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Who Owns Africa? The Accelerating Large Scale Land Grabs Across the Continent April 16, 2013

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Satellite image of Africa, showing the ecologi...

Satellite image of Africa, showing the ecological break that defines the sub-Saharan area (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


‘Large-scale land acquisitions by foreign governments and investors – a phenomenon termed “land-grabbing” by activists – peaked following the 2008 global food price spikes. Governments and venture capitalists from the Gulf States, Asian tiger economies, EU and US rushed to acquire large terrains in developing countries to grow and secure food supplies for their populations and biofuels for expanding markets. But the practice has been increasing for at least a decade. The Land Matrix Partnership estimates that 227 million hectares of land have been ‘grabbed’ worldwide since 2001. And according to the World Bank, 70% of the current demand for forest and arable land is concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, with its vast parcels of “cheap” and “unoccupied” terrains. Liberia, for example, has reportedly sold off three-tenths of its territory in five years. “Once seen as marginal, this issue has emerged as one of the development priorities of our different governments”, Cameroon’s Forestry and Wildlife Minister, Philip Ngole Ngwese tells Think Africa Press. Indeed, across West and Central Africa, an escalating number of poverty-stricken men, women and children in rural areas are being chased off ancestral lands they have relied on for generations for farming, grazing and hunting. They are increasingly squatters and low-paid labourers for the incoming foreign investors and local elites. “When the government takes this land and gives it out in a lease for 40, 50 or up to 99 years, the people often lose access to these commons resources”, Michael Richards, Natural Resources Economist with the UK-based Forest Trends, notes. “In some cases, they do allow access for the extraction of certain products. But in other cases, they put great fences which stop communities having access.” Land grabbers also usually obtain unlimited rights to water use, Richards adds, implying curtailed availability for downstream users. Other experts warn of looming threats of hunger, stalled investments and political instability should the land deals continue to be shrouded in secrecy and corruption, lack of accountability and transparency, or negotiated without the informed consent of local communities.On the other side of the argument, advocates of the large-scale land transactions claim they have the potential to improve local infrastructure and services, boost governmental tax revenues, create jobs, and enhance food and energy security. According to them, activists have been exaggerating the negative outcomes of large-scale deals and, by dominating coverage of stories around large-scale land deals, have given a false impression. “There could be a reporting bias in that many of these reports are put together by advocacy groups who want to show the negative effects”, says Richards. However, even if this is the case, it does not explain away instances of human rights violations and the mass displacement of local communities and indigenous peoples.  One group at the forefront of a worldwide campaign to reverse recent land grab trends is Rights and Resources Initiative. The organisation has been pressing for government forest land policy reforms that recognise and restore land ownership rights of local communities. RRI warns the tenure crisis is worst in Africa, where only 0.4% of forest land is formally owned by local people, as opposed to around 24% in Asia and Latin America. In 2009, the group summoned stakeholders from across the globe to rethink and propose better tenure rights governance for West and Central Africa at a conclave in Cameroon’s capital Yaoundé. Participating government representatives, related sub-regional institutions, NGOs and civil society organisations declared their commitment to lobby and double forest land areas under community ownership by 2015. “We identified problems of deforestation, lack of respect for human rights and the crisis that was unfolding across the region. The meeting generated a lot of recommendations and governments made a lot of commitments about what to do”, says Andy White, RRI Coordinator. But four years down the road, and only two years before the Objective 2015 deadline, not much has been achieved. Reports presented at a follow-up regional dialogue in Yaoundé in March indicate that only half of the 26 West and Central African countries revisited their tenure systems. And those that did only ceded feeble secondary rights to indigenous people, granting them access and usage privileges, but maintaining tight grips on stronger rights to exclude intruders or transfer ownership to a third party. “There’s been some progress. Some governments in the region have initiated new land reforms, but the laws and policies they’re proposing are really inadequate”, says White. “The crisis has become much greater over the last four years than we expected and there’s been far too little action. [There is a] crisis in terms of loss of life, crisis in terms of the systematic destruction of the culture of the forest peoples like here in Cameroon. It’s just alarming.” New recommendations therefore stipulate fast-tracking the implementation of previous policy reform commitments, embracing the full bundle of rights of local communities in land tenure negotiations, and reinforcing the lobbying power of NGO and civil society organisations. “We are calling on the support of RRI and other partners because we want to build a network of traditional rulers to constitute a lobby to defend our rights”, says HM Bruno Mvondo, bureau member of the Council of Traditional Rulers of Cameroon. “For us traditional rulers, the land belongs to the community. But in front of modern law, our customs don’t have any strength. We’re begging the authorities to take into account our traditional law.” For displaced communities and global activists, the fight goes on and debates regarding who owns Africa’s lands are gathering momentum. But at the same time, fresh findings suggest wealthy nationals and elites are keeping busy too and increasingly joining the rush for land.’ http://thinkafricapress.com/cameroon/who-owns-land-cameroon-large-scale-land-grabs



What is happening in Omo valley is also happening in Oromia and Gambella.



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Enemies of Human Development: Structural Injustices, the Lack of Social Competence and Human Insecurity March 15, 2013

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‘The political problem of mankind is to combine three things: Economic Efficiency, Social Justice and Individual Liberty.’ John Maynard Keynes

‘The traditional agendas for reducing poverty recognize but inadequately address its structural sources. Contemporary interventions to promote inclusive growth have tended to focus on the outcomes of development through expanding and strengthening social safety nets. While such public initiatives are to be encouraged, they address the symptoms of poverty, not its sources. The results of such restrictive interventions are reduction of income poverty to varying degrees and some improvement in human development. But across much of the South, income inequalities have increased, social disparities have widened and injustice remains pervasive, while the structural sources of poverty remain intact. Any credible agenda to end poverty must correct the structural injustices that perpetuate it. Inequitable access to wealth and knowledge disempowers the excluded from competing in the marketplace. Rural poverty, for example, originates in insufficient access to land and water for less privileged segments of rural society. Land ownership has been not only a source of economic privilege, but also a source of social and political authority. The prevailing structures of land ownership remain inimical to a functioning democratic order. Similarly, lack of access to capital and property perpetuates urban poverty. Unequal participation in the market With the prevailing property structures of society, the resource-poor remain excluded from more-dynamic market sectors. The main agents of production tend to be the urban elite, who own the corporate assets that power faster growing economic sectors. By contrast, the excluded partake only as primary producers and wage earners, at the lowest end of the production and marketing chains, leaving them with little  opportunity to share in market economy opportunities for adding value to their labour. Capital markets have failed to provide sufficient credit to the excluded, even though they have demonstrated their creditworthiness through low default rates in the micro credit market. And formal capital markets have not provided financial instruments to attract the savings of the excluded and transform them into investment assets in the faster growing corporate sector.

Unjust governance:This inequitable and unjust social and economic universe can be compounded by unjust governance. Often the excluded remain voiceless in the institutions of governance and thus underserved by public institutions. The institutions of democracy remain unresponsive to the needs of the excluded, both in the design of policy agendas and in the selection of electoral candidates. Representative institutions thus tend to be monopolized by the affluent and socially powerful, who then use office to enhance their wealth and perpetuate their hold over power. Promoting structural change to correct these structural injustices, policy agendas need to be made more inclusive by strengthening the capacity of the excluded to participate on more equitable terms in the market economy and the democratic polity. Such agendas should reposition the excluded within the processes of production, distribution and governance. The production process needs to graduate the excluded from living out their lives exclusively as wage earners and tenant farmers by investing them with the capacity to become owners of productive assets. The distribution process must elevate the excluded beyond their inherited role as primary producers by enabling them to move upmarket through greater opportunities to share in adding value through collective action. Access to assets and markets must be backed by equitable access to quality health care and education, integral to empowering the excluded. The governance process must increase the active participation of the excluded in representative institutions, which is crucial to enhancing their voice in decision making and providing access to the institutions of governance.

Social competencies, human development beyond the individual: Individuals cannot flourish alone; indeed, they cannot function alone. The human development approach, however, has been essentially individualistic, assuming that development is the expansion of individuals’ capabilities or freedoms. Yet there are aspects of societies that affect individuals but cannot be assessed at the individual level because they are based on relationships, such as how well families or communities function, summarized for society as a whole in the ideas of social cohesion and social inclusion. Individuals are bound up with others. Social institutions affect individuals’ identities and choices. Being a member of a healthy society is an essential part of a thriving existence. So one task of the human development approach is to explore the nature of social institutions that are favourable for human flourishing. Development then has to be assessed not only for the short-run impact on individual capabilities, but also for whether society evolves in a way that supports human flourishing. Social conditions affect not only the outcomes of individuals in a particular society today, but also those of future generations. Social institutions are all institutions in which people act collectively (that is, they involve more than one person), other than profit-making market institutions and the state. They include formal non-governmental organizations, informal associations, cooperatives, producer associations, neighbourhood associations, sports clubs, savings associations and many more. They also consist of norms and rules of behaviour affecting human development outcomes. For example, attitudes towards employment affect material well-being, and norms of hierarchy and discrimination affect inequality, discrimination, empowerment, political freedom and so on. To describe what those institutions can be and do, and to understand how they affect individuals, we can use the term social  competencies.Central to the human development perspective is that societal norms affect people’s choices and behaviours towards others, thus influencing outcomes in the whole community. Community norms and behaviours can constrain choice in deleterious ways from a human development perspective—for example, ostracizing, or in extreme cases killing, those who make choices that contravene social rules. Families trapped in poverty by informal norms that support early marriage and dowry requirements might reject changes to such entrenched social norms. Social institutions change over time, and those changes may be accompanied by social tension if they hamper the interests of some groups while favouring others. Policy change is the outcome of a political struggle in which different groups (and individuals) support or oppose particular changes. In this struggle, unorganized individuals are generally powerless, but by joining together they can acquire power collectively. Social action favouring human development (such as policies to extend education, progressive taxation and minimum wages) happens not spontaneously, but because of groups that are effective in supporting change, such as producer groups, worker associations, social movements and political parties. These organizations are especially crucial for poorer people, as demonstrated by a group of sex workers in Kolkata, India, and women in a squatter community in Cape Town, South Africa, who improved their conditions and self-respect by joining together and exerting collective pressure. Societies vary widely in the number, functions, effectiveness and consequences of their social competencies. Institutions and norms can be classified as human development–promoting, human development–neutral and human development–undermining. It is fundamental to identify and encourage those that promote valuable capabilities and relationships among and between individuals and institutions. Some social institutions (including norms) can support human development in some respects but not in others: for example, strong family bonds can provide individuals with support during upheavals, but may constrain individual choices and opportunities. Broadly speaking, institutions that promote social cohesion and human development show low levels of disparity across groups (for example, ethnic, religious or gender groups) and high levels of interaction and trust among people and across groups, which results in solidarity and the absence of violent conflict. It is not a coincidence that 5 of the 10 most peaceful countries in the world in 2012, according to the Global Peace Index, are also among the most equal societies as measured by loss in Human Development Index value due to inequality. They are also characterized by the absence of discrimination and low levels of marginalization. In some instances antidiscriminatory measures can ease the burden of marginalization and partially mitigate the worst effects of exclusion. For instance, US law mandating that hospital emergency rooms offer treatment to all patients regardless of their ability to pay partly mitigates the impact of an expensive health care system with limited coverage, while affirmative action in a range of countries (including Brazil, Malaysia, South Africa and the United States) has improved the situation of deprived groups and contributed to social stability. The study of social institutions and social competencies must form an essential part of the human development approach—including the formation of groups; interactions between groups and individuals; incentives and constraints to collective action; the relationship among groups, politics and policy outcomes; the role of norms in influencing behaviours; and how norms are formed and changed.

The 1994 Human Development Report argued that the concept of security must shift from the idea of a militaristic safeguarding of state borders to the reduction of insecurity in people’s daily lives (or human insecurity). In every society, human security is undermined by a variety of threats, including hunger, disease, crime, unemployment, human rights violations and environmental challenges. The intensity of these threats differs across the world, but human security remains a universal quest for freedom from want and fear.Consider economic insecurity. In the countries of the North, millions of young people are now unable to find work. And in the South, millions of farmers have been unable to earn a decent livelihood and forced to migrate, with many adverse effects, particularly for women. Closely related to insecurity in livelihoods is insecurity in food and nutrition. Many developing country households faced with high food prices cannot afford two square meals a day, undermining progress in child nutrition. Another major cause of impoverishment in many countries, rich and poor, is unequal access to affordable health care. Ill health in the household (especially of the head of the household) is one of the most common sources of impoverishment, as earnings are lost and medical expenses are incurred. Perspectives on security need to shift from a misplaced emphasis on military strength to a well rounded, people-centred view. Progress in this shift can be gleaned in part from statistics on crime, particularly homicides, and military spending.’

According to  the United Nations Development, despite the much exaggerated  recent economic growth data, Ethiopia is still near the bottom of  in its Human Development  Index 2013.Ethiopia ranks 173 out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index 2013 compiled by UNDP. The Index is part of the Human Development Report that is presented annually and measures life expectancy, income and education in countries around the world. Since 2000, Ethiopia has registered greater gains than all but two other countries in the world – Afghanistan and Sierra Leone. But it still ranks close to the bottom of the Index. Ethiopia is one of the countries that are  known in human rights violations, government waging war against its people, marginalizing communities, political and social discrimination and where the system of structural injustices are the norms than exceptions.

Click to access HDR_2013_EN_complete.pdf


Click to access HDR_2013_EN_complete.pdf


Click to access HDR_2013_EN_complete.pdf



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The Political Functions of Land grabbing policies of successive regimes of Ethiopia December 9, 2012

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Land grabbing is the major source of military, political, and economic powers of successive regimes of Ethiopia. Each regime distinctively designed land governance system to maintain colonial ownership of land of peoples of Oromia and Southern Ethiopia. After incorporation of South Ethiopia into the Abyssinian (North Ethiopia) empire at end of 19th century the relationship between the Southern and Northern is characterized by inequality, exploitation, and resource extraction by collection of tributes and taxes, and slave and ivory trades (Dereje, 2006 and Donham, 2002). Gebar land tenure system in the South Ethiopia as well as the Rist tenure system of North show some esemblance to the current land tenure system and with some reservations also resemble that of the military regime, with the exceptions that the communal Rist system is replaced by the organs of state, i.e. the peasant associations (Crewett et al. 2008). Power of domestic colonial politics is highly centralized with absolute land ownership right of governance core of Abyssinia to sustain rule of dictatorship through chains of colonial agents at regional, provincial, and local levels. Government of Ethiopia (the TPLF regime) is the owner of land, but the rights of individuals and communities are ‘holding (use) rights’ (Proclamation No. 456/200550). Though ethnic equality is now legally recognized, in practice, emergent regions are still politically marginalized and permitted less autonomy, partly due to the federal development strategy, which requires central control of local land resources and changes in livelihoods (Lavers, 2011). Centralization of Abyssinian land governance politics is manifested by five levels of land use rights: (1) owner-ship, (2) management, (3) sanction, (4) full accessibility right, & (4) limited accessibility right (Table7). Land tenure politics of both imperial and military or TPLF regimes are generally sharing similar political goal, i.e. manipulation of land use rights to maintain monopoly of governance powers. The commercialization of land has served as a political advantage for the state, because it enhances greater concentration of authority in the hands of the governors. A woreda (district) or an urban administration shall have the power to expropriate rural or urban landholdings for public purpose where it believes that it should be used for a better development project to be carried out by public entities, private investors, cooperative societies or other organs, or where such expropriation is decided by the appropriate higher regional or federal government organ for the same purpose (Proclamation No. 455/200558). The TPLF regime is intentionally violating the land accessibility right of rural communities of Oromia and Southern Ethiopia to achieve political goals of suppressing national struggle of colonized peoples. The regime has already institutionalized practices of human right violations through manipulation of constitution. It formulated politically motivated proclamations (1) to limit humanitarian activities of NGOs using charities proclamation and (2) to crash political opponents through manipulation of anti-terrorism  law in order to protect its monopolistic ownership of military, political, and economic powers (Mulataa, 2010b). The regime is not hesitated to practice arbitrary arrest, long detention, or extrajudicial killings of tens of thousands, and torturing peoples suspected to be supporters of opposition political organizations to sustain fears in civil societies. As society becomes more fearful, many individuals yearn for the safety and order promised by strong, controlling regime: and that the fears create conditions under which such regime gains control (Alan Hall, 2010). The regime is systematically advancing level of insecurity by aggravating poverty, expanding borders of food insecurity, manipulating conflicts, degrading safety of ecosystem, and advancing violation of human rights in order to produce the poorest of poor peoples. Thus it can easily use victims of poverty as political animal through manipulation of land use right. The regime easily regulates rural communities’ support of opposition political parties by threatening subsistence livelihoods of about 75% of 85 million populations. Therefore the rural communities are directly controlled by the regime and they cannot be free in any means to vote opposition political parties during election. They will loss land use right, if they vote for opposition.
Power of the regime is frequently dependant of external aids. During 1974 – 1991 financial, material, & technical supports of the international donor communities were channeled through political NGOs of the TPLF to areas under its control to support both military and emergency programs (Mulataa, 2010a). The aids were resulted in increase of peasant-based supports, legitimacy expansion among the civilian population, use of aid resources to support organizational structures, and quantitative capability in feeding the armies (URD, 2002). The regime received very huge sum of financial aids since 1991. It has received a sum of US $ 26 billion in development aid as of 2009 (Helen, 2010). Ethiopians remained in the most wretched poverty, despite decades of development policies (The Economist, 2007). The regime is manipulating foreign military and development aids as instrument to suppress peaceful transfer of political power since1991 through marginalization of opposition political parties. The government of Ethiopia used donor-supported programs, salaries, and training opportunities as political weapons to control the population, punish dissent, and undermine political opponents—both real and perceived, that the local officials deny these people (i.e. supporters of opposition parties) to access seeds and fertilizer, agricultural land, credit, food aid, and other resources for development (HRW, 2010). Policies of aggravating poverty through destruction of livelihood of rural communities are systematically implemented by the TPLF regime to sustain political manipulation of aids, because either emergency or development aids are political instrument of the regime to enforce political support. Increasing level of poverty is tactically increasing enforcement of peoples electing the regime. The regime is frequently manipulating food aid distribution to crash supporters of political opponents. It uses food aids as an instrument to achieve political objectives and to protect its governance powers. Land grabbing policy of the regime is systematically intended to increase size of people dependant on food aids in order to secure political support. For example: “Despite being surrounded by other communities which are well fed, a village with a population of about 1700 adults is starving. We were told that in the two weeks prior to our team’s arrival 5 adults and 10 children had died. Lying on the floor, too exhausted to stand, and flanked by her three-year-old son whose stomach is bloated by malnutrition, one woman described how her family had not eaten for four days. Another three-year-old boy lay in his grandmother’s lap, listless and barely moving as he stared into space. The grandmother said, we are just waiting on the crop, if we have one meal a day we will survive until the harvest, beyond that there is no hope for us (BBC, 2011).” The message is clear and simple. It increases climate of insecurity and fear in society that for who depend on food aids they must support the ruling party in order to survive from a threat of systematic assassination. Therefore political loyalty to the state and the ruling party (the TPLF regime) governs the very existence of rural communities of Ethiopia.” Malkamuu Jaatee and Zakaariyaas Mulataa

A final review of land grabbing policies of successive regimes of Ethiopia


Click to access A%20final%20review%20of%20land%20grabbing%20policies%20of%20successive%20regimes%20of%20Ethiopia.pdf

Ethiopia: Left to Starve – Zenawi’s Reign of Terror




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