Gambella’s failed commercial agriculture & Tigrean investors; TPLF nepotism, lawlessness & corruption; Sebhat Nega rooting for Tigrean land grabbers: Unequal Ethiopianity is the challenge in 2017 (Part I)

2 Jan

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)  

“According to a study commissioned by Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, Gambella’s commercial farming investment is in shambles at the moment. The study systematically investigated the investor recruitment procedure, land allocation process, performance of invested farms, provision of financing, follow up of investors and many other research topics which are of great interest to the stakeholder. It suffices to say, the study team found things disturbingly out of place in Gambella.”

The Reporter

Problems identified, but why is commensurate action lacking?

Contents of the above-mentioned study have not been made available to the public so far; some media have given it wide coverage – each with its own accent however.

Based on what has been investigated so far, the study’s incompleteness is too glaring, perhaps by design. The reasons for that could be presumed to be the certified mafia-esque behavior of the members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) regime. Bear in mind that on one hand Ethiopia is in its season of TPLF’s state of martial law and on the other the TPLF senior members and ordinary cadres must have been exerting pressure what has been uncovered to be downplayed.

Even for the big bosses, the TPLF’s excesses must have come to them as shocker. They are seen too clumsy in either their paralysis as they focus on cover-up or through their hastening to punish lower and mid-level staff in the Jimma Branch of the Development Bank of Ethiopia (DBE) and the Gambella regional state land lease, registry and land allocation offices.

This in view, the disturbing question is why such a study is allowed to be authored bids and pieces of its information released. Puzzled wonderment could raise the inevitable question if the TPLF world is one piece.

Otherwise, we know from experience that no action can be taken against those that have hurt the country, as powerful people as the culprits are as members of the TPLF. The only difference now is that the TPLF has been living lately under popular unrest, unlike any in this quarter century.

Nonetheless, for clarity’s sakes, recall that after Meles Zenawi’s expiry, Abay Tsehaye and his allies robbed the nation’s sugar factory projects under construction of the allocated funds loaned from China. Auditors behaved like crows, submitting in reports after reports to the TPLF parliament for a period of three years. Nobody dared to question the don, since all of them higher ups are as corrupt and as powerful, as they are individuals sworn to their ‘blue wall of silence’ for their common protection.

All the same, despite all the losses in Gambella’s commercial agriculture, catered by the TPLF to the most unique ethnic investor colony from Tigray with exclusive privileges they have been enjoying, the poorest nation on earth is compelled to lose resources in billions. Add to this the country’s loss of competitiveness and the opportunities going forward. In Ethiopia, where humanity has long died under the TPLF, the human sufferings of the local population on account of the land grab has been ignored. All this is an outcome of the bad ethnic and development policies of the so-called TPLF developmental state.

Certainly, the study’s authors must be congratulated. While they merely scratched the surface of the problem, they have managed to expose the depth of TPLF’s corruption and misgovernance of Ethiopia – the public has long been talking in private. The Gambella commercial agricultural development and the nation’s finances are just the study’s starting point. It has clearly shown how foul and stinky the TPLF governance of the country has been. That done, the nation needs to hope the study’s authors remain safe and sound from any of the fallouts from their exposé.

What the nation has gained from the study first and foremost is the realization how profound and heartless the so-called the TPLF developmental state incompetence has been. While the TPLF has been beneficiary of being at the right time at the right place, what it has accomplished through its plans and the development programs in place happen to be chancy. Otherwise, it has only pushed Ethiopia into a present and future of too many empty promises and false propaganda for the majority of the population. These have been adorned by shoddy plans, state and institutional nepotism, national resources mismanagement and wastages. Growth has been for the few privileged elites and their families.

These have now exposed the collusion between the privileged class, i.e., Tigrean investors, and state financial institutions trying to carve the land of inequality in Ethiopia, the TPLF’s ethnic and political patriarchate has been aiming to found.

Certainly, the idea that the commercial farms are founded in Gambella on seized lands from the local population, i.e., land grab, cannot, would not and should not be expected to be part of the terms of reference of the study. Land grab actually finds louder and clearer expression in the complaints by the majority Tigrean investors in Gambella. As should be expected, any reader could see that theirs is a denial intended to serve as their defence. The French politician and philosopher Joseph de Maistre would have first singled out for his conclusion the ties between ‘false opinions and false money blessed by guilty men.’

To date, much has been written by a number of Ethiopian and foreign experts and international organizations on the Gambella land grab. The land grab story in a way must have underlined for some around the world the conclusion that Ethiopia and its citizens are lacking in sovereignty, since Gambella and land grab have become synonyms.

In the circumstances, it goes without saying that Gambella is no longer at peace within itself. Settler land grab since the first decade of the 21st century has planted internal colonialism that has been responsible for disruption of Gambellans’ life; they have been reduced to dependency on those that have seized their lands. The conquerors are Tigrean occupiers, exclusively assisted by the TPLF state machinery it has been controlling since 1991. Most of the settlers are former guerrilla fighters that later joined the TPLF army and were either later demobilized or retired. The TPLF wants them to have a life of luxury at the expense of other Ethiopians.

As per Dr. Gebreab Barnabas’ interview on the NPR in 1994, Gambella is one area the TPLF has kept its eyes on since 1991, as its granary. These people were settled in Gambella as frontmen, presumably upon instruction by dictator Meles Zenawi. On a privileged basis, contrary to Ethiopian laws, the settlers were provided bank loans, duty-free import privileges to bring in machineries. Yet in spite of these privileges, the so-called Tigrayan investors behaved badly with the monies availed to them, as would bad apples, even among the community of the chosen few.

Yes, Ethiopia pays for TPLF’s evil projects and the irresponsibility of the Tigrayan investors.

What are the study’s main find?

Of the cause of the collapse of the Gambella commercial farms and the mishandlings by two state banks – the Development Bank of Ethiopia (DBE) and the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) – have become evident. Addis Fortune has summed up the gist of the study’s findings, as follows:

    “Many of the allegations were about the subversion of over 3.3 billion Br in loans advanced by the two state owned banks to private investments in the regional state, known to have vast fertile land and lightly populated area in the South-Western part of the country. However, large chunk of these loans were made available by the Development Bank of Ethiopia (DBE), whose long time President, Esayas Bahre, was relived off his position few weeks ago by the Prime Minister’s Office. He was accused of favoring certain group of developers in loans provisions, which were allegedly misused for investments other than commercial agriculture…

    There were indeed cases of misuse of funds and abuse of privileges, according to the investigation carried out by a technical committee of 13, composed of members from experts from three ministries, the regional state, the two banks, and two experts from Agricultural Investment & Land Administration Agency. It was under the supervision of another political body, comprising of seven high profile members of the Administration, appointed by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, in May 2016. Alemayehu Tegenu, a state minister for Agriculture & Industrial Policy & Planning Implementation Supervision, chaired the investigative committee, thus owns the report, which reveals list of inappropriate use of funds.

    In one instance, Alemayehu [Tegenu’s] report found out that an unnamed developer has brought to the country 78 vehicles abusing a duty free privilege, while another developer has failed to use 498.7tns steel imported, worth over three million Birr, for the purpose of constructing a camp inside the farm.

    A significant number of vehicles bought using loans and duty free privileges were used for purposes other than farming, including sales to third parties, says the finding. Of the 189 imported vehicles, all but 33 were nowhere to be found when investigators visited the farms.”


TPLF officials in a rush to end discussion of the study throwing unworking ideas as solutions

Even before completing their reading of the study, the TPLF regime started claiming already by late December that it has been working on solutions to resolve the problems identified in the study.

Accordingly, the president of Gambella state Gatlowak Tut Kot pointed out that he has started reorganizing the regional land office for land lease and land management, including with new staff. He has also indicated he had dismissed some staff members linked to problems in land allocation, according to Fana. Expected shortly is also announcement of charges to be brought in Gambella against land dealers. The irony is that most of the hot dealers are in Addis Abeba, Tigreans by origini and well connected members, supporters and allies of the TPLF regime. This fact indicates that the claim by Gambella regional president is for form’s sake, with possible instruction from the TPLF leaders.

On his part, the new head of the Development Bank of Ethiopia (DBE) Getahun Nana hinted that loans to commercial farm investors would resume shortly once reform measures have been implemented by his office, in collaboration with other offices, according to the same media source.

After all these criminal activities were carried out by the TPLF, the dismissal axe fell on low and mid-level employees of the Jimma branch of DBE and that of the Gambella regional state. To date, no single TPLF officials that are associated with pushing land grab who, against the nation’s laws and good banking practices, had facilitated bank loans to help the investors that have misused the funds.

The problems DBE has faced, especially the shortage of loanable funds, has been known for at least three years, while it got worse in 2016. For instance, in April 2016 DBE President Isaias Berhe confessed on the media that his institution’s performance had been poor Those who take loans don’t pay it back in time. That was the reason why in March this year I criticized the operations of DBE and the TPLF regime’s activities as a ponzi scheme with many faces.

It is in spite of all these, that DBE failed to lift finger to take to court the concerned customers. The reason for this is the fact that they all happened to be Tigreans, the first sons and daughters of the nation in the TPLF-run Ethiopia. At the same time, the hole in the bank’s finances were so deep it did not even thinking of seizing assets from those that had taken loans and could not pay their debts.

In the face of this reality, the TPLF instructed the finance ministry to replenish DBE’s resources to the tune of ETB seven billion under the pretext of financing activities under the second growth and transformation plan (GTP II). No real consultations ever took place even with the appropriate parliamentary body. Of course, this side is clear since parliament is for form’s sake as a handiwork to give cover to the lawless TPLF.

All said and done, the indications now are that both land grab and TPLF’s provision of privileged financing using the nation’s resources to its ethnic constituency would continue as before, as also would land grab, since they are the habitual and unproductive mechanism the TPLF relies on.

The only ‘reform’ the TPLF announced on December 20, 2016 is its pretentious decision to the effect that it would wash its hands out of land lease and allocation management. In other words, the regional states would have to take ‘responsibility’ for the land lease operations – another seesaw game they turn to, whenever the TPLF is concerned about citizens becoming aware of its deceit and thievery.

This latest decision is right in that sense, looking at it why it was designed in the first place. Otherwise, any different action would be inconsistent with the goals of the TPLF to exclusively emplace Tigreans in a position of dominance in wealth and influence within the Ethiopian political economy.

Recall that dictator Meles Zenawi’s full throttle defense of land grab in 2011 in an interview on Indian television, accused his critics of the land grab project of shooting themselves on the foot. God had mercy on Ethiopia in removing him for good in 2012, without which Ethiopia could have been in lot more trouble with the ‘evil genius’, i.e., if he had continued in office.

Possible factors forcing the TPLF regime to push land lease and management onto the lap of the regional states are intended to serve three objectives. These are:

    (a) to give the impression of correcting systemic failures arising from the corruption in land allocation that has reached the extremes by any measures within the regions and at the federal government level. The confusion is failure to show how this could correct the problems. TPLF is aware that these corrupt and abusive land lease and holdings by investors has made land grab the sting against the TPLF in the hands of the popular anger that exploded for over a year since November 2015; it is still continuing despite the martial law in a sporadic form;

    (b) politically it is possible that this measure may be TPLF’s response to soften its rejection by the broader segments of the Ethiopian population, which was shown by strong popular protests that have hounded the regime in the past year unlike any time before;

    (c) the failure of agriculture and the country’s economy is evident. It is built on lies that has rendered Ethiopia uncompetitive in many places. This has presented the imperative of introducing selected reforms. However, there is no indication here too how this works. We know for a fact that the United Nations, at least, has confirmed that Ethiopia cannot graduate to a middle-income country category by 2024, contrary to what the regime has been claiming. This is sufficient evidence that the TPLF has been hurting our country. In other words, notwithstanding TPLF propaganda the United Nations has left no room for ambiguity about Ethiopia remaining an LDC for the foreseeable future.


Now Sebhat Nega on wings to rescue Tigrean investors

As mentioned above, the TPLF investors, accused by the study of responsibility of misusing the bank loans they took, dismiss the study’s findings. They allege it to be campaign against Tigreans. Instead in their complaints, they blame the authors of bias against them and the policies of the TPLF regime.

They seem to use this as their strategy the TPLF to put pressure on the banks, which seems to work. Recall that during the current phase of the popular protests, the Front forced Tigreans to withdraw from parts of Oromia and Gedeo. While politically this is intended to give the impression that it is their protector and guarantor, in one case it even went into illegal action of even ordering government bank to illegally pay them compensation – using taxpayers monies!

Now Sebhat Nega has come from a different angle, wondering whether there is the problem of narrow nationalism and chauvinism. He provides advice to the TPLF to examine itself and its latest actions in response to outbreak of the popular anger. Here is one striking view, I have singled out:

“ብሄራዊ መግባባትን በተመለከተም፤ መግባባቱ ከአመለካከት እንደሚጀምርና በዚያ ደረጃ የተሠሩ ሥራዎች ጠባብነትና ትምክህትን ማሸነፍ ያልቻሉ በመሆናቸው መግባባቱ ገና ቀሪ ሥራ አለበት። የአንዱ ብሄር ባለሀብት በሌላው ብሄር አካባቢ ሄዶ ቢያለማ እንደ አካባቢው ባለሀብት እኩል ይታያል ወይ? አዎን ከሆነ ምላሹ ብሄራዊ መግባባት ተፈጥሯል ማለት እንችላለን፤ አያየውም ከሆነም አልተፈጠረም ነው ምላሹ። ምክንያቱምመግባባት በአየር ከላይ ሳይሆን በመሬት ላይ ነውና።”


“Understanding at the national level begins from perception. A lot remains to be done in this regard [in Ethiopia], since efforts made so far have not prevailed over narrow-mindedness and chauvinistic outlooks. It makes the point that, if an investor from one region goes and invests in another, would he be treated as one of them? If the response is in the affirmative, we can say mutual understanding has been achieved. If not, it means that it has not been fostered. This is because mutual understanding is hardly invisible, and when in existence it is evident.”

– ስብሃት ነጋ –
EPRDF Congress Should Look Inwards!


Sebhat Nega’s circular logic, above, and his tactic therein may be intended to portray him as neutral and fair-minded person. Alive to his past actions and behavior, however, I could not help wondering if his analysis of today’s Ethiopian political crisis in the context of mutual understanding of citizens (a quote above) now is not another product of his usual hustler mind, some refer to as habitual gadfly.

A part of me wondered, whether what he said could not be considered a legitimate point of view that must be tolerated, should the need arise to be confronted by those that have issues with it. The problem with this TPLF godfather is his deviousness.

Not easy to accommodate. Its timing gave me the sense that he must have jumped out of his bed to hoist his systematic support for the annoying latest chorus of Gambella-investor Tigreans “gimme all or more, and more”! Recall that these days we have only been hearing a lot from those who fear none, or be suspected of any untoward act to the TPLF. And yet, Ethiopians could not help being hurt by the investors and their handlers’ lack of any thought for others and thus are their demands, at the expense of others, the moon and the stars to shine for them alone.

All Ethiopians should feel ashamed of ourselves for our lack of means/courage to fiercely counter and withstand this modern slavery in our country. Through such robberies, the Gambella investors have turned that part of our country into the kingdom of fear ruled by men-in-uniform protected by huge military garrison, which unlike the Ogaden in the east, had otherwise been the calmest part of Ethiopia.

That area too has now lost its peace, thanks to the TPLF and its goal of seizing Ethiopia on a permanent basis, wanting to remain on the throne producing its food and export goods on the land and living in luxury. Since March 2011, for the first time we now heard again about armed persons attacking a bus and killing five person and seizing five women.

For all we know, the main reason for that are the ethnic minority regime’s misguided actions that time and again have proved corrupt, inhuman, anti-Ethiopian and anti-development, which are inciting the people to action.

The 2015 UNDP National report on Ethiopia, whose theme is inclusiveness of growth, cautiously criticizes the lack of opportunities for some Ethiopians, the majority actually. In that regard, it states:

    “Despite the generally favourable policy and institutional framework, the analysis in this Report reveals that inclusive growth and development is occurring only slowly across the entire country and among certain socio-economic groups. Ethiopia’s rapid growth and development are thus not being evenly distributed throughout the country, nor are they spreading fast enough, with emerging regions in particular remaining relatively disadvantaged.”



Today’s Ethiopia reality goes a long way in showing how true the saying is that those who cannot learn from history are bound to repeat its mistakes.

In the study we discussed extensively, we saw that the root of Ethiopia’s problems in this past quarter century since the TPLF has been in power is mostly linked to its corruption and nepotistic ethnic policy. Because of this policy – to the great annoyance and distress of Ethiopians throughout the country – unwisely the ethnic base of the TPLF has chosen to behave themselves as the ‘chosen few’. With every passing year this problem is getting worse, since the members have started their golden time has come.

This brings to mind an event Tirfu Kidanemariam, who in August 2015, 84 days after TPLF’s electoral victory of 100 percent, told a strictly Tigrean gathering in the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington D.C. – Tigreans are Ethiopia’s powerful group that every non-Tigrean wants and loves to be friends with. It was such a gathering which even the non-Tigrean ambassador had to leave the embassy for them.

Of course, while rejected by the TPLF in 2015 from becoming both the politburo and central committee member of the party, the lady has her ideas about being Ethiopia’s First Lady in Waiting. She is the spouse of TPLF chief Abay Woldu and president of Tigray, the power that oppresses and rapes Ethiopia in the name of being the country’s government.

Meantime, after rejection by her party, Tirfu Kidanemariam was made ambassador to Australia and New Zealand, her predecessor on the post hustled to return immediately to vacate the post for her. As ambassador with little education, we hear that she cannot even communicate with the Ethiopian community since Ethiopians have vowed not to see her face, even in the street much less in a public setting.

And thus the 2016 popular actions, what have come to be known as the #thiopiaprotest, the individual components of which have been #Oromoprotests and #Amharaprotests – representing over 60 percent of the nation – have unmistakably shown common people are capable of inflicting lessons to the contrary to those that wrongly believe in their invincibility.

And yet, the sense of loss within the TPLF regime is increasingly becoming clear, even dabbling with the same mistake, due to their inability to break from nepotism on one hand and ethnic discrimination on the other. They proffer on those they consider their own benefits from resources that do not belong to them. It is criminal. It is no basis for a future that we have to face as a nation.

More importantly, the TPLF is exposing Tigreans to situations of reprisals by the majority of Ethiopians, people that before the TPLF have lived together peacefully and with all sorts of interrelations.

Ethiopians cannot afford to be in a permanent lamenting position. I have to seize the opportunity here, which is as good as any to put in here the defect on the part of those involved in the struggle to get rid of the TPLF – both Oromos and Amhara. There is a lost of the self on all sides, an exhibition of overconfidence, bordering arrogance and untouchability by individuals who already know what it means.

Amhara activists seem to be interested in attacking everyone left and right, most of all each other and Ginbot 7 or ESAT. For now, such problem on the part of the Oromos is not as grave. And yet, as if the tribulations the Oromos live through have not been enough, many Ethiopians are increasingly being pushed into fear and worries about the present popular struggle losing its momentum.

Especially in the post-Atlanta November 2016 Oromo Conference period, a few Oromo activists seem to have been consumed by a false sense of grandeur. They give the air of being in pursuit of personal glory, symptom of their hunger for power. By so doing, they are giving longer lease of life to the TPLF dictators.

It basically indicates a terrible lack of respect to those that have given their lives and indifference to their sacrifices. The departed gave themselves in the hope of bringing about the change they so much believed in – equality, freedom and respect to the sovereignty of the individual citizen.

Ethiopians could be crowned victory only by working together towards the same goal. Without that, no one side could succeed alone, even without the problems of arrogance we witness in some activists.

Because of a few individuals, Ethiopians should not allow their opportunity to change the course of their country’s undesirable history, as the present is and has been, to be lost.

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