By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
Part I. The setting
The prompt for this article has come from ESAT news of Wednesday June 17, 2015, which revealed the existence of a list containing about 155 names of land grabbers in one district alone in Gambella – reportedly 90 percent of them Tigreans, affiliated with the TPLF – Ethiopia’s ruling party since 1991.
The world has for a while has known from all sources about the TPLF regime’s land grabbing from citizens – either to rent it out to foreign investors or award its own members – this latest list is the first official confirmation for the criminal land robbery and the consequent injustices that have been taking in Ethiopia.
In a region, where resettlement has been a convenient cover to land grab, the list is said to be an official reminder requesting the concerned individuals that have seized/taken lands to pay rental fees for E.C. 2006 and 2007.
This is a very disturbing problem, occurring in the 21st century only in lawless nations and those without the requisite institutions and decency, where laws lack relevance to the rights of citizens, human dignity and the longstanding interests of the nations. Whereas land grab is a modus operandi for the TPLF regime, without a doubt it has inflicted too many pains on Ethiopians – both rural and urban. It is so horrendous that the regime should also apply it in this post-election period to demolish homes of those that have not voted for it in Addis Abeba, according to ESAT.
Since we are now focussing on what has happened to the people of Gambella, note that in response to a question on ESAT during an interview last week the list as a topic, a heartbroken Gambellan journalist lamented: “Our lands have already been sold and lost, what remains is the people, although we can’t even be certain about that whether we as the indigenous people have also been part of the transaction.”
It is no surprise that this should bring to mind a nearly eight-year old article by Jon Abbink: Some Problems and Prospects of Ethno-Regional Federation, which appeared in the 2006 Journal of Contemporary African Studies (Vol 24, 3). Among others, it fittingly examines Ethiopia’s political developments since 1991 in the context of “‘resource competition’, persistent inequalities in socio-political systems, patterns of humiliation and abuse of minorities, and the politicisation of religion.”
Abbink seems to suggest to his readers not to go far and deep to meet Ethiopia’s future. Too him, the 2005 election has become good marker of the future of Ethiopia. This he saw, undemocratic and unlawful as it is, in TPLF’s mortal opposition and total unwillingness to cede power, or allow legitimate competition. Not surprisingly, Ethiopians also witnessed in 2010 and just less than a month ago the same situation in the outcome of the May 24, 2015 election. Dangerous for the country, it has once and for all declared the end of the road for peaceful struggle for democracy to take root in Ethiopia.
While the author’s Ethiopia reality is limited upto September 2006, the 2005 election has provided sufficient evidence for those who early on welcomed the TPLF in 1991 to be puzzled and find themselves in disbelief by the extent of state violence it inflicted on the protestors disputing the election results. Most striking for the author and to everyone watching history in the making in Ethiopia, however, is whether this should in the first place ever happen under the TPLF – given its dreams and principles that in the first place took it to the bushes as a ‘liberation movement’ and the subsequent pledges it has entered to the Ethiopian people.
It is from this vantage point that the distrustful Abbink gleans the 2005 election and the subsequent massacre of Ethiopian citizens as unmistakable indicator of violence or its threats in Ethiopia’s future as “an important idiom of politics and of group relations.”
After the ESAT story on the list, my mind kept chewing Abbink’s words again and again, against my experiences and expectations as a citizen.
While I was at it, last week came unintended information that Saudi tycoon billionaire Sheik Al-Amoudi has upgraded his Saudi Star farm in Abobo, Gambella, with added investments and new machineries, estimated at $30 million. To date, the 7,000-hectare farm has hardly been profitable; in fact, during the last two years it was almost at a point of bankruptcy, the ministry of agriculture putting it on notice in 2013.
The sheik now seems determined to make his 10,000 hectare farm productive and profitable, since he has 60-year lease. His concern, however, seems the future security of his farm. In the past, he had heavily relied on protection by the TPLF, to whose call the militia and the army quickly responded. For instance, the world saw in March and April 2012 it was ineffective. On the contrary, each time the army came to protect or inspect the farm, they made it a habit to kill too many innocent people.
It now appears that, in a manner that gives open interpetation to the sheik wanting to make peace with the local population in Anyuak Zone, it was announced on June 13, 2015 that he had donated 26 tractors and ETB 30 million ($1.5 million) ‘to local farmers and youth’, according to Gambella Media Network.
Officially, the beneficiaries are local farmers and the youth. Nevertheless, fully aware the TPLF’s greed, they could certainly end up in the hands of the wrong people – the land grabbers! Either in the name of settlements or naked displacements, the local population has already been uprooted. They have been pushed out to the peripheries and less productive lands far away from the sheik’s properties and lands seized by TPLF members. Surely, the powerful are capable of all sorts of actions to protect what they now consider “their interests.” Intriguingly, therefore, giving credence to the suspicion out there came a statement by TPLF Col Azeb Tadesse, Deputy CEO of METEC. During this visit by the Who is Who of the TPLF and their accompanying minions to Gambella during the first week of June and at a meeting they held between representatives of the TPLF leadership, the regional administration and Saudi Star, one important point she underlined is that MeTC would sell tractors to Gambella farms; it would also open office in Gambella to undertake contractual tractor maintenance services.
In addition, the colonel said MeTC would give out tractors on long-term payments to local farmers. How this financing is arranged and what the loan criteria is not clear. It is reported that to operationalize this arrangement, at the time trilateral agreement between Saudi Star, MeTC and Gambella Regional government was signed in Gambella. When there secret interests and motives, under the table deals and secret operations take over to benefit one party against the other, salient aspects of the arrangement are usually left fuzzy.
In this case, the purpose may be to keep in the dark the local population, or keep at bay critics or other concerned people. It is possible to assume here that Tigrayan commercial farm investors are at the heart of this undertaking, assuming that TPLF’s ranking military officers have been granted lands in Gambella, as part of their future of enrichment.
Get details of their discussion from the video hereunder.
Part II. TPLF considers Gambella its ‘jewel on the crown’; The Al-Amoudi role
It is understood that the Tigrians in Gambella are concentrating on agricultural activities, most notably in Abobo district, one of Gambella’s six woredas (districts), where Saudi agricultural enterprise, known as Saudi Star, has firmly perched itself since 2009.There is no doubt that the TPLF considers Gambella as its ‘jewel on the crown.’ The long-term objective of the TPLF is to strategically use Gambella as the regime’s economic and security buttress, with the political and economic situation in the entire country in mind.
This was made known in 1994 when the TPLF point man for Gambella, the former State Minister of Interior Dr Gebreab Barnabas salivatingly told the NPR that the region would feed the whole of Ethiopia. This was said days before over 400 Anuaks were massacred by the TPLF army.
The first step in that direction, therefore, is for the TPLF to attract its own to take control of the land. In a word, it follows past established occupation paths colonialists had utilized across Africa. For that, because of their ethnic and political loyalty, Tigrians, members of the TPLF, seem to be considered ideal choices.
It means that the regime, which inherently has strong nepotism bent has been exclusively doling out to TPLF Tigreans economic opportunities all over the country and lands in the case of Gambella. This reportedly includes tailored-bank ‘loans’ from the Development Bank of Ethiopia (DBE)(see a different list and money amounts from September 2014).
Illegal and shameful as are these discriminatory practices, nonetheless, the actions by the narrow nationalist TPLF regime is decidedly giving leg up to TPLF Tigreans across the country as priority beneficiaries in any and all forms Ethiopia could offer.
The anomaly is that such privileges and opportunities are not public or open, nor available to other Ethiopians.
It is evident thus that there cannot be any other explanation for this, other than its purpose being to basically create permanent division within the nation. As far as the United Nations is concerned, in the last 15 years Ethiopia has shown huge shift to non-inclusive growth, irrespective of what the media report. That is why the UNDP, in a report launched in April 2015
While this enables the ruling party to create exclusive opportunities for Tigreans, the eventual return to it is their continued loyalty. Yet, most important for it is realization of its ultimate objective in the long-run, i.e., Ethiopia falling under Tigrean overlordship – via the TPLF. The country director on the occasion said:
“We launch this report as part of helping the inclusiveness of the country’s economy and the Human Development Index of the country, which showed a slight increase although the rank it holds still remains at 173 out of 187 countries,” stated Owusu. “Gain from the country’s growth is not equal among different groups.”
Let me state here that while I am fully conversant with the hows and whys of the land grab issue in Ethiopia, I find very painful this latest information about TPLF military officers and civilians fully taking over Gambella, dispossessing the indigenous people by force of arms or in utter disregard of the interests of other Ethiopians.
There is stiff price Gambella has been paying. The normalcy and idyllic calm it has known for centuries have been lost. As a matter of fact, in the year from mid-2014 to the present, the TPLF has reportedly killed close to 500,000 Gambellans (Mezhenger) for defending their lands. Sadly, not a single culprit has been held to account to this day in this lawless Ethiopia.Moreover, the news now is that a further hefty support and encouragement is fast and sureptitously coming for Tigreans to settle in Abobo. They are invited or attracted with incentives by none other than Sheik Mohammed Al-Amoudi.
If anyone is interested, Saudi Star is mostly intended for rice production for the Saudi royal family and the surplus to the market, although it has plan to produce oil and sugar. In theory, Saudi Star claims to be part of MIDROC Africa that houses most of the tycoon’s investments in Ethiopia.
As far as Sheik Al-Amoudi is concerned, he comes across for two things: (a) as the world’s 116th billionaire with a net worth estimated at eleven billion dollars in 2015; and, (b) for his determined opposition to those the TPLF regime hates and persecutes – such as the media, the legal opposition in the country and the Ethiopian diaspora. His attitude in Ethiopia very much imitates America’s policies in the 1970s and 1980s in Central America. Successive US administrations were determined to silence any opposition against military dictators in those countries. Similarly, those the sheik disapproves of have distinguished themselves for their opposition to the repressive TPLF regime and happen to be devoted to expose its cruelty and robbery of the resources of a poor country.
For the TPLF, power and resources are its aphrodisiac. Therefore, it has a profiteer mentality; it’s its ingrained habit and quality in business and politics. That is what former State Minister Ermias Legesse has exposed in his memoir የመለስ “ትሩፋቶች” ባለቤት አልባ ከተማ (August 2014), after having served as close ally, observer and personal witness. He has often spoken how much mortified he had been especially by the depth of land grab in Addis Abeba and its environs and robbery of the banks to enrich TPF Tigreans. This action has been spearheaded by senior people – Ethiopia’s newest aristocracy – who today are heading different government and party offices: the military, security, diplomatic posts and the media.
As observed above, power is everything for the TPLF. Ethiopians especially in this latest election witnessed that their votes were mutilated in all sorts of manner the Front wanted and finally gobbled up – this time around 100 percent of it.
True, we have already been intimated that revolutionary ‘democratic state’ cannot function, without absolute power, which Meles Zenawi in his pretense refers to as “autonomy of the state”, without which it could not function.
At least, he has conceded that much, when he stated in his States and Markets: Neoliberal Limitations (2012), “As clear as the need for a developmental state based on national consensus is, it appears to be contradicted by historical experiences.”
This admission has not helped Ethiopians in terms of ‘revolutionary democracy’ or TPLF respecting their rights, human dignity and their properties. With land being the only asset for the majority of Ethiopians, TPLF thugs should not be allowed to continue to impose on Ethiopians an era of deprivation, dishonor and humiliation, while they enrich themselves at the expense of the people.