Land Deals in Africa: Ethiopia

Reports and Briefs

Southern Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley is one of the most culturally and biologically diverse areas in the world, yet the Ethiopian government is transforming more than 375,000 hectares (1450 sq. miles) of the region into industrial-scale plantations for sugar and other monocrops. A vast resettlement scheme for the local ethnic groups is accompanying these plans, as 260,000 local people from 17 ethnic groups who live in the Lower Omo and around Lake Turkana—whose waters will be taken for plantation irrigation—are being evicted from their farmland and restricted from using the natural resources they have been relying on for their livelihoods.

Ethiopia is a locus of international attention in the Horn of Africa due to both its consistently high rates of economic growth and for its continued problems with widespread hunger and poverty. The nation is also significant for being among the most dependent on foreign aid. Topping the worldwide list of countries receiving aid from the US, UK, and the World Bank, the nation has been receiving $3.5 billion on average from international donors in recent years, which represents 50 to 60 percent of its national budget.

The Lower Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia is internationally renowned for its unique cultural and ecological landscape. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Lower Omo Valley contains two national parks and is home to approximately 200,000 agro-pastoralists made up of some of Africa’s most unique and traditional ethnic groups, including the Kwegu, Bodi, Suri, Mursi, Nyangatom, Hamer, Karo, and Dassenach, among others.

Millions of acres of Ethiopia’s most fertile land are being made available to investors, often in long-term leases and at giveaway prices. Although proponents of these investments call them “win-win” deals, the reality proves much different. To make way for agricultural investment, and through its so-called villagization program, the Ethiopian government has forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of indigenous people from their lands. This relocation process has destroyed livelihoods. It has rendered small-scale farmers and pastoralist communities dependent on food aid and fearful for their own survival. Ethiopian officials have also beaten, arrested, and intimidated individuals who have refused to comply with relocation policies.6 These actions are in direct contravention of Ethiopia’s obligations under international human rights law.

For decades, Ethiopia has been known to the outside world as a country of famine, food shortages, endemic hunger, and chronic dependency on foreign aid. Despite receiving billions of dollars in aid, Ethiopians remain among the poorest in the world. Our research shows that at least 3,619,509 ha of land have been transferred to investors, although the actual number may be higher.

The Oakland Institute, in partnership with Indian civil society groups Indian Social Action Forum, Kalpavriksh, and Centre for Social Development, organized a discussion forum on issues pertaining to land rights in Ethiopia and India in New Delhi from February 5 to 7, 2013.

Since 2003, Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley, one of the most culturally and ecologically unique areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, has been thrust into the international spotlight due to the launch of the controversial Gibe III hydroelectric project. Unfortunately, the massive commercial agriculture developments and resulting state-sponsored human rights violations – all made possible by Gibe III – have escaped international attention.

 

Saudi Star Agriculture Development PLC, owned by Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire Mohammed Al-Amoudi, acquired 10,000 hectares of land along the Alwero River in the Gambella region of Ethiopia.