An Open Letter to the Government of Ethiopia
H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Dear Minister Desalegn,
We at the Oakland Institute have read with interest the communiqué from the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in response to our research and resulting reports exposing the abuses that people in the Lower Omo Valley, Gambella, and elsewhere in Ethiopia face as a result of large-scale land investments that the Ethiopian government is promoting. Our research prompted us to launch a petition to donor countries asking them to take action against forced relocations in Ethiopia. At the same time, we praise the recent move by the Ministry of Agriculture to suspend land allocations for investment purposes to take time for assessment.
The Oakland Institute has been involved in researching large-scale land investments in several African countries including Ethiopia; please see an overview of our work on land deals here. Contrary to what the communiqué suggests, our reports on Ethiopia are not based on “desk” research nor do they represent personal biases of informants. It is the rigor and field-level research undertaken by our staff, fellows, and independent researchers that helped bring to light the impact of large-scale land investments throughout Africa. As you must be aware, this trend is now recognized by the African Union and the Committee on World Food Security as a problematic issue that poses a major threat to food security on the continent.
Our research in Ethiopia, conducted in 2010 and 2011, is based on in-country presence, is meticulous and thoughtful, includes personal interviews with multi-level stakeholders, including government officials, investors, international aid agencies, and impacted communities. All of our research is open and available to the public. The Oakland Institute has no vested interest in any land deal or project other than the effects of land deals on food security, human rights, livelihoods, and the environment.
We understand our findings contradict the Ethiopian government’s discourse around large-scale land investments being the road map for Ethiopia’s prosperity and ending hunger. To move beyond finger pointing and name calling, we take up your call from the communiqué where you offer access for investigation on the issue. We ask for a full-scale transparent investigation to be completed by an independent committee comprised of media, academic experts, and civil society members from Africa and beyond.
Given we continue to receive numerous communications and documentation from Ethiopian citizens asking for immediate help and intervention, we therefore request that this investigation be carried out in an independent manner without the presence of government or security officials. The committee will need full access to Gambella, Lower Omo, as well as other areas where land investments are planned or already occurring.
Secondly, we believe that all Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs) for large-scale land deals should be made available to the public. As you would agree, such documents are essential information for communities to be able to give free and informed consent prior to the investments moving forward.
Lastly, our work is internationally recognized for providing real numbers and figures based on thorough research and fieldwork instead of shallow allegations. We ask that the Ministry also backs its claims that projects in lower Omo and elsewhere will actually result in accelerated and sustainable development to end poverty in Ethiopia. More concretely, it is essential that accounting of revenue garnered through such land deals be reflected in the federal and state budget and made available for review to ascertain the much-hailed benefits of large land deals and to determine what contribution is being made to the national economy and any trickle down effect.
We hope you agree and support an open transparent process. We are at your disposal to contribute in good faith to the above.