty-five years, the regime has declared a State of Emergency, clearly showing how rattled it is by the rebellion in the country. The Prime Minster announced:
“The cause of this (state of emergency) is that anti-peace forces in collaboration with foreign enemies of the country are making organised attempts to destabilise our country, to disrupt its peace and also to undermine the existence and security of its peoples.”
This response undoubtedly means more sticks and further erosion of civil liberties in the country but is unlikely to quell the unrest. One of the targets of the State of Emergency is the Internet and Social Media. PM Desalegn did make it a point to rant against diaspora media and the Internet during his appearance in September at the United Nations General Assembly:
“In fact, we are seeing how misinformation could easily go viral via social media and mislead many people, especially the youth…Social media has certainly empowered populists and other extremists to exploit people’s genuine concerns and spread their message of hate and bigotry without any inhibition…it is critical to underline one matter which is usually given short shrift, both by the media and others. It is simply hypocritical to deny that some of our countries have been targets for destabilization activities carried out with no accountability by people and groups who have been given shelters by States with whom we have absolutely no problems.”
The regime that Desalegn serves is responsible for suffocating the Ethiopian people by denying them any alternative media. The Ethiopian government is one of the top jailers and harassers of anyone daring to publish or practice independent journalism within the country. Now, Desalegn is shedding his crocodile tears about his inability to control and suppress social media and broadcasting emanating from the diaspora. While he has a point about the inherent potential for the abuse of social media, the regime is responsible for bringing criticisms on itself. In the absence of media freedom in the country, social media and broadcasting from the diaspora acquired enormous significance for Ethiopians hungry for information. It is clear that Ethiopians no longer trust the regime and have little confidence in official government news, which in reality is mostly propaganda.
Authoritarian regimes adopt various forms of censorship to depoliticize the population and prevent the questioning of their legitimacy. By definition, authoritarian regimes demand strict submission by the media to their political authority. They do so by publishing or broadcasting deceptions in order to maintain their power structures. For example, the regime’s media censored Feyisa’s symbolic gesture in Rio while proclaiming that Feyisa is a national hero and welcome to return home, without any consequences.
The advent of the Internet has somewhat leveled the playing field by empowering regular Internet users to become content producers by utilizing decentralized and distributed networks such as social media. These uses of media pose a great danger to dictatorial regimes, which are moving to subvert, block social media and limit internet use, as in Ethiopia today.
China is the leading culprit in creating the technology to enable censorship which it is sharing with the Ethiopian government. This suppression of the media will not succeed. Freedom-loving people find ways to circumvent these barriers and make determined efforts to stay informed – and, in turn, to inform the whole world.
A story told all too often, especially in Africa. Tear gas, rubber bullets, police charges: the State’s answer to public protest. Nor has the latest wave of murders come suddenly or unexpectedly; it is simply the latest in a catalogue of incidents stretching back to last November, when the Ethiopian government first made public its plans to expand the capital, Addis Ababa, into the surrounding countryside, displacing a significant number of farmers. While those plans appear to have been shelved temporarily, the danger is far from over.
On Sunday in Bishoftu, in the Oromia region, just 40km south-east of the capital, the protests grew out of the traditional Irrecha religious festival, where an estimated two million people were gathered. Community elders seen as being allied to the government were prevented from speaking, and the police responded violently, causing a stampede which saw dozens of protestors fall to their deaths from cliffs.
While in many media outlets, the focus is on ethnic tensions between the Oromo people (the single largest ethnicity in the country) and the Tigrayan minority, this doesn’t give us the full picture. The reality in Ethiopia is one of extreme food insecurity, which has been made worse this year by failed rains, with between 50 and 90 per cent of crops lost in some regions. The government itself estimated that 4.5 million people were in need of emergency food assistance in August, while UNICEF puts the total figure of people in need of humanitarian assistance in the country at over 10 million.
The importance of agriculture to the Ethiopian economy cannot be underestimated: over 80% of the workforce are directly employed in it, and it account for a similar amount of the country’s exports. The desire to increase the latter at the expense of the former threatens to make matters much worse. The government would particularly like to increase sugar production, and has announced its desire to be one of the top-ten sugar producers in the world by 2023. Such plans could mean more mass displacement of indigenous peoples, further exacerbate interethnic tensions and cause further migration out of the country.
One of the drivers in this new direction for the Ethiopian government is Chinese investment, which totals more than $20 billion since 2005. The Chinese-built railway linking the capital to the port of Dijibouti has been built for freight, not passengers: it’s for taking Ethiopian exports out of the country. Making a profit from industrial agriculture will require a large-scale shift in the economy (read: land grabbing), as 95% of agriculture in the country is still run by small-scale family farms, though this figure is being slowly eroded over time as the government seeks to sell off land to foreign investors. As part of its so-called development program, the government has earmarked more than 11 million hectares of land for foreign investment, talking of it as “potential land” as if it were not being currently used by pastoralists.
The government’s official line is that foreign investment will lift the population out of poverty, but the truth is that many will be denied access to their ancestral lands, and forced to work for the new owners in order to stay there. The Ethiopian government has the backing of the UK, the European Union and the World Bank in this endeavor, which the BBC reports will create “100,000 jobs” on two new industrial parks. But at what cost?
At the men’s marathon in the Olympic games in Brazil, the silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa crossed his arms above his head both as he crossed the finish line and again at the medal ceremony, in protest at the government’s actions. “The Ethiopian government are killing the Oromo people and taking their land and resources so the Oromo people are protesting and I support the protest as I am Oromo. My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed. I raised my hands to support with the Oromo protest.” After the games, Lilesa did not return to Ethiopia, and is seeking political asylum in the United States.
Slow Food believes that the land belongs to the people who work it with love and care. We will continue our work to support small-scale farmers in Ethiopia through our Presidia in the country and 129 gardens helping people to grow their own food, and speak out in support of people who are fighting for their right to live and work the land in peace.
As months of protest and civil unrest hurl Ethiopia into a severe political crisis, a new report from the Oakland Institute debunks the myth that the country is the new “African Lion.” Miracle or Mirage? Manufacturing Hunger and Poverty in Ethiopia exposes how authoritarian development schemes have perpetuated cycles of poverty, food insecurity, and marginalized the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
A key government objective is to make Ethiopia one of the largest sugar producers in the world. Several sugar expansion plans are underway, including the colossal Kuraz Project in the Lower Omo Valley, which will include up to five sugar factories and 150,000 hectares of sugarcane plantations that rely on Gibe III Dam for irrigation. Studies show that Gibe III could reduce the Omo River flow by as much as 70 percent, threatening the livelihoods of 200,000 Ethiopians and 300,000 Kenyans who depend on the downstream water flow for herding, fishing, and flood-recession agriculture.
Miracle or Mirage? offers lessons from the deadly impact of sugar and cotton plantations in the Awash Valley in the Afar Region, established in the 1950s. The projects drastically reduced land and water availability for people and cattle, undermined food security, destroyed key drought coping mechanisms, and stirred up violent conflicts between different groups over the remaining resources. The establishment of plantations was a critical factor in the 1972-1973 famine, resulting in the deaths of nearly 200,000 Afar people. These findings raise serious questions about the government’s logic behind sugar expansion, with $11.2 billion to be invested by 2020, and much more for irrigation schemes and dams – Gibe III alone cost Ethiopia $1.8 billion.
Using quantitative evidence, the report also details how plantations established in the Awash Valley have been far less profitable than pastoralist livestock production, while carrying massive environmental costs including the depletion of vital water resources.
While the release of these political prisoners is welcome, we must not be fooled by this supposedly “generous” act. The Ethiopian government frequently issues pardons at times of international scrutiny. Before President Obama’s trip to Ethiopia in July 2015, for instance, numerous high profile political prisoners were released, including Bekele Gerba,2Reeyot Alemu, and several of the Zone 9 Bloggers. Pardons like these are strategic. They are meant to make the Ethiopian government look reasonable, with the hope that the international community will be pacified and look the other way.
And let us not forget the thousands that remain behind bars, having not been included in what appears to have been an arbitrary set of pardons.
The Ethiopian government has good reason to worry about the growing dissent in the country. The past months have seen increased unity in the courageous fight for democracy and human rights. Community members engaged in the struggle told Oakland Institute staff “there will be no jubilation until all political prisoners, regardless of religious or ethnicity, are released.”
International pressure, too, has mounted. On September 12th, Rep. Chris Smith introduced House Resolution 861, entitled “Supporting human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia.” The bill recounts the many abuses taking place in Ethiopia – from the impact of the villagization program on the Anuak in Gambella, to the numerous unlawful arrests made under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation; the crackdown on civil society organizations under the Charities and Societies Proclamation to the numerous extrajudicial killings that have taken place during this past year’s protests – and calls for strong action, both by the US and Ethiopian governments. One day later, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed deep concern in his opening remarks before the Human Rights Council regarding the “lethal use of force against protesters, enforced disappearances, and mass detentions” by Ethiopian forces. He reaffirmed his previous calls for an “independent, impartial, and international” investigation.
Solidarity actions are also taking root in the US. On Friday September 16th, the Oromo Renaissance Organization will hold a peaceful rally in Oakland to “denounce the deadly crackdown … on peaceful protesters in Oromia and other regions of the country.”3 Earlier this week, Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa held a high-profile press conference in Washington DC, bringing significant international media attention to the plight of not just the Oromo people, but those in Amhara and Gambella as well. Lilesa will hold another press conference on September 18th in Minneapolis, hosted by the Oromo Community of Minnesota.4
A Critical Moment for Ethiopia
This is a critical moment for Ethiopia. The US Government, United Nations leaders, and the international media are all paying attention to the abuses taking place, and finally giving these atrocities the attention they deserve. Now, more than ever, the international community needs to follow through on its responsibility. We must not accept the introduction of a bill or the pardoning of 1,000 as enough. Instead, we must continue to call for universal human rights, democracy, and justice across Ethiopia.
The time for change in Ethiopia is now!
 Their sentencing was condemned by the Chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, who called the Muslim leaders “peaceful advocates for religious freedom.”
 Bekele Gerba was rearrested in December 2015, and continues to languish in jail.
The peaceful rally, coordinated by the Oromo Renaissance Organization, will be held on Friday September 16 from 11am – 2pm at 1301 Clay Street in Oakland, CA.
 The press conference with Feyisa Lilesa, hosted by the Oromo Community of Minnesota, will be held at 12:00pm on Sunday September 18th at the Minneapolis Convention Center, 1301 2nd Ave S., in Minneapolis, MN.
After 25 years of absolute control over the country’s public life, the ruling party is facing its biggest political challenge yet: an unconventional and innovative resistance to its iron-fisted rule.
What is unfolding in the drama of this increasingly defiant and unprecedented protest is the subplot that producers and cheerleaders of the “Ethiopia rising” myth neither anticipated nor fully understood: the power of the indignant to wreak havoc and paralyse the state even as they were met with murderous official violence.
Though the protest was initially triggered by the threat of displacement by Ethiopia’s development policies – particularly the proposed expansion of the territorial limits of the capital, Addis Ababa, into neighbouring Oromo lands – this is not the sole reason and cannot provide an adequate explanation of the level of defiance on the streets of Oromia.
Rather, the protest is a manifestation of long-simmering ethnic discontent and deeper crisis of representation that pushed Oromos to the margin of the country’s political life.
Despite a rare concession by the authorities to cancel the “master plan”, the protest is still ongoing, demanding genuine political reforms aimed at an equitable reorganisation and overhauling of existing frameworks and arrangements of power in the country.
Protesters argue that the prevailing arrangements with the ethnically mixed morphology of the Ethiopian state, in which ethnic Tigray elites dominate all aspects of public life, are not only undemocratic, they are also an existential threat to the peaceful co-existence of communities in the future.
The Oromo question
As the single largest ethnic group in a multi-ethnic country in which ethnicity is the pre-eminent form of political organising and mobilisation, the prevailing arrangement presents a particularly unique and challenging problem for the Oromo.
According to the 2007 Ethiopian National Census, Oromos constitute34.49 percent of the population while Tigray, the politically dominant ethnic group, represents 6.07 percent of the total population. The real figure for the Oromo people is much higher.
The silence of the international community in the face of consistent reports raising alarms about systematic and widespread atrocities is deafening.
By virtue of being a majority ethnic group, Oromos represent an existential threat to the legitimacy of ethnic Tigrayan rule and therefore have to be policed and controlled to create an appearance of stability and inclusiveness.
In a landmark report titled “Because I am Oromo“, Amnesty International describes a widespread and systematic repression, astonishing in scope and scale, in which the conflagration of ethnic identity and political power gave rise to the unprecedented criminalisation and incarceration of Oromos over the past five years.
Oromos have been the victims of an indiscriminate and disproportionate attack in the hands of security forces. This, protesters argue, had a far deeper and more corrosive effect of rendering Oromo identity and culture invisible and unrecognisable to mainstream perspectives and frameworks.
The government’s response so far has been to dismiss the movement as misinformed, and besmirch it as anti-peace or anti-development elements controlled and directed by external forces – an old tactic used by the government to discredit and criminalise dissent. The most vocal and outspoken members of the movement are being tried for terrorism.
The silence of the international community in the face of consistent reports raising alarms about systematic and widespread atrocities is deafening.
The obsessive focus of the West on the “war on terror” and the tendency to define human rights policythrough the lens of the war on terror means that those who abuse their citizens under the guise of the war on terror are impervious to criticism.
In the decade since 9/11, the West went beyond technical and financial support to providing diplomatic cover to abuses of human rights including by creating make-believe stories that Ethiopia is a democracy and an economic success story.
High-ranking government officials, including the United States President Barack Obama, praised the ruling party as “democratically elected“, providing much-needed endorsement and legitimisation to the government.
Ethiopia is a classic case of US counterterrorism policy inadvertently producing the very thing it seeks to prevent: helping to create an Orwellian surveillance state reminiscent of the Stasi in East Germany.
The “Ethiopia rising” narrative and its economic fiction is beginning to unravel. With the IMF significantly downgrading its economic forecast to 4.5 percent from 10.2 percent last year, the exodus of people fleeing its repression, and the droughts that made a fifth of its 100 million people dependent on food aid, Ethiopia’s economic miracle is being exposed for what it is: the benefit of the elite.
The Ethiopian government and its partners in the West are thinking that the outcry will die away, that the outrage will pass. We should lose no opportunity to prove them wrong.
Awol K Allo is Fellow in Human Rights at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
The Ethiopian government’s lack of a specific policy or programme to address indigenous peoples’ special needs and status has further aggravated their situation. Ethiopia, is a key political actor in Africa, and the second most populous country on the continent. It is a glaring omission that such a significant political actor has not attempted—in consultation with the country’s indigenous peoples and their representative institutions—to develop policies and programmes that are in accordance with guidelines from the UN and other relevant bodies and which would bridge the social and economic gaps that are currently causing such distress. The Ethiopian government is thus failing to address widely reported concerns regarding the human rights of indigenous people in Gambela, the lower Omo Valley, Benishangul Gumuz, Afar, Somali and Oromia regions—all areas that have been part of the government’s land lease policy and villagization programme. The Oromia region has been the site of significant protests since late 2015 when protests began over plans to expand the capital, Addis Ababa. In what was seen as an attempted “land grab”, Oromo farmers argued that expanding Addis Ababa would lead to their displacement and the loss of arable land. Although plans were subsequently dropped, protests continued, leading to what activists reported as the deaths of around 200 people so far, and heightened tensions in the area.
The indigenous peoples of Ethiopia make up a significant proportion of the country’s estimated 95 million population. Around 15 percent are pastoralists who live across Ethiopia, particularly in the Ethiopian lowlands, which constitute around 61 percent of the country’s total landmass. There are also a number of hunter-gathering communities, including the forestdwelling Majang (Majengir) who live in the Gambela region. Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa, a significant amount of which is concentrated in pastoralist communities living on land that in recent years has become the subject of high demand from foreign investors. The political and economic situation of indigenous peoples in Ethiopia is a tenuous one. The Ethiopian government’s policy of villagization has seen many pastoralist communities moved off of their traditional grazing lands, and indigenous peoples’ access to healthcare provision and to primary and secondary education remains highly inadequate. There is no national legislation that protects them, and Ethiopia has neither ratified ILO Convention No. 169, nor was present during the voting on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Anti-terror law: a threat to indigenous peoples’ rights The situation for indigenous peoples in Ethiopia suffered a significant deterioration in 2015. There was no improvement in national legislation that could offer protection to indigenous peoples, and Ethiopia continues to fail in its obligations under the international human rights mechanisms it has ratified, e.g., the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which calls for special attention to be paid to indigenous peoples, a situation regarding which a number of human rights organizations—including the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Minority Rights Group International (MRGI)—have expressed concern. Moreover, this lack of compliance must also be seen within the context of wider concerns regarding the Ethiopian government’s alleged use of anti-terror laws to curtail freedom of speech. Concerns about the latter intensified in April 2014 with the arrest of six members of the Zone 9 blogging group and three other journalists, while the situation with regard to indigenous peoples’ rights became even more acute in March 2015 with the arrest in Addis Ababa of seven activists heading to a workshop on food security in Nairobi. Although four of them were eventually released, on 7 September 2015, after six months in detention, the remaining three activists, Pastor Omot Agwa, Ashinie Astin, and Jamal Oumar Hojele, were charged under Ethiopia’s counter-terrorism laws, and now face the possibility of extended prison terms if found guilty (Omot faces a sentence of 20 years to life). This has caused widespread concern amongst human rights defenders inside and outside the country, as well as a number of leading human rights organizations.
Land grabbing and policy of villagization A key element in the deteriorating situation of indigenous peoples in Ethiopia is the ongoing policy of “land grabbing” where companies lease large tracts of land from the Ethiopian government in return for significant levels of foreign investment. Since 2008, when widespread concern about the possibility of a potentially global food crisis increased demand for agricultural land, the Ethiopian government has leased millions of hectares of land throughout the country to agricultural investors, both foreign and domestic. The Ethiopian government says that such investments are important for guaranteeing food security. The policy is also seen as an important element in Ethiopia’s development strategy because it means that land that is categorized as “under-utilized” can be used productively. However, much of this land is in reality not under-utilized but is used by pastoralists, whose customary rights to the land are being consistently violated. Moreover, the way in which the land is used under the new leasing arrangements arguably does little for food security as there is little food produced. Instead, land is chiefly being used for an array of non-food products such as flowers, or for growing food products destined for the export market. Interestingly, at the very end of 2015, the Ethiopian Agriculture Ministry’s land investment agency notified Karuturi Global Inc., one of the first and largest external investors, that its lease was being cancelled because of a lack of “development”. Karaturi had used only 1,200 ha of land out of the 100,000 originally allocated to it, and so the Agriculture Ministry has stated that the rest will return to a “land bank” for future investment. The Ethiopian government continues to highlight the employment opportunities of such investment for those living in lowland areas, but much of the employment in these areas has gone to “highlanders” from the central and northern areas of Ethiopia who have moved there to find work. The latter has also increased the possibilities of ethnic tensions, something that has been seen in the Gambela region and in the lower Omo Valley in particular. In the latter case, the building of the Gibe III Dam, which significantly impacts upon water security in the Omo Valley region, has meant a heightened threat to food security and in turn increased conflict over existing resources. For example, there have been reports that cattle herders have moved their animals into Mago National Park to find grass, and have been met with violence from government soldiers who are protecting the park and its wildlife. Reports from external sources have said that the lives of those indigenous peoples living in the region have been “fundamentally and irreversibly” changed by the building of the dam. It will make it very difficult for the half a million indigenous people whose lives and livelihoods depend upon the Omo River to continue living in the area and sustaining their traditional livelihoods. According to the Dam’s Public Consultation and Disclosure Plan, only 93 members of four indigenous communities were consulted and this happened only after construction of the dam had already begun. In addition, part of the Ethiopian government’s policy on land management includes the pursuit of a policy of villagization, which aims to resettle those who live in rural areas—often indigenous peoples—into communities with improved access to basic amenities, such as clean water, medical services and schools. In reality, however, such amenities have not been provided, and many of the communities have too little food for the population that now exists there. Many people find that when they try and return to the land that they have left in order to resume their previous way of life the land has been leased and they no longer have access to it.
Indigenous communities thus find themselves displaced and deprived of their traditional livelihoods and of access to their natural environment, including access to water, grazing and fishing grounds, arable lands and forest resources. The Ethiopian government’s lack of a specific policy or programme to address indigenous peoples’ special needs and status has further aggravated their situation. Ethiopia, is a key political actor in Africa, and the second most populous country on the continent. It is a glaring omission that such a significant political actor has not attempted—in consultation with the country’s indigenous peoples and their representative institutions—to develop policies and programmes that are in accordance with guidelines from the UN and other relevant bodies and which would bridge the social and economic gaps that are currently causing such distress. The Ethiopian government is thus failing to address widely reported concerns regarding the human rights of indigenous people in Gambela, the lower Omo Valley, Benishangul Gumuz, Afar, Somali and Oromia regions—all areas that have been part of the government’s land lease policy and villagization programme. The Oromia region has been the site of significant protests since late 2015 when protests began over plans to expand the capital, Addis Ababa. In what was seen as an attempted “land grab”, Oromo farmers argued that expanding Addis Ababa would lead to their displacement and the loss of arable land. Although plans were subsequently dropped, protests continued, leading to what activists reported as the deaths of around 200 people so far, and heightened tensions in the area.
Considering the future for indigenous peoples’ rights in Ethiopia, it therefore remains important that there be a country-wide, inclusive and participatory movement in the country that would be able to ensure that the concerns of pastoralists and agro-pastoral peoples are taken into account as part of key government policies and programmes. The country’s lack of formal mechanisms in which to consider such issues, as well as legal restrictions on freedom of association and speech, appear to preclude this. This is despite the fact that the Ethiopian constitution—though lacking in clear provisions directly related to indigenous peoples —does include a provision for dealing with the development needs of pastoralist communities. However, the overall outlook for a nationwide indigenous peoples’ movement is promising. Consensus is underway amongst various groups that— with the support of international organizations and a more positive government view—could enable the country’s marginalized communities to face a more positive future.
New Report from State Department Details Widespread Human Rights Abuses in Ethiopia
Oakland Institute, 9 May 2016
Oakland, CA—The United States Department of State recently released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, including an in-depth account of the human rights situation in Ethiopia. The report confirmed many of the ongoing human rights violations that the Oakland Institute has detailed in Ethiopia, including: abuses associated with the Government’s villagization program; restrictions on basic freedoms of expression, assembly, association, movement, and religious affairs; restrictions on activities of civil society organizations; and more.
“The US State Department report confirms that countless human rights abuses are being perpetrated by the Ethiopian Government,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute. “It also highlights appalling issues associated with Ethiopia’s criminal system, such as the use of torture, a weak and politically influenced judiciary, life-threatening prison conditions, and the use of electric shocks and beatings to extract confessions.”
Caught in this horrific system are thousands of journalists, political opposition members, land rights defenders, students, and indigenous and religious leaders, who have been unlawfully detained and arrested under Ethiopia’s draconian Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.
Included in the State Department report are the cases of Ethiopian Muslim leaders, detained and charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation for participating in protests for religious freedom; and of land rights defenders Omot Agway Okwoy, Ashinie Astin, and Jamal Oumar Hojele who were arrested en route to a food security conference in Nairobi and charged under the Anti-Terrorism law.
Countless more stories were not included in the report, including that of indigenous Anuak leader Okello Akway Ochalla, who was abducted in South Sudan and forcibly taken to Ethiopia, in complete violation of extradition treaties and international law, for speaking out about abuses perpetrated against the people of Gambella, Ethiopia. On April 27, 2016, after more than two years in jail, Mr. Okello was handed a nine year prison sentence.
“Over the past years, countless indigenous communities have been evicted from their land to make way for large-scale land grabs in Ethiopia,” commented Mittal. “These displacements are happening without the free, prior, and informed consent of the impacted populations, and when communities resist, they are forcibly removed by means of violence, rape, imprisonment, and the denial of humanitarian assistance, including food aid. To make matters worse, the people who stand up and fight for the rights of those communities – people like Mr. Okello and Pastor Omot – are being jailed. This must stop.”
“Ethiopia is the United States’ closest ally in Africa and the second largest recipient of US overseas development assistance in Africa,” she continued. “In these unique roles, the US has both the power and the moral responsibility to ensure that basic human rights and the rule of law are upheld in the country. Through its report, the United States acknowledges the widespread human rights violations taking place in Ethiopia. The question is: when will the US finally do something to address this egregious situation?”
By William Davison, Bloomberg Business, 21 March 2016
Building glut seen fueling biggest political crisis in decade
Fatal land protests near capital have raged since November
(Bloomberg business) — When Ethiopian farmer Mulugeta Mezemir ceded his land three years ago to property developers on the fringes of the expanding capital, Addis Ababa, he felt he had no choice.
A gated community with white picket fences and mock Roman pillars built by Country Club Developers now occupies the fields he tilled in Legetafo, Oromia region, after the 60-year-old said local government officials convinced him to accept an offer or face expropriation. He took the cash and vacated the land, which in Ethiopia is all state-owned.
“We were sad, but we thought at the time that they were going to take the land for free,” said Mulugeta, a father of 12, while feeding hay to cattle a few meters from foundations for the next phase of housing. “We thought it was better to take whatever they were paying.”
As Ethiopia, which the International Monetary Fund estimates saw 8.7 percent economic growth in the last fiscal year, undergoes a construction boom, complaints over evictions and unfair compensation have fomented the country’s most serious domestic political crisis in a decade.
In protests by the largest ethnic group, the Oromo, that began in November, security forces allegedly shot dead as many as 266 demonstrators, according to the Kenya-based Ethiopian Human Rights Project. The government says many people died, including security officers, without giving a toll. Foreign investors including Dangote Cement Plc had property damaged.
Ethiopian Communication Minister Getachew Reda said protesters were in part angry at “some crooked officials” who have been “lining their pockets by manipulating” land deals around the capital. Property developers CCD followed legal procedures, paid standard rates of compensation and employed many members of farmers’ families, according to Tedros Messele, a member of the company’s management team.
Cases such as Mulugeta’s have been a growing trend on the outskirts of the capital over the past two decades, said Nemera Mamo, an economist at Sussex University in England. No recent, independent studies have been conducted into how many people have been affected.
“The booming construction industry has contributed to Addis Ababa’s rapid expansion that’s dispossessed many poor farmers and turned them into beggars and daily laborers,” Nemera said. “The Oromo protest movement opposes the mass eviction of poor farmers.”
Ethiopia’s state-heavy model seeks to industrialize the impoverished nation within a decade by improving infrastructure and combining investment with cheap labor, land and water to produce higher-value goods. Projects for what the IMF calls African’s fastest-growing economy include the continent’s largest hydropower dam, railways and the building of 700,000 low-cost apartments by 2020.
Construction accounted for more than half of all industry in the fiscal year that ended in July after it grew an annual 37 percent, according to National Bank of Ethiopia data. Industry comprised 15 percent of output.
Investors such as Diageo Plc, the world’s largest liquor maker, and Unilever Plc are tapping into the expansion by building Ethiopian facilities. Citizens of Africa’s second-most populous nation are using money earned there or abroad to build residences, malls and offices.
The ruling party hasn’t kept pace with the boom by improving governance and the ability of domestic manufacturers to supply the industry, said Tsedeke Yihune, who owns Flintstone Engineering, an Ethiopian contractor that’s built upmarket housing and African Union offices.
“Construction has not been used as it was supposed to, as a means of building domestic capacity, building good governance, as well as delivering the government’s development agenda,” Tsedeke said in an interview in the capital.
More than 70 percent of construction materials are imported, including cables, steel, ceramics, locks, furniture and electrical fittings, Tsedeke said. Ethiopia’s trade deficit increased by $3 billion to $14.5 billion last fiscal year.
Addis Ababa-based Orchid Business Group is another recipient of government capital spending, which the IMF says could double to almost $15 billion a year by 2020. Orchid’s projects include one with Italy’s Salini Impregilo SpA building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, said Hailealem Worku, the construction and engineering head.
Cement plants built by companies including Dangote have made Ethiopia self-sufficient in the material, while manufacturing incentives means glass, paint and steel factories will play a bigger role soon, Hailealem said.
The government wants to improve regulations and change attitudes so contractors boost their skills and ethics, Construction Minister Ambachew Mekonnen said in an interview. “The construction industry suffers from a lack of good governance,” he said.
In Legetafo, Mulugeta was paid 17 birr ($0.80) a square meter in compensation. Meanwhile, people were bidding as much as 355,555 birr per meter to rent land in Addis Ababa last year. Mulugeta used the 200,000 birr he received for the plot for expenses including renting more farmland. Two of his children now work as CCD cleaners, earning 40 birr a day.
“We are getting deeper into poverty,” he said.
Oromo: Ethiopia’s Construction Boom Marred by Evictions and Unrest
Partial list of Oromos mainly students that have been killed by Ethiopian regime police, security agents, Special and armed force during peaceful demonstration of last three months (updated stand. March. 2016)
Partial list of Oromos mainly students that have been killed by Ethiopian regime police, security agents, Special and armed force during peaceful demonstration of last three months (updated stand. March. 2016)
OPINION: FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN ETHIOPIA: A BLESSING OR A CURSE?
By J. Bonsa, PhD, ADDISSTANDARD, MARCH 03, 2016
In conflict prone contexts, foreign investors, especially whose actions while entering a given country were not subject to checks and balances, may undermine political stability and fuel social unrest.Depending on the level of accountability in the recipient country, foreign direct investment (FDI) could be a blessing or a curse.
In this piece, I will attempt to highlight Ethiopia’s political economy and the setting for the operations of foreign investors.
Peculiar political context
Notwithstanding the announcement of a 100% electoral victory by the ruling EPRDF, the fact remains that Ethiopia has never had a fully representative government. This rather unique situation means it is naïve to discuss Ethiopia’s current affairs by applying standard rhetoric.Doing so fails to capture the peculiarity of the situation on the ground. For instance, familiar phrases such as“dictatorial regime” or “totalitarian government” do not fully capture the essence of the current political system in Ethiopia.
The key to understand the strange nature of the ERPDF government, a coalition of four parties, is to recognize it as a system of “internal colonial rule” led by one powerful party, the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).It is a conspicuous knowledge held by many that EPRDF essentially means TPLF.
The loyalty towards TPLF of Ethiopia’s military and security apparatus has remained the only source of EPRDF’s strength and tight grip on power. Without further ado it is suffice to mention that the country’s army generals and high ranking officers hail from Tigray, the geographic location home to TPLF. In turn the army’s brutal efficiency in military and security command system has earned the TPLF an extraordinary reputation and near complete political upper hand in the eyes of the other three parties within the coalition.
Technically that leaves Ethiopia with a reverse political system: the world is familiar with majority-rule and minority-rights, Ethiopia’s, on the other hand,is a political system without even some majority-rights. Today’s TPLF dominated EPRDF needed to be certain that the majority would not have the bare minimum of rights, because, if allowed, this might eventually lead to the emergence of democracy.
Business as unusual
The political and military power disparity favoring a single party has also caused divergences in economic and domestic private investment opportunities. This resulted in the emergence of domestic crony capitalism of the ugliest type. Endowment Fund for Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT), the acronym that has more than 50 companies under its control, owns its presence and dominance to the growing trend of domestic crony capitalism.
In the last 25 years EFFORT has emerged as the most powerful domestic business conglomerate controlling the commanding heights of the Ethiopian economy. Its monopoly on the Ethiopian economy ranges from heavy engineering, construction, import and exports (of key capital and raw materials including fertilizers on which all Ethiopian farmers rely) to freight and passenger transport, wholesale and retail distributions. And yet, there is little information about EFFORT that is available for the general public.
It is a misnomer to describe EFFORT as a business group “affiliated to the government”. But Ethiopians know that the same groups of people who occupy government positions are also owners of the companies under EFFORT.
And as of late another unlikely business monopoly has emerged in the form of the military establishment, the same military whose top leadership is either loyal to or under the indirect control of TPLF. METeC, a company run by the national army, is having an elaborate business interest from production of computers and flat screen TVs to heavy metals, car assembly and hotels. Once again, there is no or little information available to the public on the exact nature of METeC’s business empire.
The dark horse
It is within this political reality that one needs to look into the economic aspects, including the manner by which the EPRDF led government is regulating the flow of FDI. It is a public knowledge that cronyism has, by and large, emerged as the trade mark of EPRDF’s economic governance over the past two decades, including its deals with foreign companies operating in the country.
As of this writing, news is coming that protesters in Guji zone of southern Ethiopia and Dembi Delo of western Ethiopia are targeting the two gold mines in the area owned by the MIDROC Ethiopia Investment Group. To understand this boiling public frustration, it is important to acknowledge that the people of Ethiopia have no knowledge about how these two gold mines were sold to MEDROC in the first place, and to evaluate whether the people in the areas where the natural resources are being ferociously extracted have stood to benefit from it in any way. It is also important to know that the name MIDROC stands for Mohammed International Development Research and Organization Companies, a name that implies nothing about the nature of the vast business functioning under its umbrella. For Many Ethiopians, therefore,MIDROC is the dark horse that appeared on the scene from nowhere but spread itself in all sectors of the Ethiopian economy at alarming pace.
For much of the first decade under EPRDF’s rule, Ethiopia suffered a serious setback in attracting foreign investment. Foreign investors were cautious (rightly), observing the unhealthy governance system as a risk not worth taking. However, during those days, MIDROC Ethiopia was often presented as a cover up to entice other foreign investors, giving the impression that the EPRDF regime was trustworthy and foreign investment was safe to flow in. That, and its sworn allegiance to the ruling party in power, gave MIDROC the opportunity to enjoy unparalleled access to Ethiopia’s natural resources. This was done primarily because the EPRDF could count on MIDROC as a foreign investor. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development once reported that about 60 per cent of the overall foreign direct investment approved in Ethiopia was related to MIDROC.
MEDROC’s expansions began with acquisitions of many previous public enterprises – manufacturing branches, state farms, gold mines, and other mineral resources mostly outside of public scrutiny. MIDROC is most commonly associated with land grabs in many parts of Oromiya, at the heart of Addis Abeba and Gambella, causing havocs through evictions of millions of households from their ancestral lands.
The other murky deals
The contradictions in Ethiopia’s business environment are rather perplexing. On the one hand the TPLF dominated regime in Addis Abeba has a very hostile attitude to private domestic investors. Ethiopia has remained at the bottom of World Bank’s country ranks in ease of doing business, ranking 146th out of 189 countries in 2015. But EFFORT, METeC and MDROC business empires and their affiliates are exempt from such restrictions and the little private businesses in the country have to survive the three to make a meaningful economic gain.
On the other hand Ethiopia is known for making extraordinary concessions to attract foreign investors, particularly during the last decade. Here is the question – why such officious treatmentfor foreign investors when private business are forced to eat dirt? The answer lies in the assumption that the government often acts in the interest of domestic cronies – foreign investors are needed to camouflage EFFORT’s aggressive expansions. The deals to couple EFFORT with foreign businesses are surrounded by dark secrets; details are unavailable to the general public. Foreign investors have often been lured into joint ventures with party owned or affiliated local companies. The recent US$30 million worth deal between a local pharmaceutical company owned by EFFORT and a foreign company symbolizes that assertion. The overlap between the operations of domestic oligopolistic companies and their foreign counterparts is so much that it is difficult to know where one ends and the other begins.
The recent fall out between the government in Ethiopia and the Karuturi Global Ltd has revealed the murky nature of foreign investment deals in Ethiopia that prompted many to summarize “in Ethiopia, foreign investment is a fancy word for stealing land”. In 2010, Karuturi Global Ltd was given a concession to develop 300, 000 hectares of agricultural land in Gambella. However, in Dec. 2015, the deal collapsed when the Agricultural Ministry’s land investment agency “cancelled the concession on the grounds that by 2012 Karuturi had developed only 1,200 hectares of land within the initial two year period of the contract.” There is a lot more into this fall out than meet the eye, least the fate of the hundreds of thousands of indigenous people who were forced to give up their lands to give way to a deal they know nothing about.
But one of the most unsettling details to emerge out of this fiasco was the claim by Karuturi Global Ltd management that the land was forced upon them by the local authorities despite their insistence otherwise. At first glance this may sound awkward, as if the foreign investor and the Ethiopian authorities switched sides in the process of bargaining. However, for someone who is familiar with the shrewd operations of doing business in Ethiopia it is easy to know why Ethiopian officials were forcing the foreign investor to take 30 times more than it said it could handle. One plausible explanation held by many is that since enough land grabbing had already been done by the cronies during the previous decades, authorities found it prudent to frame a foreign investor as a vehicle to continue land expropriation.
In the wake of a possible persistence of protests by Ethiopians, protesters’ targeted attacks against foreign companies operating in Ethiopia may come as sheer anarchic for outsiders. But as long as the people of Ethiopia are kept in the dark as to the nature of the real deals between foreign companies and a government flawed by asymmetrical party coalition (deals that symbolize a life deprived of its means and style),incidents of targeted public outrage against selected foreign companies should not come as a shock.
The same explanation holds true for the land expropriations for flower farms and industrial parks in Oromiya, particularly in the vicinity of Addis Abeba. It is for such reasons that the infamous Addis Abeba Master Plan was formulated, eyeing 20 times more land that would be transformed into wasteful industrial parks all in the name of attracting foreign investment the nature of it is kept secret from the very people it greatly affects.
ED’s Note: J. Bonsa is an economist by training. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial principles of Addis Standard.
TPLF Ethiopia’s land robbery and barbarism must end!
#OromoProtests: TPLF’s barbarism against Surma (the Suri , the Mursi and the Mekan) people of Lower Omo basin in Southern state. TPLF’s Agazi forces are conducting mass torturing of the kushitic people of Omo Valley (the Surma) in 21 century as their land is taken for woyanes sugar plantations, owned by a Tigrean.
Namoonni akkanatti Wayyaaneen hiraarfamaa jiran kun lammiilee saba Surmaa kan laga Oomoo irra galaniiti. Ummanni kun lafti isaanii irraa fudhatamee abbaa qabeenyaa Tigree tokko warshaa sukkaraa irratti dhaabuu waan mormaniifi.
TPLF/EPRDF Regime a Contra to a Developmental State
By Dr Barii Ayano, Economic Thinker
One of the catchy phrases the TPLF/EPRDF regime leaders and their cadres often use to describe the regime is “limatawi mengist” or “developmental state”. However, the TPLF/EPRDF regime is not pursuing a development state economic model since the regime’s economic system does not meet standard features of a development state. Actually, the regime’s economy and its rhetoric are in contradiction with the conventional features of a developmental state enshrined in nation building and economic nationalism that unify a nation. There is difference between state-led developmental state and state-controlled and state-owned economy of TPLF-led regime. The regime’s rulers and bureaucrats have predatory and kleptocratic motives, which are fed by structural and institutional corruptions and rentseeking. Unlike a developmental state, which builds foundations for private entrepreneurship and innovative enterprises, Ethiopia’s monetized economy is dominated by interest groups affiliated or aligned with the regime such as REST. The regime marginalized and displaced most of the traditional entrepreneurial and business class. The foundation of Ethiopia’s economy under the current regime is not entrepreneurial or business skill but alliance with TPLF leaders. The leaders of the TPLF/EPRDF regime and interest groups aligned with them designed get-rich-quick schemes based on land grabs and cronyism, which have nothing to do with economic efficiency, entrepreneurship, innovative value adding, business acumens, etc. of a developmental state. Therefore, the regime’s leaders and their cadres use of the phrase ‘developmental state’ to the describe economy is similar to the regime’s leaders and their cadres use of the word ‘democracy’ to describe the current political system. It is also important to note that a developmental state is not always synonymous with authoritarianism and dictatorship, but many Asian states have been authoritarian to a degree, particularly at the earlier stages of development.
What is a Developmental State?
A developmental state is a term coined by Chalmers Johnson that is used to describe states which follow a particular model of economic planning and management. It was initially used to describe post World War II Japan and its rapid modernization and economic growth. It is the developmental state of Japan that led to innovative creation of world renowned Japanese brands such as Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nisan, Sony, Toshiba, etc. Other examples often cited as developmental states include Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, and Indonesia. In terms of an economic jargon, a developmental state is a state where the government is intimately involved in the macro and micro economic planning in order to grow the economy whilst attempting to deploy its resources in developing better lives for the people. Developmental states invest and mobilize the majority of capital into the most promising sector of an economy that will have maximum spillover effect for the society and reduce the dislocations caused by shifts in investment and profits from old to new sectors. Such state plays the social engineering role to restructure the national economic system for promoting long-term (industrial) development. Thus it is based on combinations of nurturing innovative private enterprises as the key owners and the positive role of government via an ambition use of the interventionist power of the state and its fiscal and monetary policy to guide investment in a way that promotes economic solidarity of different interest groups based vision for national economy and its growth.
Key Features of a Developmental State
In order to understand the concept of a developmental state, it is important to highlight some of the characteristics of a developmental state. Although dictators pursuing developmental states generally believe that they will attain state legitimacy through delivery of services to citizens rather than through the ballot, they use economic nationalism to unify the nation based on a collective goal of economic development. Developmental states hugely invest in quality education, especially in technical fields in both domestic universities and overseas scholarship. This leads to the emergence of bureaucratic layers populated by extremely educated people, who have sufficient tools of analysis to be able to take economic leadership initiatives, based on sound scientific basis, at diverse levels of decision making within the government structure. Moreover, developmental states have been observed to be able to efficiently distribute and allocate resources and, therefore, invest optimally in critical areas that are the basis of growth such as education, research and development, infrastructure, etc. It is this ideology-structure nexus that distinguishes developmental states from other forms of states. Let me elaborate the ideology-structure nexus of a developmental state in two areas.
1. Economic Nationalism as an Ideology
The successful developmental states are based promoting economic nationalism as a unifying ideology. The state promotes economic nationalism as an essential keystone, which unifies different interest groups. A developmental state conceives economic development as its national mission and the mission of the country at large. Although a development state establishes its principle of legitimacy as its ability to promote sustained development, it does not alienate experts of diverse interest groups and political views in participating in economic nationalism since real development requires expertise for steady high rates of economic growth and structural change in the productive system, both domestically and in its comparative competition in the international economy. In spite of dictatorial development states control of political sphere, there is economic freedom where experts of diverse professions are able to establish an “ideological hegemony” based on economic nationalism to which key actors in the nation adhere voluntarily in order to contribute towards economic development for the benefits of their country. The main force behind the developmentalist ideology has usually been economic nationalism, inducing nations to seek to “catch up” with countries considered as more developed. It is essential to stress the ideological underpinnings of state policies knit together the ruling class and the ruled class of a country with economic nationalism as a unifying factor. In other words, the centrality of economic nationalism as an alternative ideology points to de-politicized national quest for economic development, which is driven by professional expertise with the help and support of a developmental state. The economy falls under some kind of technocratic governance of the best and the brightest a country can offer for economic development to carry out state policies that are good for the nation without focusing on cronyism and self-serving profiteering of politicians and their relatives. The TPLF-led regime does not function in this mindset. Economic development is not only a central preoccupation for political leaders but also by professional technocrats of a developmental state. Nationalist-cum-developmentalist ideology is used for both unifying nation building and economic development. Economic nationalism ideology is used to rally the masses for national unity and economic development. The centrality of economic development was such that it acquired the status of an ideology (“developmentalism”) national ideology, which seeks to subordinate the energy of the people behind a single national goal. Among others, the role of the government is maintaining public investment in infrastructure, research and development, and education to stimulate private investment, create skilled labor force and entrepreneurial class, etc. In the politics of nation building, the developmental state leadership focuses on the economics of nation building. In dictators-led developmental state leaders swear by economic growth and seem to view good growth indicators as the main source of their legitimacy. The developmental state is also committed to resolving conflicts in the on-going process of social restructuring as it tends to induce winners and losers in economic development. Conflict management in this regard involves ensuring that the benefits, expected benefits, of the growth process are widely shared and discussed among politicians, experts and the public. The developmental state is understood to be identified with its actual achievement of economic growth, since its legitimacy stems from the significant improvement in standards of living for a broad cross section of society. Thus economic nationalism can include political interest groups molded into a developmental coalition for a common goal.
2. Developmental State-Structure: Professional Capacity Building
The state-structure of a developmental state emphasizes building structural capacity to implement economic policies sensibly and effectively. The capacity is determined by structural, institutional, technical, administrative, and political engagements and professional bureaucrats. Undergirding all these layers is the autonomy of the state from social forces so that it can use these capacities to devise long-term economic policies unfettered by private interests of corrupt politicians and unprofessional bureaucrats. The quest for a “strong state” in the development process is aligned with building administrative capacity more than the political ability to push through its developmental project using political power. The developmental state has some social anchoring that prevents it from using its autonomy in a predatory manner and enables it to gain devotion of key social actors. It does not rely on asymmetric nature of centre-periphery power relations, which tend to produce various class structures. Rather, it focuses on building capacity for appropriate state structures and functions that effectively promote development as a national goal. (See “a” and “b” below) The foundation to building a developmental state is to develop an educated population and a knowledgeable society with high levels of scientific literacy in building a knowledge economy based on professional business people and entrepreneurship. Economic nationalism leads to a harmonious society with a strategic partnership amongst labor, government, industry and society, which leads to a society that efficiently allocates and distributes resources.
a. Competent and Efficient Bureaucracy
It goes without saying that cooperation between state and major industries is crucial for maintaining stable macroeconomy since policies decided at the top levels of government are administered by middle-level bureaucrats. One of the main characteristics of a successful developmental state capacity building is creating an extensive bureaucratic layer consisting of mainly professional technocrats with highly developed economic and innovative visions, who are able to plan in large cycles that extend over long time periods. The bureaucrats also pay special attention to reconfiguring the social sphere so that the culture of appreciating the value of education is entrenched since technical education is the driver of increasing developmental capacity. For instance, in East Asia, the developmental state’s bureaucracy has several important characteristics. There was an extensive discourse on ‘developmentalism,’ the necessity of industrialization and of state intervention to promote it. The professional bureaucracy in Asia has a powerful social group of highly educated bureaucrats with predictable and coherent national interests. Thus, the public-private cooperation between the bureaucracy and business sector has been developed and refined through institutional adaptation over time, and responds flexibly to changing new realities in the respective country and international economic conditions. By and large, the behavior of Asian bureaucrats has been bound to the pursuit of collective goals rather than individual opportunities presented by the market, allowing the state to act with autonomy from certain societal pressures. The fact that formal competence, as opposed to clientelistic ties or loyalties, is the chief requirement for entry into the bureaucratic network makes it all the more valued among people. A competent and efficient bureaucracy dedicated to devising and implementing a planned process of economic development is central role of a developmental state. Developmental states staff the bureaucracy by the respective countries best human resources, who are charged with the task of directing the course of their countries’ development. Thus the chance to join the state bureaucracy has a high degree of prestige and professional legitimacy. This allows a developmental state not only to continue recruiting outstanding personnel, but also to utilize policy tools that tend to give them additional authority. As a result, the developmental state economies have developed the greatest state capacity not only to formulate development policies but also to implement them effectively to promote economic development. The TPLF-led regime has never nurtured bureaucratic professionalism but bureaucratic clientelism of loyal servants.
b. Embedded Autonomy of Professional Bureaucrats and Entrepreneurs
A competent and efficient bureaucracy under a developmental state is able to maintain effective relationship, especially regarding the direction and funding of investment projects, with the domestic business sector without direct intervention of the central government. Thus, the professional bureaucrats, entrepreneurs and the business sector have “embedded autonomy” when it comes to the relationship between the developmental state and the business sector. A successful developmental state needs to be sufficiently embedded in society so that it can achieve its development objectives by acting through “social infrastructure”, but not so close to business sector that it risks ‘capture’ by particular interest groups, which tend to lead to entrenched corruptions and rent-seeking. This no demarcation between the TPLF-led regime’s politics and the economy since politics and economy, including dominating economic ownership, are meshed together in Ethiopia-politics is economy; economy is politics.
TPLF-led Regime: A Kleptocratic State
The TPLF/EPRDF regime vividly lacks an ideology of development anchored in some form of economic nationalism that unifies Ethiopia as a collective goal. The government has not attempted to build national consensus on economic development of different interest groups with the exception of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Some argue that the GERD campaign by the regime is more for finance and political expedience than unifying the people under a national project. Economic growth rhetoric is sold as the domain and monopoly of the regime whereas the general public is ridiculously divided into “pro-development” and “anti-development”. And the opposition groups, by and large, fall under the category of “anti-development”. Surely, this is anti-thesis to a developmental state’s theme of building economic nationalism, which binds different interest groups of a country so that they all accept and take part in it as a collective national goal. Abay Tsehaye, in one of his interviews, clearly stated the economic goal of the regime in the long run. He stated that the regime has the agenda of creating an economically empowered class, which will control the economy and lead politics. This agenda has nothing to do with a developmental state agenda founded on building national consensus and economic nationalism as an ideology. The regime’s economic agenda is aligned with “divide-and-rule” and long term goal to lord over Ethiopia. Like the political goal of the regime, the economic agenda is also inherently discriminatory in its nature. In the lack of nurturing national development ideology and intrinsic one-party rule, loyalty to the regime easily overrides societal development goals. Individuals aligned with the regime often hold highly idiosyncratic mindset that they flout with impunity and with no moral qualms in politics, the economy and their general interaction with the business sector and the society at large. Consequently, TPLF/EPRDF regime’s leaders have no moral basis on which they could demand enthusiastic and internalized compliance to whatever “national project” they launch due to the lack of ideology of development, which addresses the public demand and national economic interests shared by all interest groups. Unlike the developmental state, the central political stage and layers of bureaucracies of the regime are not occupied by well educated professionals, who are guided by the aspirations of nation building and economic development. Loyalty is the major factor in bureaucratic appointments from top to the bottom, and hence most of the regime’s bureaucrats are less merited to occupy their offices. Rather than being competent and efficient bureaucracy, the processes of appointing less qualified individuals based on loyalty has led to an inescapable “development of underdevelopment” in Ethiopia’s bureaucracy, which in turn produced a series of political and economic contradictions and bureaucratic cronyism. Moreover, unlike a development state, the TPLF/EPRDF regime portrays foreign dependence syndrome, with a significant part of the regime’s budget covered by international budgetary aid. Externally dependent growth is not conducive for dynamic capital accumulation, which builds basis for a development state economy. Thus, even accepted at face value, equating the regime’s claimed booming economy of Ethiopia with a developmental state becomes problematic since the economy heavily depends on external factors, such as export of primary products and aid inflows.
TPLF-led State Controlled and Owned Economy
The institutional and economic structures of the regime are reinforced and constructed by political power to control the economy rather than developing national economic ideology or creating discourses with interest groups. Structural aspects of the regime’s economy include mass dislocation of society without offering alternative settings or means of survival. This kind of economic structure resembles settler colonial economy much more than a development state. This is most apparent in land-grab and the privileging of elements of the regime, their families and supporters. Access to politicians paves way for getting rich much more than individuals’ entrepreneurial and business skills. Large chunk of renowned entrepreneurs and business people have been forced to leave Ethiopia and migrate to other countries. The economic system and its bureaucracy are structured as a predatory state, where top rulers and layers of bureaucracy have predatory motives, and hence less willing to part with corruptions and rent-seeking. The aim of regime is to exploit the physical, human, and economic resources for the benefit the leaders of the regime and few others aligned with them. The economic goals of regime are simple. It is to provide maximum economic benefit to the individuals in power at the expense of the majority. Like colonial settlers, the individual needs of their subjects are neither important nor part of their economic goals. The imposition of economic policy is often arbitrary and unrelated to any real need of the majority of the people. This led to inadequacy of the food entitlements and chronic malnutrition and famine. Unlike a development state’s national development driven by all-encompassing economic nationalism, the TPLF/EPRDF regime’s economic agenda is more about economic subjugation and about the regime’s ability to control of the economy. Improving the production methods and strengthening national economy for all people are not the priorities. It’s all about empowering the likes of REST to be unchallengeable economic giants of Ethiopia. There is a crystal clear lack of autonomy of the business sector due to the unholy relationship of state-society and state-business under the TPLF-EPRDF regime. There is bureaucratic malaise into both market and state structures and it has eaten into the very core of the edifice of modern administration rendering it both weak and incoherent, at best. Mired in clientelism, the state has not been able to provide the bureaucratic order and predictability that business sector and entrepreneurs need to engage in long-term investment and contribute to long-term national development. TPLF-led regime is literally driven interest groups and mired in state-clientelist relationships. And hence it is even lacking in “stateness” in a strict sense of the word. Self-interest groups which control the state adopt policies that generated rents for them. The TPLF/EPRDF state is essentially a rent generating institution that inhibited efficient allocation of resources. Rent seeking usually involves redistribution of income from one group to another, and in Ethiopia, it is redistribution from poor to the rich through corruptions and rent-seeking. Let alone being a development state, the regime cannot pursue the collective task of development in the long run. It has crushed most of the strategies and institutions that build a solid foundation for development. State-society relationships are inherent to national development, and mistrust runs both ways-the regime does not trust the people and the people don’t trust the regime.
The developmental state refers to the collective economic and human development via state’s essential role in harnessing national human, financial, etc. resources and directing incentives through a distinctive policy-making process. The foundation for building a developmental state is the ability to establish nationalist educated population by creating a harmonious society with strategic partnerships amongst labor, government, industry and society as well as efficiently allocating and distributing resources. The success of the developmental state also stems from the ‘embedded autonomy,’ in which the developmental state is linked intimately with the private sector but preserves sufficient distance for the renegotiation of goals and policies when capital interests are inconsistent with national development. The key government actors under the TPLF-led are irredeemably greedy, corrupt and captured by rent seekers and economies of personal wealth accumulation, and hence focus on promoting vested interests over national development. They don’t think creatively of modes of social organization at both macro and micro level that can extricate Ethiopia from poverty and lead it to the long term path of development. Appropriate institutional structures do not exist in Ethiopia to socially engineer a developmental state since a development state is a social construct consciously brought about by a state, its bureaucracy and societies. Economic nationalism of a developmental state cannot take root. We cannot draw parallels between TPLF-led regime and developmental states implemented in Asia. Unlike TPLF, Asian dictators were/are very nationalist with the goal to change the living standard of their people and promote their countries in the world. TPLF leaders have beef with most of the people in Ethiopia such as Oromos and Amaras. TPLF’s governance resembles settler colonialism of the apartheid system in South Africa and British land-grab system in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) much more than the developmental state systems in Asia. The regime does not pursue collective economic empowerment agenda. In dictatorial developmental states, even where was no political freedom but people had economic freedom. Under the TPLF/EPRDF regime, there is neither political nor economic freedom. Discriminatory economic policies, with enclave economy nature, are more aligned to colonial policies. TPLF governance is unequivocally becoming ethnic apartheid in political, economic, etc. fronts. Its policies are designed to marginalize dissenting people from economic benefits and then to impoverish them for long term political and economic control whereas the leaders and their relatives profiteering through deeply entrenched cronyism. Developmental state dictators in Asia were not consumed by self-enriching schemes via corruptions and rent-seeking. Actually, the Asian dictators were very tough on corrupted individuals, politicians, etc. Although they did not stop it, corruption leads to very long imprisonments. But people join the TPLF/EPRDF regime to get license to be corrupt and rent-seeker without any repercussion. The TPLF –led regime is structurally and institutionally corrupt, which was not the case under Asian developmental state system. Finally, the TPLF-led regime is weak, over-extended, and interfere with the smooth functioning of the markets with its repressive characters and draconian policies. It heavily depends on foreign powers for its existence. Therefore, it is not an example of a developmental state by any account. I think phrases like the “rentier state”, the “overextended state”, the “parasitical state”, the “predatory state”, the “crony state”, and the “kleptocratic state” better fit the TPLF/EPRDF regime. I think it is a kleptocratic state/autocracy (rule by thieves) made up of very greedy individuals addicted to personal wealth accumulation through structured and institutionalized corruptions and rent-seeking.
Attracting investment to Ethiopia by offering large plots of land to agricultural investors is a development strategy being aggressively pursued by the Ethiopian government. The government announced this strategy in 2009, stating it planned to lease 3 million hectares1 of land to foreign and domestic investors for agriculture use over a period of three years in order to increase productivity and earn foreign exchange (McClure 2009, 1). The simplest motivation for these actions is macroeconomic. In 2009, the IMF issued a staff report stating that the balance of payments in Ethiopia for the 2009-2010 year was “troubling” due to the global recession taking a toll on remittances, exports, and direct foreign investment. The impact of rising oil prices and decreasing foreign assistance was also expected to have an impact (IMF 2009, 5). In response to these prospects, the Ethiopian government created the Federal Land Bank to facilitate the acquisition of land by investors looking to acquire large tracts for cultivation. The foreign investors are mainly coming from India and Saudi Arabia, but also from Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Italy, China, and recently, even the National Bank of Egypt (Makki and Geisler 2011, 13). In addition, about half of the investors are domestic, representing Ethiopian diaspora or wealthy Ethiopian highland residents (Vidal 2011). The investors are mainly interested in growing crops to export to their home markets or in cultivating agrofuels, crops which are used to create biofuels. While some 1 Approximately 7.4 million acres A THIRSTY THIRD WORLD Page 7 of 74 companies promise to sell some produce on the domestic market, there are no contractual obligations to do such. The issue of transferring land and its productive uses from domestic cultivators to foreign interests is particularly concerning in Ethiopia as it is a country that has often made headlines for famines, and the underlying issue, droughts. Despite having a great deal of water in certain areas, sporadic rainfall and poor collection techniques make water security a central issue of concern for the country. Many of the countries that are choosing to grow crops in Ethiopia are countries that face water insecurities of their own. They are seeking to stabilize their food security, but the impact that this will have on water access and quality for Ethiopians who depend on subsistence agriculture for survival is not being addressed in the deals that have been made. Anders Jågerskog, a leading scholar on the issue of water and land deals from the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) has noted that, “The risk from poorly supervised land acquisitions is that a wealthy economy simply exports its water “footprint” elsewhere” (SAPA 2012). It is especially concerning that the design and implementation of this policy is having a stratified, possibly intentional, impact on the different ethnically divided regions of the country. The region experiencing the heaviest concentration of land deals is Gambella, a comparatively tiny region in the southwestern part of the country, bordered by newly formed South Sudan to its west. This area has had 42 percent of its land leased out to investors. Gambella also has had a difficult and increasingly violent relationship with the federal government. There have been numerous instances of the government targeting this region with oppressive tactics, violence, and biased policies. It is also one of the areas that has been identified for the latest wave of villagization, a process of relocation that is being undertaken to “increase service delivery.” However, Gambella’s villagization program appears to be being pursued with greater intensity than other regions’ programs as the government has stated it intends to relocate every indigenous, rural household in Gambella (HRW 2012, 22). The scale and intensity of these land grabs in this region coupled with the fervor of villagization is very concerning and merits much closer attention. – Emily-Ingebretsen.-A-Thirsty-Third-World
The Afar were denied their fundamental right to vote for and elect their representatives and leaders. They are no exception in today’s Ethiopia. That is they have to fight together with the rest of the Ethiopians to dismantle this apartheid regime that has denied them their basic civil and democratic rights.
Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (ARDUF)
Over the past one quarter century of its rule the TPLF mafia group has created a number of puppet organizations to represent various national groups in Ethiopia particularly in the so called backward regions of Somali, Ben Shangul, Gambela and Afar. But none is loyal to its masters in Mekele than the Afar regional leaders in Samara, as the regional capital is now known, none is glued as an appendix to TPLF than APDPA or ADE as it is known locally.
This particular relation between TPLF and ADE has its own reasons. Some are historical others are due to the fact that the Afar region occupies in long range strategy of the TPLF. This “QADE” mafia gang originally was part of TPLF itself. They brought them or assigned them into the power by TPLF to make the Afar politically unpredictable, economically weak and infrastructurally underdeveloped, and to impose Tigray ethnic hegemonic control forcibly over the Afar people. The three regional leaders who came with TPLF are Ismail Ali Sirro, Awal Seyoum and Mohamed Anbatta are still in power in the Afar region. One as President, one as Security Official and the third as speaker of the regional Parliament. The longest serving region leader Ismail Ali Sirro is already elected to the National House of Representatives. So by definition he is not liable any more to be President of the Afar region.
The current Executive Committee of the ruling Party (ADNP) has disgracefully failed to elect a new President for the region due to the deep political division and corruption caused by the outgoing puppet President Ismail Ali Sirro who claims that the Afar will be at each other’s throat if he quits. The fact is that the rampant corruption, bad governance, maladministration, discrimination and tribalism policies planted by TPLF in the puppet officials of the Afar region is going to put the Afar region into violent chaos and anarchy, but not because Ismail Ali Sirro is replaced. The Executive Committee left for Mekele as they do every time, they are not able to settle their differences. Every Afar official in Samara has his own lord in Mekele with whom he shares the money he pockets from his corrupt practices. The three puppets are afraid not to be accountable for their crimes, but one day they will have to face the reality. They want to make sure that their cronies are placed in their places. Recently, over a hundred innocent people are arbitrarily and unlawfully arrested in the Afar region because they protested against those practices.
Constitutionally, all federal regional states are equally accountable to the Federal Constitution, while the Afar Regional State is accountable to the Tigrai Regional State and it ruled from Mekele directly. Afar people have no say in deciding their own destiny. It is a fact that, corruption, famine, insecurity and instability which are currently facing the Afar is directly linked to the climate of unethical, unskilled and inexperienced leadership inability of the so called Afar Democratic National Party (ADNP). While the whole Ethiopia and probably the world is worried about the hunger and starvation which killing both the livestock and human beings in the Afar region, the regional officials are in standoff as they were not able to elect the Executive Committee.
They are waiting an arbiter from Mekele to arrive. The Afar were denied their fundamental right to vote for and elect their representatives and leaders. They are no exception in today’s Ethiopia. That is they have to fight together with the rest of the Ethiopians to dismantle this apartheid regime that has denied them their basic civil and democratic rights.
Victory to the Ethiopian people!
Victory to the heroic ARDUF/UGUUGUMO
Military Command Centre (MCC)
Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (ARDUF)
My experience with some Habeshas is that they lack awareness of what offends and what does not offend others. They say things without thinking about others’ feelings. Gossiping about others (especially dark skinned persons) is a day to day duty for some Habeshas. In fact, badmouthing dark skinned individuals is encouraged and supported by others in Habashas’ culture. The Anyuaks, on the other hand, despise gossiping so much that it is almost a taboo in their culture. The Anyuaks’ cultural norms forbid them from saying things that may offend others. Badmouthing some one, especially if he/she is not present, is met by immediate condemnation by others in Anyuak culture. Thus, individual Anyuaks barely say bad things about others. With so many ignorant and narrow minded population of her own, my fear for Ethiopia is that one day she will break into pieces. My biggest fear is that one day the rest of the ethnic groups in Ethiopian will get fed up with the ignorance and the unwillingness to learn by some Habeshas and breakaway from Ethiopia. I call on all Habeshas who have not yet come to terms with the reality of the world to start permitting themselves for learning, because the 21st century offers no excuse for choosing to remain ignorant.
The difference between being an Ethiopian and being Habesha
By Magn Nyang, Sudan Tribune, February 17, 2009
Recently, a 22-year old young girl from Anyuak of Gambella won the beauty contest of Ms. Ethiopia. Lots of responses went out on media from Ethiopians all over the world about her win. Even though, most respondents seemed very knowledgeable about the differences between being an Ethiopian and being Habesha, few seemed confused about the differences. In their writings, the confused ones, wrote as if they own Ethiopia and as if being an Ethiopian means being Habesha. This article seeks to show the differences between being an Ethiopian and being Habesha.
The Habesha are those people who are from the North part of Ethiopia, specifically, the Tigre, the Agew, the Beta Israel and the Amhara. The Anyuaks of Gambella are from Southwest of Ethiopia. These two groups led their lives and their history seperately. The Anyuaks had their own history in the Southwest dating back to 2,000 years.
Some 2,000 years ago, the Anyuak country, as it was called, was situated between Southwestern Oromo land, present day part of Ethiopia to Pibor River and to the West up to Nyium, present day Nasir in the Sudan.
The Anyuak country was divided by four main Rivers- the Akobo, Openo, Alworo, and Gillo. The Anyuaks had seven administration states- Adongo, Ciro, Nyikaani, Lul, Tier Naam, and Openo under one Nyeya (king) rule. Each state had its own autonomous administration. They had rights to choose from the two Anyuaks’ political systems- Nyech (kingship) or Kwar (headman-ship). The fact of the matter is Anyuak country was never part of Ethiopia or Sudan before 1902. The integrity of Anyuak country came to an end when it came under nominal British control from 17th to the 18th century followed by Ethiopian invasion. On May 15, 1902, after complicated and prolonged negotiations, Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia signed the Anglo-Ethiopian agreement that established his Western frontier with the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. This treaty divided the Anyuak land in two, portioned it amongst the bordering countries Sudan and Ethiopia, without the consent of its leaders. The Southwestern part remained under British control as part of Sudan and the Eastern part became part of Ethiopia under the name Gambella. The word “Gambella” means “Catching a male Tiger with bare hands” in Anyuak.
The Habesha history goes back to the Axumite Empire in the first century A.D. It was documented that around first century A.D., some Hamitic-Semitic peoples (Sabaean traders) from South Arabian came into contact with native people and intermarried. Their off-springs were referred to as “Habesha”, which means “people of mixed blood”. Their land (Tigray, Begemdir, Gojam, Northern Shewa, and Welo) was later termed Abyssinia. It was only when the Abyssinia state exhausted its scarce resources that its leaders expended its frontiers South and Westward in order to amass the resources needed to feed their subjects. Per advice from Count Pietro Antonelli, an Italian with geographic Society mission in Abyssinia, the state of Abyssinia combined with the newly added states of the South and the West, were later referred to as “Ethiopia”
Since the Anyuak country was portioned to Ethiopia in 1902 under the name of Gambella, the Anyuaks became Ethiopians, not Habeshas. The Anyuaks, like the rest of Ethiopians (Afar, Adari, Oromo, Somalis, Gurage, Koman, Kunama, Sidama, Berta, Kembata, Amhara, Tigre, and so on—) are proud Ethiopians. And as long as the contest was held for Ethiopians, not for Habeshas, the Anyuaks have all the rights to participate in it. After all, they were called upon to fight side by side with their Ethiopian fellow citizens to defend Ethiopia in times of need. Therefore, why would they not participate in Ethiopians’ beauty contest?
And if some uneducated Habesha foolishly believe that they are the owners of Ethiopia and get offended instead of applauding when their fellow Ethiopian from Gambella wins the beauty contest, I suggest that they start holding their own Habesha beauty contest and we, the non-Habesha Ethiopians will not participate in it. What some ignorant Habeshas need to know is that the Anyuaks are Ethiopians by the virtue of geographical birth. By being born within the geographical area of Ethiopia, the Anyuaks are Ethiopians.
No Ethiopian is more Ethiopian than the other. One is only an Ethiopian, no more, no less. Some Habeshas, however, seem to see themselves as more Ethiopians than the others. What they don’t seem to understand is that one can not quantify one’s citizenship. One can only be Ethiopian. Not more Ethiopian.
One thing I learned from my education and professional background is that those who put others down or those who think of themselves as superiors, are actually suffering from inferiority complex unconsciously. One who is self assured and confident sees no need to put others down to feel good about himself/herself. Some Habashas suffer from inferiority complex. They are always bent on looking for ways to put others down in order to feel good about themselves. And the outrage responses we recently witnessed from some Habeshas about the winning of Ethiopians’ beauty contest by a young girl from Gambella was not only a manifestation of ignorance, it was also a manifestation of inferiority complex.
In my youth, I lived in Addis Ababa. I even went to high school there (I spent my teenage years in Addis Ababa). I can say with confidence that I know both the Anyuaks and the Habeshas very closely. My experience with some Habeshas is that they lack awareness of what offends and what does not offend others. They say things without thinking about others’ feelings. Gossiping about others (especially dark skinned persons) is a day to day duty for some Habeshas. In fact, badmouthing dark skinned individuals is encouraged and supported by others in Habashas’ culture. The Anyuaks, on the other hand, despise gossiping so much that it is almost a taboo in their culture. The Anyuaks’ cultural norms forbid them from saying things that may offend others. Badmouthing some one, especially if he/she is not present, is met by immediate condemnation by others in Anyuak culture. Thus, individual Anyuaks barely say bad things about others.
With so many ignorant and narrow minded population of her own, my fear for Ethiopia is that one day she will break into pieces. My biggest fear is that one day the rest of the ethnic groups in Ethiopian will get fed up with the ignorance and the unwillingness to learn by some Habeshas and breakaway from Ethiopia. I call on all Habeshas who have not yet come to terms with the reality of the world to start permitting themselves for learning, because the 21st century offers no excuse for choosing to remain ignorant.
The writer is a son of Gambella and can be reached at email@example.com
“The Mursi were told by government officials that if they didn’t sell off their cattle, the cattle would be injected with poison. This caused the Mursi in the north to leave their best cultivation land on the Omo River and in the grasslands in order to protect their cattle. They’ve lost three annual harvests so far as a result.”
US, UK, World Bank among aid donors complicit in Ethiopia’s war on indigenous tribes
Will Hurd, Ecologist, 22nd July 2015
USAID, the UK’s DFID and the World Bank are among those covering up for severe human rights abuses against indigenous peoples in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, inflicted during forced evictions to make way for huge plantations, writes Will Hurd. Their complicity in these crimes appears to be rooted in US and UK partnership with Ethiopia in the ‘war on terror’.
The Mursi were told by government officials that if they didn’t sell off their cattle, the cattle would be injected with poison. This caused the Mursi in the north to leave their best cultivation land on the Omo River and in the grasslands.
In the fall of 2012 my cell phone rang. It was an official from Department for International Development, DFID – the UK government aid agency. He implored me to remove his name from a transcript of an audio recordingI’d translated. He worried he might lose his job, which would hurt his family.
I’d translated for this official and his colleagues, both from DFID and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), during a joint visit they made, in January 2012, to the Lower Omo Valley of Southwest Ethiopia.
They wanted to talk to members of the Mursi and Bodi ethnic groups about a controversial government sugar development project. DFID was indirectly helping to fund the forced eviction and resettlement of thousands of people affected by this project, through a World Bank-organized funding program called ‘Promoting Basic Services’ (PBS).
DFID was the biggest state contributor to this program, which had also been accused of indirectly funding resettlement of Anuak in the nearby Gambella region. In Gambella, vast land leases were being given to international and domestic companies. During the visit to the Omo Valley, I turned on an audio recorder.
What struck me about the phone conversation with the DFID official was how much concern he had for his own livelihood and family, and how little concern he and DFID were showing for the hundreds, or even thousands, of families in the Omo Valley.
I acted on his request and left him unnamed.
Aid to ‘help the poor’ opens the way to international agribusiness
The resettlements were happening to clear the land for industrial-scale, international and national, companies. The donors deny a connection between the resettlements and the land leases, but the connection is all too obvious.
The full membership of the DAG comprises: the African Development Bank, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, European Union, FAO, Finland, France, Germany, IMF, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain (AECID), Sweden, Switzerland, Turkish International Cooperation Agency (TIKA), UK (DFID), UNDP, UNESCO, USAID, and the World Bank.
It is supposed to provide teacher and health worker salaries and water development in these resettlement sites. This is controversial in itself-only providing services to people who move off their land into resettlement sites – but some of the money was used by the Ethiopian government to pay for implementation of the resettlement scheme.
DFID and the DAG say that this resettlement plan is entirely about providing services to the people. If they believe this, they gravely misunderstand the aims of the Ethiopian Government, which have to do with political control.
Ethiopia’s long-standing plan to pin down the pastoralists
Most of the groups targeted in the southwest are people who depend on cattle and tend to move with the cattle-pastoralists. Pastoralists are difficult for governments to control. For the last 118 years pastoral peoples in the Omo Valley have successfully dodged many of the abuses suffered by settled agricultural tribes in the region, at the hands of the state.
The pastoralists simply gathered their cattle together and moved away, returning when government forces had left. With the help of the DAG, the government is now planning, finally, to pin the pastoralists down in resettlement sites.
David Turton, an anthropologist who has worked in the Omo Valley for more than 45 years, warned me about the possible motives of DFID and USAID for visiting the Omo at that particular time – January 2012.
“They may be reacting to the recent Human Rights Watch report which severely criticized their role in resettlement activities in Gambella”, he wrote. “It’s known that Human Rights watch is planning a report on the Omo, which is likely to be equally critical.
“So, by going to the Omo now, DFID and USAID will be able to argue that they have been keeping ‘a close eye’ on events there. In other words, their trip may have more to do with protecting their own backs against politically embarrassing revelations than with protecting the human rights of the Mursi and Bodi.”
But I’d once had a good experience with the World Bank, when it refused to give money to a conservation organization that was threatening to evict indigenous people from their land in the Omo Valley. I thought it might do good to show these aid agencies the gravity of the situation.
Off to the Omo Valley
We set off in a Land Rover through the grasslands of the Omo Valley. We stopped in a small Mursi village and arranged a meeting with approximately 40 Mursi. At the beginning, a Mursi man asked me, “Did you bring these people?” meaning did I vouch for them. “Yes”, I said.
This let the Mursi feel they could speak freely. DFID and USAID heard many accounts from the Mursi of forced eviction, beatings, rape, and coercion in agreements with the government. Some of these accounts were firsthand. We went on to a Bodi village and heard much the same thing.
Here is a translator telling what the Bodi next to him said:
“This man used to live in the Usso area. In that place one was able to grow a lot of grain … The government has thrown him out of his place and he doesn’t know what to do. His former place is behind that mountain. He says they are going to give it to someone else, a plantation investor.”
The accounts were irrefutable and I thought they must cause the donors to act. Months went by and the donors said they could not substantiate human rights violations in the Gambella region. But they had refused to visit Anuak refugees, although invited by the Anuak themselves, who had been evicted from their land in Gambella.
These Anuak were now living in refugee camps in Kenya and Sudan where they could have spoken of their experiences without fear of government reprisal. I was worried that the donors would also say they could find no evidence of violations in the Omo Valley.
So, I wrote DFID and USAID asking if anything had been done. I told them I had the tape recording transcripts. Had they taken this up with the DAG? I got the above call from a DFID official, after which they stopped responding to emails.
The donors report
Later DFID and USAID said in their report that the allegations of human rights abuses they had heard during their visit to the Omo Valley “could not be substantiated”.
The then British Minister for Overseas Development, Justine Greening, reported the same to UK Parliament. DFID and USAID had used the Mursi and Bodi to protect their reputation, and the reputation of the Ethiopian government.
But I had the tape recording.
At this time, there was strong disagreement between the reports that Human Rights Watch had published out about resettlement in the Gambella region, and the accounts that members of the DAG were putting out of their investigative trips to the same region.
Human Rights Watch was on the ground as the resettlement was being implemented and they also visited Anuak who had fled to refugee camps outside Ethiopia. From both populations they received reports that forced evictions, murders, and beatings had occurred.
The DAG, on the other hand, was saying it could not substantiate any human rights abuses. So, where was the disconnect?
One of the translators for the DAG investigation in Gambella said the communities had told DAG “to their face” of the human rights abuses. But still DAG reported nothing. What was important about the audio recording I’d made was it showed the inside of this investigation process by DAG, and it wasn’t pretty.
I heard in detail about one of the subsequent DAG trips in the Omo Valley in early August, 2013. Ethiopian government representatives had gone to a village in Bodi and told them they were bringing foreigners to ask what the Bodi thought of the resettlement.
The Bodi said, “This is good. When they come we will tell them the truth! How you swindle us, what you did wrong and about the people who abused us. We will tell it straight!” Some days later the villagers saw the caravan of aid agency officials and government officials drive past, on their way to another village.
This is all to the good, as the aid agencies have been faced with the consequences of their actions, but it doesn’t mean there are any protections for the ethnic groups of Southwest Ethiopia. The plantations and dam are moving ahead as before.
In April, reports surfaced that the Kwegu, the smallest ethnic group in the Omo Valley, were starving. They were not able to grow crops below an irrigation dam the government constructed on the Omo River for its sugarcane plantations. The Kwegu were giving their children to the cattle-herding Bodi to look after, so the kids would have milk to drink.
How can a $4.9 billion program be implemented and leave people starving? The answer, I think, is aid may not be the primary function of some of these organizations. Aid often is a way of paying a foreign government to provide a service for the country ‘giving’ the aid.
The long strings attached to aid
The US government needs Ethiopia as a stable and strategic place to carry out military operations in ‘the War on Terror’ in East Africa and the Middle East. The Horn of Africa has long been Washington’s ‘back-door of the Middle East’. The US now has a drone base in Arba Minch, with range to Somalia and Yemen. Arba Minch is not so far from Mursi territory. Aid has a long history of murky dealings.
In 1990, when the US was trying to get clearance from the UN to attack Iraq in the Gulf War, it bribed many UN member states for ‘yes’ votes with debt relief, gifts of weapons, and other things. When Yemen defied US wishes and voted against the attack, a senior American diplomat declared, “That was the most expensive ‘no vote’ you ever cast.” In three days, a $70 million USAID project was cancelled to one of the world’s poorest countries.
On its website, DFID explained its decision to pull its funding from the PBS Program as follows: “Recognising Ethiopia’s growing success, the UK will now evolve its approach by transitioning support towards economic development to help generate jobs, income and growth.”
But in the UK High Court where it was fighting a case brought against it by an Anuak refugee, ‘Mr O’. DFID said that it had pulled out of the PBS Program because “of ongoing concerns related to civil and political rights at the level of the overall partnership in Ethiopia … and continued concerns about the accountability of the security services.”
The DAG published a letter to the Ethiopian government on its website in February this year, in which it reported on visits it had made in August, 2014 to the Omo Valley and Bench Maji Zone. In this letter, it announced that it had found “no evidence of the Ethiopian Government forcibly resettling people.”
The truth is very different
Many more Bodi and Mursi have been imprisoned since the plantations started. Some were imprisoned after disagreeing with plantation and resettlement plans in meetings. Bodi cultivation sites and Mursi grain stores were bulldozed against their wishes.
Bodi have been in armed conflict with the police and military about the plantations. The Bodi were forbidden by the government to plant at the Omo River and told to move into the resettlement sites. When food aid didn’t arrive they went to plant against government wishes.
The Mursi were told by government officials that if they didn’t sell off their cattle, the cattle would be injected with poison. This caused the Mursi in the north to leave their best cultivation land on the Omo River and in the grasslands in order to protect their cattle. They’ve lost three annual harvests so far as a result.
Thousands of acres of Bodi territory were taken for the plantations and the Bodi ended up with small plots of land with no shade. When the Bodi left these plots, the government took them back for sugarcane. The DAG missed all of this. When are the DAG aid agencies going to start aiding the people of the Omo Valley, and Gambella, instead of participating in their demise?
Ethiopia has the right, and need, to develop its economy and industries, but impoverishing some of its most vulnerable people in the process is counterproductive.
The Mursi and Bodi have been trying to implement the Mursi-Bodi Community Conservation Area. This would capitalize on the already abundant tourism and wildlife in the area, in conjunction with Omo and Mago National Parks. If the government were to approve this, and let it be fully implemented, it may provide benefits for both local people and state.
Will Hurd lived in Ethiopia for eight years, primarily with the Mursi of the Southwest, who are now threatened by a 175,000 hectare sugar plantation. He speaks the Mursi language. He is director of the small non-profit, Cool Ground.
The Global African looks at land theft in Ethiopia & the connection between Belgian colonization and HIV in the Congo.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a columnist, activist, author and labor organizer. He is the executive assistant to the national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees. Bill is an editorial board member of BlackComentator.com, as well as the chairman of the Retail Justice Alliance. He is also the co-author of “Solidarity Divided”; and the author of the newly released book, ‘They’re Bankrupting Us’ – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions . He is a co-founder of the Center for Labor Renewal, and has served as President of TransAfrica Forum and was formerly the Education Director and later Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO.
BILL FLETCHER, HOST, THE GLOBAL AFRICAN: Today on The Global African, we’ll talk about the legacy of Belgian colonization in the Congo and a recent report on land grabs in Ethiopia.That’s today on The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. Thanks for joining us again. And don’t go anywhere.
~~~FLETCHER: According to a new report from the Oakland Institute entitled We Say the Land Is Not Yours, the government of Ethiopia has been forcibly removing many Ethiopians from their native lands through a so-called village-ization program. The program, supposedly intended to modernize the East African nation, has sold off millions of hectares of land to foreign investors. These investors, often large-scale agriculture companies, are buying very valuable land at a cheap price. Instead of cultivating land and producing food for the people, most of the yields are being used to export to other nations.After being forced off their land, natives are cut off from access to fertile land, health care, and educational opportunity, languishing in poverty.The country’s villagization program has faced allegations in the past of torture, political coercion, imprisonment, rapes, and disappearances against those attempting to form resistance.We’re joined now with our guest from the Oakland Institute in California, Anuradha Mittal, who is the executive director and founder of the institute, which aims to create opportunity for public participation and democratic debates on key issues worldwide. Under her leadership, the Institute has unveiled land investment deals in Africa and around the world.Thank you very much for joining us on the program.ANURADHA MITTAL, EXEC. DIR., OAKLAND INSTITUTE: Thanks for having me.FLETCHER: So I just read this report that you issued concerning land theft in Ethiopia. And I had not seen anything about this in the mainstream media. And I was curious. Let’s start with how did you uncover this situation and what brought it to your attention.MITTAL: Well, in the case of Ethiopia we at the Institute have been working since 2007, 2008, when we were contacted by the communities both within Ethiopia as well as people who are now in the diaspora, people who have been forced to live in exile, who have fled the country because of the political oppression. And what we started hearing about was that in the name of development, vast tracts of land are being cleared where ethnic groups, indigenous communities have been living as agropasturalists, or growing their food, or using the forest for their medicines, for their farms.And with this displacement, you’re seeing large-scale plantations of cotton, of sugarcane coming into being in the name of development, that this will lead Ethiopia to the next century and make it a renaissance state.So we were really concerned by the kind of displacement that is happening. The government plans to give away 7 million hectares of land, leading to the displacement of over 1.5 million people. And there’s no consultation, there is no free prior informed consent. The way communities are being moved is through forced displacement, and we were very concerned about it.FLETCHER: When the Ethiopian regime that currently is in power took over in the ’90s, overthrowing Mengistu, their program seems to be completely antithetical to what we’re witnessing right now, where the regime seems to be serving the interests of global agricultural capitalists.MITTAL: You’re right on, I mean, what had happened earlier, the so-called villagization, when people were forced off their lands and the so-called villages were supposed to be created where better social services would be provided. And that was challenged. But not today. It is the same pretext that is being used that better social services would be provided, better education opportunities would be provided to communities who are being moved. And so this is the whole rhetoric of development. But our research on the ground shows that the lands which have been cleared, actually then given away to foreign investors who are coming in from India, from Malaysia, from Turkey and just about everywhere, especially in areas such as Gambela or Lower Omo, and leading to forcible displacement of people.The other shocking thing, Bill, that–I think it’s important to remember is that this kind of development, which leads to eviction of people against their choice from their homes and lands, is happening thanks to donor countries. It is happening because it has the blessings of financial institutions such as the World Bank.FLETCHER: I’d like you to explain that a little bit more. Why–what are the, what’s the interest of the World Bank in all of this?MITTAL: Well first of all, there is this belief that large-scale plantations, large-scale agriculture will lead to development and the benefits of which will somehow trickle down to those at the bottom. We have seen that trickle-down does not really ever happen.Secondly, you have these loans that are being provided. When you look at Ethiopia, over 60 percent of its budget comes from outside. Some of the key donors are United States, United Kingdom, the World Bank.And also we have another relationship. In the United States, Ethiopia is our closest ally in Africa. It is our ally in the war on terrorism. So we tend to turn a blind eye to the repression that is happening on the ground.FLETCHER: Is there an ethnic side to what’s going on? That is, are there certain ethnic groups in Ethiopia that are disproportionately affected by this? Or is this pretty much across the board?MITTAL: Well, this is happening across the board, and it’s happening to the ones who are in minority. So, for instance, in Lower Omo you have the Bodis, the Suris, the Mursis, the Nyangatoms, the Hamars who are being impacted. In case of Gambela, Anuaks are predominantly targeted. So it is a country which is ruled by a minority, the Highlanders, or the Tigrayans. And their control is being maintained through political and economic repression by displacing people from their lands, which makes their livelihoods even more difficult. And secondly, it helps to control the country politically and stay in power.FLETCHER: There’s two questions here. One is: what is happening to the populations that are being displaced? In similar situations around the world, there’s a tendency for people to move into the urban centers. Is that what’s happening here? Are people leaving the country? And the second question is about resistance. What kind of resistance is building?MITTAL: Well, both are great questions. I think Ethiopia is a little bit unique, because given the kind of political oppression you have, given there is no political space to be able to speak out as you hear from the testimonies presented in the report, which we basically felt we had to do because our fieldwork, when we have put out in reports, has been challenged by the Ethiopian government, and this time we could say it is not some Western NGO challenging the Ethiopian government, these are the voices of people within Ethiopia.So it is a very, very dire situation.In terms of resistance, again, when we look around the world, given we work around the world, we see resistance on the ground, but it is pretty appalling. In Ethiopia, again, because of the lack of civil society, lack of freedom of media, and the fact that you can be arrested, the fact that Ethiopian security forces are not just arresting people within Ethiopia, but taking away people from Kenya and South Sudan who might have challenged government’s policies, we are finding very little resistance on the ground.The resistance is more of having the courage to storytell groups such as Human Rights Watch or tell groups like the Oakland Institute what the reality is on the ground. So the resistance is of people who refuse to give up and refuse to move from their lands. And in return they’re facing persecution, they’re facing arrest, intimidation, beatings. You know, the prisons of Ethiopia are full of people who have challenged government’s development strategy.FLETCHER: Is there any sense of global support for the peoples that are facing these evictions? Or are they pretty much on their own?MITTAL: Well, I think more and more of the world knows what is happening in Ethiopia. There are groups from International Rivers, Human Rights Watch, Oakland Institute, Survival International who have been supporting the communities on the ground who have been putting out information to inform and educate. For instance, the U.S. Congress just recently deferred–UK’s development agency stopped financing PBS, the program for basic services, which was linked to the villagization scheme of the Ethiopian government. So this pressure from outside is resulting in kind of taking away some of the resources from the Ethiopian government that is financing and is facilitating displacement of people.But, of course, a lot of work remains to be done. Because of our research, it was exposed by Channel 4 in Sweden that H&M was sourcing its cotton from Lower Omo, these plantations which have come into being by displacing indigenous agropasturalists from Lower Omo. And because of the pressure, H&M had to announce that they would not source cotton from Lower Omo. So I think it is very important to keep spreading the word, to keep educating, and to keep exposing that development strategy which is based on a denial of human rights–and not just denial, but abuse of human rights cannot be a development strategy for any nation.FLETCHER: Ms. Mittal, thank you very, very much.MITTAL: Thank you. Pleasure to speak with you.FLETCHER: Absolutely. I look forward to it in the future.MITTAL: Same here. Take care. Bye-bye.FLETCHER: Bye-bye, now.And thank you for joining us for this segment of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll be back in a moment, so don’t go anywhere.
~~~FLETCHER: One of the greatest holocausts of the 19th century, indeed of all time, was the murder of 10 million Congolese when the Congo, then known as the Congo Free State, was the personal property of King Leopold of Belgium–more than 10 million Congolese murdered in order to enrich this monarch of Europe.The legacy of that holocaust lives with us today and is detailed in an excellent piece by Dr. Lawrence Brown. The impact of that holocaust and the colonization of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo resulted in conditions that were fertile for the development of what came to be known as HIV and AIDS. HIV-AIDS first surfaces in what is now Kinshasa, which was at that time, in the 1920s, Leopoldville, in 1920, and spread as a result of the practices that were carried out by the Belgians as they tore the country apart.The Ghost of Leopold Still Haunts Us is the title of an essay written by our next guest, Dr. Lawrence Brown from Morgan State University, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management.Dr. Brown, thank you for joining us again.DR. LAWRENCE BROWN, ASST. PROF., DEPT. HEALTH POLICY AND MGMT, NSU: Absolutely. Pleasure to be here.FLETCHER: Great. I was really struck by this article. It’s the connection that you make between Belgian colonialism and the development of AIDS. I had not seen anything like that before. And it was so different from the conspiracy theory pieces that people read, the utter denial that we see. What inspired you to write it?BROWN: Absolutely. I really had been doing a lot of thinking and studying around colonization, how that impacted health of populations and how enslavement, how these historical traumas impact the health of populations. So when I ran across this article that basically found the authors conducting a genetic analysis of the virus itself and tracking it down, through this sort of forensic process, to Kinshasa in the 1920s, I was really fascinated, because I had been looking at the Democratic Republic of Congo and its history. And so when I ran across the article and I began to read it, I noticed the word Belgium really didn’t come up in the article at all. And I was familiar with Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost, and the story of how King Leopold and his Force Publique, this military regiment, had brought such terror and devastation to the Congolese populations, killing up to 10 million of the Congolese people, that I was really fascinated by the sheer absence of the mention of Belgian colonization.So that got my mind to thinking, and I decided I needed to write something to sort of understand, help people understand how the social determinants of health would have impacted the development and the ignition of HIV.FLETCHER: And you’re describing the Congo Holocaust.BROWN: Essentially, yes.FLETCHER: I mean, more people were killed in what was then the Congo Free State, right?BROWN: Right. It started out as the Congo Free State.FLETCHER: ‘Cause it was the personal property of King Leopold.BROWN: Absolutely. King Leopold II of Belgium.FLETCHER: That’s right.BROWN: He owned it for about 26 years.FLETCHER: That’s right. More people were killed there than the Nazis killed in their Holocaust.BROWN: Absolutely. It was terrible.FLETCHER: Now, one of the things that I was struck by then is that there are those that have tried to dismiss the issue of HIV and AIDS as being related to a virus by simply saying that it’s because of poverty.BROWN: Right.FLETCHER: President Mbeki, the former president of South Africa, was one who was very much in that direction. But you’re making a very different argument.BROWN: Absolutely. You know, the World Health Organization defines social determinants of health as the conditions in which we live, play, work, and pray. And so the social determinants of health help contribute to a disease’s spread, how it evolves, how it is able to infect and spread among human populations.And so what happened in the Belgian Congo in the 1920s is that–this article says it started in 1920s in Kinshasa. So it gives us a starting point. So we know, for instance, that the CIA starts in 1947, so the CIA didn’t create this virus. We know that certain things–we can basically say we can rule out some of the conspiracies based on this analysis.But what we do need to know and figure out is that in the ’20s it wasn’t called Kinshasa, it was called Leopoldville.FLETCHER: That’s right.BROWN: This was part of King Leopold’s domain and the Belgians’ domain by the 1920s. They had built an extensive railway system in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as we know it today, using free African labor–or forced African labor of the Congolese. They had thousands and ten thousands of men and women carrying the supplies and materials that were needed to create this railroad. They had folks who lived and died under the strain of the push to create this sort of transportation. And the railroads were used to extract ivory, and then rubber, from which King Leopold II became rich, to extract those resources from the African people.And so in the article it mentions that having this railway was critical to the spread of the virus because it allowed the transportation from places like Kinshasa, as we know it today, to /kəngɑːli/ and different cities within the nation. And so, understanding that the railways did help the spread of the virus is important, but it’s also important to understand the forced African labor that was used to build that railway and to transport the laborers, even later, after the real railroad was built, along those railways, so the transportation of people back and forth, all in the service of colonization.FLETCHER: Let me go back for a second, 1920 Leopoldville, when they say that that’s when HIV-AIDS emerged. It didn’t pop out of the air.BROWN: No.FLETCHER: So what happened?BROWN: Well, you have the animal-to-human transmission. It’s just like we’ve been talking about the Ebola virus recently, a zoonotic disease that emerges out of animal-human contact. So, in this case the theory is that chimpanzee meat in some form or fashion was consumed by an African Congolese, and thereby transmitting the simian form of that virus.Well, how might that have happened? People in that region maybe had been eating that meat on and off for several hundreds of years. They’d known how to eat that meat very properly, cooked it quite well. But under the conditions that the Belgians were putting the Congolese under, they totally disrupted the Congolese food supply to such that witnesses say that laborers were starving because they couldn’t grow their own food. So now they’re importing food from Belgium, they’re importing food so that the Congolese can eat other people’s food to survive, but they’re sending them into the forest to go and extract rubber down from the vines, they’re sending them into the forest, and folks have to climb up the trees to extract this rubber from the tree, many of them falling asleep and dying or injuring themselves in the process. And so, in this environment of extreme hunger, I could see someone saying, I don’t have anything to eat right now, maybe there is a dead chimpanzee somewhere, I’m going to take that and not cook it properly because I’m so hungry under these conditions, and then you have the transmission from animal to human in this case.FLETCHER: Fascinating. So forgive the very basic questions, but I’m not a scientist. Nineteen-twenty.BROWN: Right.FLETCHER: Okay. Then it seems to emerge publicly around 1980.BROWN: Right. So where was the virus hiding?FLETCHER: Where was a virus? Right.BROWN: Well, you know, I think that from what we understand there, really sort of this article gives three primary vectors. We’re talking about the railway that we talked about earlier. It allows for humans to travel up–the host for the virus to travel across the country, transmitting the virus. It talks about–so you have host, you have the transportation.Then you also have another vector they talk about, commercial sex workers, and so what we know as or what people commonly referred to as prostitutes. And so there are Congolese scholars that say, well, even the commercial sex work is rooted in colonization, because the Belgians would take Congolese women and exploit them in various ways. They would exploit them in terms of helping–using them to please the workers in vile ways. They would use women to–they took some of them as their second wives in the Congo Free State and later the Belgian Congo. So they perverted the very being and the spirit of the Congolese women, and as such created a sort of commercial sex work industry that allowed the virus to sort of proliferate originally.Now, in terms of spreading beyond the borders, the analysis basically says that by the ’60s or ’70s there were Haitian workers that were working in the Belgian Congo. And by the ’60s, of course, the Congo becomes Zaire under Mobutu. And so the Haitian workers working there, professionals, they go back to Haiti having contracted the virus, and then maybe a few Haitians go to New York or go to the United States, and the virus sort of emerges there in the 1980s. But it had been sort of percolating all along. I think you see in the medical literature there were people dying that they can sort of trace back and say, this was probably the disease. In the ’60s and ’70s they were starting to see something’s going on and it’s not right.FLETCHER: But what did the Belgians see between 1920 and 1960, when the Congo became independent? Is there any evidence that they even noticed that there was a problem?BROWN: I don’t think they knew that there was a specific problem with this particular disease. Now, they did have public health campaigns to help stop, like, sleeping disease and other diseases that are infectious diseases that were there at the time.Now, the important thing to know is that they were reusing syringes to sort of inoculate people against certain diseases that they knew about at the time. And so, inadvertently, I believe, you’re reusing needles, and that could have helped proliferate the spread of the virus as well at the time. So those are the kind of dynamics that even in terms of the colonial public health system, the Belgians could have played a role in terms of helping to proliferate the virus. So, whether it’s the colonial public health system, whether it’s animal-to-human transmission, whether it’s commercial sex workers or the railroads, the Belgian colonization system, first with King Leopold and then under the Belgian government, played a role in the transmission of this disease.FLETCHER: When the Belgians left the Congo in 1960, they did nothing to help in any kind of transition. They were trying to actually Balkanize the Congo, as you know, the whole fight around the Katanga province and trying to separate it off. There’s no indication that there was–I’m assuming that there was no indication of any effort to deal with any medical issues when they moved out.BROWN: Yeah, not to my knowledge. But the Belgian government did collaborate with the CIA in terms of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo. So the Belgian government plays a very powerful role, in terms of even after they leave, determining, charting the future course of the Democratic Republic of Congo, so that it’s much more likely to move in a less Pan-African direction and more so in a much more brutal dictator direction.And why is that important? Of course, if you have someone who’s in your stead managing in a neocolonial arrangement, that continues the facilitation of extracting resources from the country. And so you have critical minerals that are predominant all over the country–copper, diamonds, or coltan that’s in our smart phones and cell phones, right? And so people are fighting over those resources today. There’s been a tremendous civil war that’s been going on. Up to 5 million Congolese people have been killed in this civil war.And you see under King Leopold people’s hands being cut off because they didn’t produce enough rubber. And then in this civil war you see sort of the same thing, people’s hands being cut off as a form of punishment. And it sort of–you know, we look at how people tend to reproduce the trauma that they have experienced under these sort of extreme, harsh forms of brutalization and oppression. And that’s what I think is important to know is that so much of what’s going on in the Congo today finds its root in that period when King Leopold II–.FLETCHER: Dr. Brown, thank you very much for joining us on The Global African.BROWN: My pleasure.FLETCHER: And thank you for joining us for this episode of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll see you next time.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
Ethiopia: stealing the Omo Valley, destroying its ancient Peoples
Megan Perry* / Sustainable Food Trust
A land grab twice the size of France is under way in Ethiopia, as the government pursues the wholesale seizure if indigenous lands to turn them over to dams and plantations for sugar, palm oil, cotton and biofuels run by foreign corporations, destroying ancient cultures and turning Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, into a new Aral Sea.
What is happening in the lower Omo Valley shows a complete disregard for human rights and a total failure to understand the value these tribes offer Ethiopia in terms of their cultural heritage and their contribution to food security.
There is growing international concern for the future of the lower Omo Valley in Ethiopia. A beautiful, biologically diverse land with volcanic outcrops and a pristine riverine forest; it is also aUNESCO world heritage site, yielding significant archaeological finds, including human remains dating back 2.4 million years.
A new dam, called Gibe III, on the Omo River is nearing completion and will begin operation in June, 2015, potentially devastating the lives of half a million people. Along with the dam, extensive land grabbing is forcing thousands from their ancestral homes and destroying ecosystems.
Ethiopia’s ‘villagisation’ programme is aiding the land-grab by pushing tribes into purpose built villages where they can no longer access their lands, becoming unable to sustain themselves, and making these previously self-sufficient tribes dependent on government food aid.
A total disregard for the rights of Ethiopia’s Indigenous Peoples
What is happening in the lower Omo Valley, and elsewhere, shows a complete disregard for human rights and a total failure to understand the value these tribes offer Ethiopia in terms of their cultural heritage and their contribution to food security.
There are eight tribes living in the Valley, including the Mursi, famous for wearing large plates in their lower lips. Their agricultural practices have been developed over generations to cope with Ethiopia’s famously dry climate.
Many are herders who keep cattle, sheep and goats and live nomadically. Others practice small-scale shifting cultivation, whilst many depend on the fertile crop and pasture land created by seasonal flooding.
The vital life source of the Omo River is being cut off by Gibe III. An Italian construction company began work in 2006, violating Ethiopian law as there was no competitive bidding for the contract and no meaningful consultation with indigenous people.
The dam has received investment from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, and the hydropower is primarily going for export rather than domestic use – despite the fact that 77% of Ethiopia’s population lacks access to electricity.
People in the Omo Valley are politically vulnerable and geographically remote. Many do not speak Amharic, the national language, and have no access to resources or information. Foreign journalists have been denied contact with the tribes, as BBC reporter Matthew Newsome recently discovered when he was prevented from speaking to the Mursi people.
There has been little consideration of potential impacts, including those which may affect other countries, particularly Kenya, as Lake Turkana relies heavily on the Omo River.
Irrigation projects linked with the dam will then reduce the inflow by 50% and lead to a drop of up to 20 metres in the lake’s depth. These projects may also pollute the water with chemicals and nitrogen run-off. Dr Sean Avery’s report explains how this could devastate the lake’s ancient ecosystems and affect the 300,000 people who depend on it for their livelihoods.
Tribal communities living around the lake rely on it for fish, as well as an emergency source of water. It also attracts other wildlife which some tribes hunt for food, such as the El Molo, who hunt hippo and crocodile. Turkana is home to at least 60 fish species, which have evolved to be perfectly adapted to the lake’s environment.
Breeding activity is highest when the Omo floods, and this seasonal flood also stimulates the migration of spawning fish. Flooding is vital for diluting the salinity of the lake, making it habitable. Livestock around the lake add nutrients to the soil encouraging shoreline vegetation, and this is important for protecting young fish during the floods.
Lake Turkana is a fragile ecosystem, highly dependent on regular seasonal activity, particularly from the Omo. To alter this ancient ebb and flow will throw the environment out of balance and impact all life which relies on the lake.
Severely restricted resources around the lake may also lead to violence amongst those competing for what’s left. Low water levels could see the lake split in two, similar to the Aral Sea. Having acted as a natural boundary between people, there is concern that conflict will be inevitable.
Fear is already spreading amongst the tribes who say they are afraid of those who live on the other side of the lake. One woman said, “They will come and kill us and that will bring about enmity among us as we turn on each other due to hunger.”
Conflict may also come from Ethiopians moving into Kenyan territory in attempts to find new land and resources.
A land grab twice the size of France
The dam is part of a wider attempt to develop the Omo Valley resulting in land grabs and plantations depending on large-scale irrigation. Since 2008 an area the size of France has been given to foreign companies, and there are plans to hand over twice this area of landover the next few years.
Investors can grow what they want and sell where they want. The main crops being brought into cultivation include, sugar, cotton, maize, palm oil and biofuels. These have no benefit to local economies, and rather than using Ethiopia’s fragile fertile lands to support its own people, the crops grown here are exported for foreign markets.
Despite claims that plantations will bring jobs, most of the workers are migrants. Where local people (including children) are employed, they are paid extremely poorly. 750km of internal roads are also being constructed to serve the plantations, and are carving up the landscape, causing further evictions.
In order to prepare the land for plantations, all trees and grassland are cleared, destroying valuable ecosystems and natural resources.
Reports claim the military have been regularly intimidating villages, stealing and killing cattle and destroying grain stores. There have also been reports of beatings, rape and even deaths, whilst those who oppose the developments are put in jail. The Bodi, Kwegi and Mursi people were evicted to make way for the Kuraz Sugar Project which covers 245,000 acres.
The Suri have also been forcibly removed to make way for the Koka palm oil plantation, run by a Malaysian company and covering 76,600 acres. This is also happening elsewhere in Ethiopia, particularly the Gambela region where 73% of the indigenous population are destined for resettlement.
Al-Moudi, a Saudi tycoon, has 10,000 acres in this region to grow rice, which is exported to the Middle East. A recent report from the World Bank’s internal watchdog has accused a UK and World Bank funded development programme of contributing to this violent resettlement.
For many tribes in the Omo Valley, the loss of their land means the loss of their culture. Cattle herding is not just a source of income, it defines people’s lives. There is great cultural value placed on the animals. The Bodi are known to sing poems to their favourite cattle; and there are many rituals involving the livestock, such as the Hamer tribe’s coming of age ceremony whereby young men must jump across a line of 10 to 30 bulls.
They will no longer be independent but must rely on government food aid or try to grow food from tiny areas of land with severely reduced resources.
Ethiopia’s food security
Ethiopia is currently experiencing economic growth, yet 30 million people still face chronic food shortages. Some 90% of Ethiopia’s national budget is foreign aid, but instead of taking a grass-roots approach to securing a self-sufficient food supply for its people, it is being pushed aggressively towards industrial development and intensive production for foreign markets.
There is a failure to recognise what these indigenous small-scale farmers and pastoralists offer to Ethiopia’s food security. Survival of the Fittest, a report by Oxfam, argued that pastoralism is one of the best ways to combat climate change because of its flexibility.
During droughts animals can be slaughtered and resources focused on a core breeding stock in order to survive. This provides insurance against crop failure as livestock can be exchanged for grain or sold, but when crops fail there can be nothing left. Tribal people can also live off the meat and milk of their animals.
Those who have long cultivated the land in the Omo Valley are essential to the region’s food security, producing sorghum, maize and beans on the flood plains. This requires long experience of the local climate and the river’s seasonal behaviour, as well as knowledge of which crops grow well under diverse and challenging conditions.
Support for smallholders and pastoralists could improve their efficiency and access to local markets. This would be a sustainable system which preserved soil fertility and the local ecosystem through small-scale mixed rotation cropping, appropriate use of scarce resources (by growing crops which don’t need lots of water, for example) and use of livestock for fertility-building, as well as for producing food on less productive lands.
Instead, over a billion dollars is being spent on hydro-electric power and irrigation projects. This will ultimately prove unsustainable, since large-scale crop irrigation in dry regions causes water depletion and salinisation of the soil, turning the land unproductive within a couple of generations.
Short of an international outcry however, the traditional agricultural practices of the indigenous people will be long gone by the time the disastrous consequences becomes apparent.
*Megan Perry is Personal and Research Assistant to SFT Policy Director, Richard Young.