TPLF’s hunger for cash crops & forex has been forcing more land grab and the consequent evictions & dehumanization of Ethiopians

11 Apr

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

The shooting on March 9, 2015 by the police of food producing farmers in Algé Kebele – a farming neighborhood around Lake Abaya in Gamo Gofa, Southern Ethiopia – was cruelly revolting. Listening to the interview of a witness on ESAT radio on April 3, 2015 and seeing the pictures, the sense of helplessness with which the poor farmers were incapacitated – notwithstanding their high numbers – to say the least, was terribly inhuman and disturbing.

Here is audio of the ESAT interview:

Think of an image with large number of farmers initially being humiliated by threats and taunting of poorly trained and heavily armed young policemen full of themselves; think of the prodding by the police why those farmers were not moving themselves out of their lands and go somewhere else. In the case of the police – given the attitude of their master, the TPLF, to the rule of law – there is not even any need to discuss whether they should have been adequately trained to ensure unadulterated implementation of the constitution.

However, most interesting is the investors’ temerity to go directly to the farms, as if they had agreement with the farmers to see their prospective farm area they would use for tobacco plantation. Note that the farmers had since November 2014 notified their disinterest in either vacating or ‘selling’ the lands to anyone. In spite of the that, it is assumed that the local administration had encouraged the three investors to go and see their future farm.

Rightfully, the farmers refused entry to the intruders, who had no right to be there in the first place. It is at this point that police were sent to remove the farmers from their lands.

If Ethiopia were a country where there is the rule of law, the trespassers would have been prosecuted and there would have been no need to shed the life of innocent farmers lawfully defending their rights to their land.

After all, the investors made their contracts for the land with the city, not with the Algé farmers as individuals or their association. The police had one clear instruction: clear the farmers off their lands at any cost!

Therefore, it was too much for the police to hear the farmers refusing to leave their lands, especially the daring to tell the police and investors never to show up at the farms again. The police got angered and they began clubbing the people as if they were inanimate objects – the old and young, men and women. Then they shot some of them because they thought they were rude to them; possibly they must have also thought politically, given their cadre ‘training’ about loyalty to the regime, and might have even labeled some of them instigators of disobedience to their employer – the TPLF first and then the local administration.

In the light of their own humble origin, nevertheless, one would assume that there should have been none of the contempt nor enmity between those young men and the farmers. I blame the regime’s preparation of these policemen and the orientation given to them. It appears to me that, they did not behave any differently from an improperly trained boxer, who could not show he is a good puncher; instead he was psychologically shaped to rely on his rage to frighten the other side – unfortunately without the necessary inducement not contemplate to eat his opponent. Recall that such transformation from the human to animal is a short distance, even to the great boxer Mike Tyson in his waning days, who bit off his opponent’s ear – much less those rookies.

The Gamo Gofa killing of one farmer and badly injuring seven others – incidents that frequently occur in most parts of Ethiopia’s agricultural belts in the south, west and the hinterlands the aim of which is to seize lands from farmers – is a sure-enough crime by any measure. It is wilfully committed by the arrogance of power of unaccountable authority that for a quarter of a century has been humiliating Ethiopians. During these years, Ethiopians have known lots of beatings, denying of their livelihoods if one is not kowtowing the ‘official’ line, unlawful imprisonment and torture, shooting and killing at will, which includes elimination of a human being through extrajudicial killings.

In brief, the Gamo Gofa shooting imitates the land grab and killings by the ‘robber barons’ in power in Gambella at its worst, because of which that region now happens to be reduced to TPLF military garrison in the western Ethiopia, just like Ogaden in the east.

Death and injuries in Argé farmers' kebele by Lake Abaya (Credit: Negere Ethiopia)

Death and injuries in Argé farmers’ kebele by Lake Abaya (Credit: Negere Ethiopia)

At one time or another, we each might have asked why this is happening in our country? It is because the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) people have no love whatsoever and interest in their hearts for and about the wellbeing of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. Officials of the ethnicist TPLF are driven by their earnest desire to consolidate economic and political power in their ‘ethnic’ hands in all parts of our captive nation.

Towards that end, they have been behaving and acting like a zealot immature militia member, instead of as state officials and actors – a psychological problem they contracted from their 17 years as so-called ‘freedom fighters’. The way Ethiopians understand it today, this has only made them hardened specialists in beatings, torture and murder.

Another worst attribute of the TPLF members is their tribalism, i.e., their commitment to ethnic ideology with a contradiction, with its ‘Aryan’ sort twist, the manifestation of their narrow nationalism.

In power, utilizing the coercive powers of the state, which has the legal monopoly over unleashing violence with support of the ‘law’, they have employed brute force, terror and the consequent dehumanization of other Ethiopians mostly in this 21st century, with tribalism as one of their tools. That alone, makes them criminals and ill-suited to run Ethiopia – a poor but proud and beautiful people of Ethiopia, one of the oldest organized states history has always held with highest regard.

Therefore, this cruel man-eat-man crime in Gamo Gofa is manifestation of the lawless Ethiopia has become for a long while now because of the greedy and corrupt TPLF controlling the levers of power. What would have been the fate of the country if it did not have tradition of state organization?

The conjecture aside, I worry even now; I fear for the worst to happen in our lifetime, as I keep on witnessing the arrogance of power on one side and fear and helplessness of the people on the other. I always see the TPLF doing whatever their whims and unsound mind feels like. What happened in Gamo Gofa is just another evidence of the gobblers’ un-statesmanly behavior, characterized by persistent disrespect for life and property rights. It is sad to learn again the police becoming enforcers of TPLF’s land grab policies, instead of protectors of the people and defenders of law and order.

Impact of all these lawlessness

For me, it is no exaggeration to state that the attendant sense of state violence in Gamo Gofa against defenceless people and the frustrations thereon was overwhelming. In consequence, it is in the midst of this that I felt two serious concerns for our country and its future, which gripped my mind for days – until this writing.

Firstly, why is it Ethiopia – the supposedly roaring lion of double-digit economic growths for more than a decade now and despite the claim of prosperity by the TPLF regime – has remained food insecure? I had thought for a long time about this, I have heard lots of lies and the political propaganda by TPLF officials on this matter. And yet, I have not found answer to the question how long Ethiopia would continue to be dependent on international humanitarian aid for over a sixth of its 94 million population.

Moreover, even if we choose to ignore the other sources of international aid flowing into the country – such as the intermittent injections of cash by the World Bank under all sorts of subterfuges, especially when forex is dangerously low i.e., other than project financing; and then there is the African Development Bank (AfDB) chaffing on the margins. Both of these are meant to shore up the Ethiopian regime.

Add to this the substantial income from UN peacekeeping operations, paid for the use of the nation’s war materiel (planes, helicopters, machine guns, armed personnel carriers, etc.). Incidentally, as if these were individual payments for personnel services, most top TPLF generals freely use the monies without any accountability. Also, there are additional authorizations by donors to funnel in monies in response to some activities, mostly security and defense related.

International data (World Bank and OECD) have unmistakably shown that, of 132 Official Development Assistance (ODA) recipient countries in the developing world, Ethiopia figures most prominently as the second largest recipient of international aid – only preceded by Afghanistan!

Therefore, unlike anytime before in the history of our country, the flow of foreign aid has been massive with the TPLF having subcontracted the nation’s foreign and defence policies to serve the interests of foreign powers. This is paid under the different guises, Ethiopia doing the footwork to coalesce Africa around Western interests and stabilizing our sub-region – the Horn of Africa. Recall what role Meles Zenawi, who was nicknamed the GMO Ambassador to Africa, played in surreptitiously promoting genetically modified organisms GMOs) into African foods. Of course, it earned him the respect of international big businesses that have brought with them the support of political leaders in different Western countries.

The greatest joke is Ethiopia stabilizing the Horn of Africa, as we saw it in Somalia and now South Sudan. That lie flies in the face of the reality; the facts would become clearer only in time, that the entry into Somalia of Ethiopian forces, continued Western support for it and the consequent violation of Somali human rights has been the major cause for the deterioration of the situation in that country. Contrary to the intended objective, in fact it ended up facilitating Al Qaeda entry and the groundswell of support it enjoyed there. It is no secret that US sources indicate in Counterinsurgency in Somalia: Lessons Learned from the African Union Mission in Somalia, 2007-2013 that, by 2008 “some 2,000 foreign fighters had entered Somalia, approximately 40 percent of them from the Somali diaspora” to fight Ethiopian forces. Is this the stabilization they are talking about?

That aside, let me state that, in spite of the opportunities these have availed the TPLF in terms of substantial foreign financing, it is factual to point out that none of thus funds have gone toward improving the lives of the huge masses of poverty stricken Ethiopians. In fact, both the Al-Shabab and Al-Qaeda presence in our region has benefitted the TPLF to silence Ethiopians demanding accountable governance, respect for their fundamental civil rights of citizens. Today, most of those early activists either ended up fleeing their country, or are rotting in jails sentenced as agents of terrorism!

The West has done little to end this abomination on Ethiopians and Somalia’s citizens to this day, although in clear vision of the entire world Ethiopians have continued to suffer in the hands of the most brutal Stalinist regime!

Consequently, on the economic front especially regarding improvement of the lives of Ethiopians in poverty, both the TPLF and its foreign friends are exaggerating Ethiopia’s ‘economic miracles’ as a strategy of warding criticisms off against the regime and themselves. In reality, in an environment of corruption Ethiopia has performed poorly. This is also what the data analyzed by Mo Ibrahim Index on 2014 has testified, as has the Social Progress Index (SPI) for 2015, released days ago.

Click here to see what the data say about the conditions Ethiopians are living in, compared with other countries. On the Performance metrics, Ethiopia is ahead of Niger, Yemen, Angola, Guinea, Afghanistan, Chad and the Central African Republic – after 25 years of relative peace and stability and eleven years of double-digit growths. It must be intuitive to learn, for instance, from the poor performance of oil rich Angola, preceded by non-oilEthiopia in this group, being an evidence of the fact that social wellbeing is neither a matter of GDP or availability of foreign exchange. It is whether a nation is free of corruption, has the right policies in place and people have equal opportunities, sense of ownership and security and institutions do what they are tasked to do – delivering goods and services, as well as the state constantly improving qualities of the public goods – infrastructures in particular (education, roads, power, water, etc.), as part of good governance. Unfortunately, in Ethiopia, as in Angola, degrees of differences aside, the peoples resources have become sources of enrichment to the mafia – the TPLF – and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).

In the SPI, under category Performance Comparison, Ethiopia is seen having scored on the index 41.04 and at a ranking of 126th out of 133 nations. In Basic Human Needs, Ethiopia has scored 44.04 and is 120th out of 133 nations. Most tellingly, under Opportunities Ethiopia has scored 28.59 and ranks 120th out of 133 states; and finally in Foundations of Wellbeing, Ethiopia scores 50.49 as is ranked as 126th out of 133 states, its ranking ironically boosted by the regime’s ability to improve water supply to the nation!

It must be clear that 41.04 score in the SPI is very low, despite minor improvements in the numbers that are not translated on the ground. The important thing is to examine each component of the index individually, since those are the ones that show sectoral performance.

On a separate note, I must state that I have not sought to devote time to investigate it further; but I would like it to be known that I have grave reservations about the SPI ranking of Ethiopia under the Opportunities metrics relative to the overall numbers. It appears to me that the weighing system is heavily skewed in some of its some subdivisions, for a reason I cannot say. For that matter, this contradicts one of the three major SPI criteria that focuses on three interrelated areas the sum of which must show that whether improved governance affords a given nation the opportunity for all its citizens to reach their full potentials. It is not the case in Ethiopia; nothing of the sort happens without a baksheesh, i.e., the individual citizen paying, among others, political support for the regime and engaging in acts that demonstrate ideological and party loyalty!

Secondly, in the instance I heard about the sad and cruel action of the police in Gamo Gofa on ESAT Radio and also read the story in Negere Ethiopia – unusually I noted in myself I was not preoccupied with the usual questions, such as the illegality of the police action. Instead, my mind fled to what Prof. Hilal Elver* had written barely a month before, i.e., on the February 19, 2015 edition of The Guardian, with a fitting title which asks: Why are there still so many hungry people in the world?

Ms. Hilal Elver - Special Rapporteur on Right to Food (Credit UN photo)

Ms. Hilal Elver – Special Rapporteur on Right to Food (Credit UN photo)

In a typical fashion of a university professor, in that article Hilal Elver dashes off to offer an answer to her own question.

In that context, she plucks out data indicating that the world produces enough food to feed 10 billion people today, because of which she underlines that the poverty and hunger around the world is a function of bad economics and politics, not scarcity.

Certainly Dr. Elver has the right credentials to investigate such problems. This is not only because of her training as international lawyer, or her being a research professor or an expert on global climate change, international rivers, human security and democracy issues. But also she has the mandate to seek answers on behalf of the international community, since her appointment as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food in June 2014.

In The Guardian article, she pays cursory glances on the tribulations of modern society at the national and global levels in ensuring food security. By way of data, she cites FAO statistics to show the existence in the world of “one billion people that suffer from chronic hunger and almost two billion under-or overnourished.” The hungry people in our country are also in the first category.

Her verdict is that, Ethiopians in Gamo Gofa, Gambella, etc., and elsewhere agree with her, it is not scarcity that has failed the billions that have been left with little or with no food in the world or in Ethiopia. She blames the way the world produces and distributes food, and the extraneous elements around growth policies.

As the international community is preparing to shelf away the first chapter of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs: 2000-2015), come next September, therefore, the Special Rapporteur is categorical in concluding that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have “failed to treat food as a human right.”

The basis for her view is that, although the world has witnessed poverty reduction in keeping with Goal 1 of the MDG, she sees the tasks ahead to be onerous since “food security and adequate nutrition have not been achieved.” This is also a prescient observation, since what we see in Ethiopia today and issues such as land grab resort to tribalism has worsened the situation.

As the Special Rapporteur Hilal Elver’s article was still being read around the world, on March 9, 2015 my country was making sure that it was dislocating food producers in Gamo Gofa to give the lands to cash crops producers (tobacco). It is reported that local officials had sought the lands by Lake Abaya, because they had already leased to two Tigreans and one other investor of unknown ethnic affiliation to produce tobacco, without securing the concurrence of the farmers on the land.

There was not any discussion between the local administration and the farmers for the latter to receive compensation nor did the local administration respond to their November appeal in the first place, when they said they would not want to move from their lands or take compensation to it. What this confirms is that the arrangement on behalf of these three investors had strong support from higher ups in Addis Abeba, or some TPLF family members could have been interested in the planned tobacco production.

Already we have had experience in dislocation of food producers to give the lands to those that produce cash crops. When Dr. Abera Deressa was minister of agriculture, he and Meles agreed to rent out three to five million hectares of agricultural lands to foreign investors. People at home and abroad began to shake their heads, only when the ‘honorable minister’ said at a meeting with investors in some country about Ethiopia’s plan saying: “Everywhere we want to increase the amount of land to be leased… We have abundant land available… [Don’t worry for us] If we get money we can buy food anywhere… Then we can solve the food problem.”

If that idea were to succeed, the motive behind it was the control of Ethiopia. However, in case, it did not, the TPLF had Plan B – premised on its continued control of Ethiopia through mass settlements of members of its ethnic group. Due to TPLF’s political illegitimacy, Meles Zenawi’s thinking was that settlement of its ethnic members in Gambella would give it control of the richest region. He authorized this sending them off as occupiers of the lands of other ethnic groups, evicting the local people. TPLF members and loyalists became occupiers of Gambella, camouflaged as investors, alongside the Saudis, Chinese, and Indian investors.

Although Gambella is an outlying region, different ethnic groups have been living on both sides of the Ethiopia and Sudan border. What this has done is disrupt their longstanding peaceful existence. Anger of the local population reached boiling points, already by 2009; people were getting organized to overthrow the regime, which stole their lands. Many are still under arms training and fighting, with the crisis in South Sudan becoming a boon for them.

That once idyllic and sleepy region today has become a military garrison, the TPLF protecting both foreign investors and members of its own ethnic group, the Tigreans constituting over 70 percent of the investors. Not very long ago, in neighboring regional state some eight Tigreans were slain, although they were not settlers. It shows how far the animosity has gone in Ethiopia, merely because of the bad behavior of the TPLF.

Lessons for Ethiopia

In her article, the UN Special Rapporteur affirms that in developing countries – as is the case in Gambella and Gamo Gofa – “the 2 billion people making less than $2 a day – many of whom live in rural areas where resource-poor farmers cultivate small plots of land – most can’t afford to buy food. It is the economic system that is responsible for this prevalence of poverty and hunger.”

She touches on what lies at the heart of the problem in Gamo Gofa, in Algé farmers’ neighborhood, as she addresses the problems of accountability for state actors. The way I understood it, her remark is suggestive of her future course of action. In other words, as the Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food, she would keep her eyes focussed on what happens in the context of the successor arrangements for the MDG, that is the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

As a matter of fact, of the 17 proposed goals of Sustainable Development, Goals 1, and 2, deal with: Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere and Ending hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture hold priority position. Unlike the past, i.e., the MDGs, there is more support this time around for the SDGs, not only from governments and NGOs, but also from international businesses, an indication of the fact that ending hunger and poverty is in their interests.

Among prominent features of the 17 Goals, there are targets, one of which aims to ensure by 2030 “all men and women, particularly the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership, and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology, and financial services including microfinance.”

While a praise for SDGs from The Economist must raise eyebrows, it is also an indication of unanimity by all members of the international community in support of poverty reduction. The SDGs document, in its paragraph 7 speaks of the commitment of the international community to ensure realizability of “freedom, peace and security, respect for all human rights, including the right to development and the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food and water, the rule of law, good governance, gender equality, women’s empowerment and the overall commitment to just and democratic societies for development.”

Let it be known that in the crime committed in Gamo Gofa, not the administration, not the police have taken responsibility for the humiliations caused on Algé farmers and the entire community. Naturally, the state has no intention of investigating and punishing the criminals. Therefore, no compensation is given to the people that have been dislocated, or the damages the killing has caused and the sufferings of their families.

It is understood that the land is taken and given to the investors that the TPLF strongly supports and facilitates even bank loans, as it did in the case of the Tigrean real estates in the post-2005 election, thereby making most ethnically affiliated individuals and groups with the Front Ethiopia’s nouveau riche today.

Land grab is a crime and wealth built on it is ill-gained; ways must be found to ensure payment is made for the damages inflicted on the dislocated and those that have lost their loved ones. The new owners of the lands or assets, which has been cause in the first place for the dislocation of tens and thousands that have been sent into destitution must be adequately compensated. State officials that have hands in the dislocation of the people as in the case of Gamo Gofa and elsewhere must be held accountable.

*Ms. Hilal Elver is a Research Professor, and co-director of the Project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy housed at the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has a law degree, a Ph.D. from the University of Ankara Law School, and SJD from the UCLA Law School. She was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food by the Human Rights Council in May 2014 and assumed her functions on 2 June 2014.

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