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Institutions Urge Obama to Address 'Land Grabbing' Issue in Ethiopia

May 17, 2012
New Business Ethiopia

The united States-based Oakland Institute and the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SNME) call up oon President Obama to talk on the issue with Ethiopian prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who is expected to arrive Washington today.

The two institutions argue that large-scale land investments, which is often characterized as land grabbing, are violating human rights and undermining food security in Ethiopia. In an Open Letter to President Obama, the Oakland Institute and SMNE are delivering a petition signed by over 8,000 supporters of the indigenous and local communities of Gambella, Ethiopia - 70,000 people in all - who are being forcibly relocated to make land available for investment in agriculture.

Prime Minister Meles with four African leaders are set to discuss food security issues with president Obama in Camp David on May 19, 2012.

There are plans to relocate an additional 150,000 people, most of whom are subsistence farmers who have been able, until now, to feed their families without receiving government or foreign aid over the last twenty years, the letter noted. The Oakland Institute and SMNE urged President Obama to address 'what may be the single largest man-made contributor to food insecurity on the continent today: large-scale land investments by foreign investors'.

The letter points out that in addition to the many problems surrounding forced relocations and human rights abuses, the loss of ancestral lands where people farm equals the loss of their ability to feed themselves. Farmers and pastoralists are being turned into plantation workers with false promises that result in menial seasonal jobs that do not put food on the table or provide for their basic needs.

The Oakland Institute's field research in Ethiopia revealed a grim picture of violence, coercion, and unrealized benefits by relocated communities. These findings are confirmed by Human Rights Watch's independent study involving 100 interviews and sixteen site visits this year.

The burden of the Ethiopian government's objective of economic growth is being borne by the indigenous and local people of Gambella and the Lower Omo Valley, where a half million will lose their lands.

This is too great a cost. As Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of US aid (more than one billion US dollars a year since 2007), the US bears responsibility on matters of such grave consequence. The letter cautions that something has to be done to ensure that the United States is not an unwitting partner in this current tragedy.

The Oakland Institute and Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia are urging President Obama to look beyond the charade of so-called responsible investment that will supposedly benefit all in the long run, and instead, calls for the US to reassess the terms of its support to the Ethiopian regime.

"Our hope is that President Obama will take leadership in responding to an international call asking him to put the brakes on this impending and present-day catastrophe," the letter stated.