Highlights from the Roundtable Discussion on Understanding Land Investment in East Africa with Anuradha Mittal and Ethiopian representatives at the India International Centre, New Delhi, and the Press Conference on the Impacts of Indian Agricultural Investments in Ethiopia with the release of new reports by the Oakland Institute (OI) at the Press Club of India, New Delhi.
Roundtable Discussion, February 5, 2013--10 am IST
About 25 attendees including professors of African studies, journalists, human rights lawyers, and researchers convened this morning to listen to the panel discussion on land acquisitions in Ethiopia by Indian investors.
Moderator Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty reminded the participants that Indian investors claims on Ethiopian farmland is no different than the displacement of villagers in India's Orissa state in the Postco controversy. "In the last 10 years," he said, "global capitalism has been underscored by the search for natural resources, including land."
Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute (OI) explains that OI looked at over 100 land deals in 8 African nations after the 2007-2008 food price crisis.
Mittal explains OI's key findings: investors acquired over 56 million hectares of land in 2009, 75% of in sub-saharan Africa; lack of transparency in all deals (contracts don't specify details of lease arrangements); investors are diverse -- while many know that food importing nations like Gulf states are engaged in this activity, others such as private equity firms are heavily involved.
Mittal says that the new investments are billed as a way to improve South-South relations but the reality paints a bleaker picture: leases are long term and incredibly cheap (i.e. 90 year leases for a few dollars), investors conveniently get additional benefit of water rights as most of the land is near water sources, investors do not have to pay import duties, and there are no requirements to assure jobs or conduct environmental and social assessments.
Obang Metho, Executive Director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, explains that one of the major reasons they have come to India is to discuss the implications of the recent investments in a peaceful and open manner. He reminds the participants that meeting in a public space to discuss such matters would be impossible in Ethiopia. "People, in fact, are being jailed for this," he said. "I am not anti-investment but I am anti-daytime robbery."
Obang says: "What we are advocating is the necessity of valuing every human being."
"We want an investment climate that is good for the people of India and for the people of India."
Ashish Kothari talked about the spate of land investments in the context of globalization. "The relationship between economic growth and human welfare is not discussed and it is assumed that if you have high rates of growth people will automatically be lifted out of poverty."
Kothari calls India a "new colonizer" (along with China) because the country is advocating importing natural resources from other countries to protect their own. For instance, India is importing timber from Southeast Asia because "we want to protect our own forests," In the last 20 years, he said, the government has "diluted" environmental regulations 30 times to facilitate private ownership of natural resources. Today, 15% of India is undermined in leases. In India, 60 million people have been displaced in the last few decades--40 percent of those people are tribals, who make up only 7 to 8% of the total population.
Press Conference, February 5, 2013--4:30 pm IST
Dispatches from the press conference hosted by the Oakland Institute along with Indian partner groups and Ethiopian representatives focused on the Impacts of Indian Agricultural Investments in Ethiopia.
Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director, Oakland Institute:
Why are we here in India?
1) Largest concentration of Indian investors in Africa is in Ethiopia
2) Egregious human rights abuses that go hand in hand with large-scale land investments
"Ethiopia has committed human rights abuses to make way for land investments in direct violation of international law."
Reports are based on testimonies. We have been told by investors that method is legal. Reports show that human rights are not expendable. Corporations and government engaged in land deals that are resulting in human rights abuses cannot hide behind the Ethiopian government.
4:35 pm IST
Nyikaw Ochalla, Director, Anywaa Survival Organisation-ASO speaking:
"As I stand in front of you, hundreds of thousands of small-scale farmers and pastoralists are being denied access to arable farmland, grazing and water points, and hunting grounds."
"I belong to a small-scale farmer family from Gambela, a region that has become a magnet to foreign investors."
"I was threatened to the point of losing my life on several occasions due to expressing my political opinions, forced to resign from civil service employment, and detained without trial."
"The Anywaa (Anuak) and other communities in the region, whose traditional livelihoods entirely depend on hunting and gathering, fishing, pastoralism and small scale farming along the riverbanks, are undeniably threatened by foreign investment."
"According to the communities, 'There will be no food. They (government) say there will be lots of water and backyard for vegetables. They said they will provide relief food for the rest, but they never keep their promise, and here we can grow our own food. We will not go. They will have to kill us first.'"
4:45 pm IST
Findings on human rights violations reported in Unheard Voices.
The villagization scheme, which took place during Derg era, is rejuvenated. Promises to move people to areas where there are better schools and water are false. But also without consent.
A group is suing DFID in London for funding initiatives that have resulted in torture and beatings with respect to the land deals.
4:55 pm IST
Obang Metho speaking:
Emphasizes the point of coming here: initiating dialogue. Through dialogue, we can realize change.
"We are not against investment. We are not against development."
"According to Freedom House, Africa is the most unfree continent in the world."
"The image of Ethiopia is starvation, malnutrition."
"Land grabs in Africa started in 2008 after the food shortage. It was not only Indians, but Chinese, Turkish as well. In recent years, almost 800 companies are involved."
Says this is the second scramble for Africa.
Calls the land grab a "life grab," because the livelihood for the people whose land is being taken is tied directly to that land. "They are grabbing the land on which the people are surviving."
Land grab is happening to those who are the most marginalized. "They are not good enough to provide clean water and good clothing. But thy are good enough to take their land."
"The regime want the resources, but not their own people."
"If the Ethiopian government does not respect their people, do you think the Karaturi's will?"
5:05 pm IST
The Ethiopian corporates are controlled by the government. Over 200 companies are owned or controlled by government elites.
Ethnically dominated government -- each region is named after the tribe (i.e. Oromio). [He calls tribalism a "disease"]
"It is when you see a human being as you that you will not want to hurt them." He wants 'Ethiopia to see its people as human first. What makes us human beings is our emotions."
International Crisis Group said that Ethiopia is a ticking bomb that will explode. It is true.
"If what is happening in Gambella is not allowed in any part of India, it should not be allowed in Ethiopia."
It is time for Africa to decolonize Africa from foreigners. It is time for Africa to decolonize Africa from Africans.
"When someone is screaming, we should hear them. When we see someone bleeding, we should not turn away. Our humanity has no boundaries."
5:17 pm IST
Ashish Kothari speaking:
Fetish over economic growth. The last 20 years has, as a result of this fetish, an increased hunger for land. [References Postco project in Orissa where police have evicted people.]
Recently, there was a report that showed that India has the third largest ecological footprint in the world. Companies are going to Africa and Latin America. There is a process of internal and external colonization.
While India has displaced 60 million of its own people in the last decades there has not been a decrease in poverty, unemployment, and malnutrition in any substantive rate in this country.
The issue that we want to raise is that there is a close connection in economic policy governing what is happening in here in India and in Ethiopia.
We are demanding Indian corporations who are bound by guidelines (social and economic responsibility) follow best practices which would prevent them from engaging in activities that result in land grabbing in countries like Ethiopia.
5:30 pm IST
"I live in Canada. But when I see the videos John Vidal (The Guardian) has taken of the affected communities in Gambella, I can name each of the people in the video. It is like someone taking a video of your neighborhood and being able to recognize everyone and everything there."
5:50 pm IST
Questions from reporters beginning.
Business Standard: Has anyone approached the Indian government on these issues?
Anuradha Mittal: We made every effort to reach out to policymakers. FICCI, USAID, World Bank. It's interesting that when FICCI led a delegation to Ethiopia Indian investors were greeted by late Prime Minister Zenawi. You may pat yourselves on the back because you're the ones that have come to receive us. We could not attract certain people that we were hoping to meet.
Ashish: All of the relevant ministries were invited.
Obang: Our organization wrote an open letter to the government.
Obang says that they emphasized the same things in the letter that they spoke about here -- not being against investment but against "daytime" robbery.
Sanjay Kumar (freelance): are the companies listed or unlisted?
Obang: The companies are listed. And that's a good question that you raise because if they are listed they are responsible to their shareholders. So their shareholders need to know how they are conducting their businesses. In here, we hope, you can use this to get the information out there to the shareholders.
Charu, Hindustan Times: One of the concerns that is raised, is that you are expats. GoI argues that since you are exiles, how can we be sure that you are the voice of the people on the ground?
Obang: Access to internet is less than 5%. This is a country where they keep it backward. Ethiopia bars gatherings that could help make people aware. The idea right now that people living in Ethiopia can speak up, is not possible. We have the connections and the people on the ground.
Debarshi, Outlook: How has Zenawi's death impacted the land deals?
Obang: Ethiopia is being run by the liberation front.
Says nothing changed because of the change of prime minister.