‘News Stories’ Archive
37 Oromo nationals are believed to have been killed and about 20,000 others displaced in relation to an alleged dispute over a piece of land between the Ogaden and Oromia regional states in Eastern Ethiopia. The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa has issued an urgent action in which it urged the Federal Government to take an urgent action to stop the killings and the displacements. Below is the full text of the urgent action by HRLHA:
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) would like to express its deep concern over the negligence of both the federal and regional governments in Ethiopia regarding the violence that has been going on for about six months against the Oromos in Eastern Hararge Zone of Oromia Regional State.
According to reports obtained by HRLHA from different sources, this government-backed violence that has been going on in the name of border dispute around the Anniya, Jarso and Miyesso districts between the Oromia and Ogaden regional states has already resulted in the death and/or disappearance of 37 Oromo nationals and the displacement of about 20,000 others. Around 700 different types of cattle and other valuable possessions are also reported to have been looted. The reports indicate that the violence has been backed by two types of armed forces (the Federal Liyou/Special Police and the Ogaden Militia) from the Ogadenis side, while on the side of the Oromos, even those who demonstrated the intentions of defending themselves in the same manner were disarmed, dispossessed and detained. Despite these facts, the reports also dissociate the Ogadeni nationals from the violence mentioning that they have never made claims of ownership of the piece of land in the name of which the government-backed violence has been taking place. HRLHA has also learnt that the said piece of land was demarcated and declared to be part of Oromia Regional State during the 1996 referendum.
Among the 37 dead and/or disappeared Oromos were local Oromo elders who approached the armed government forces in an effort to resolve the violence in a peaceful manner. According to HRLHA informants, the hundreds of thousands of displaced Oromos fled to the highland areas in Eastern Hararge Zone in search of temporary shelters and other basic needs. The reports add that the displaced Oromos did not get any kind of help from any local, regional, or federal sources. More worrisome is that there are no hints as to when and where the violence against innocent civilians is going to end. Besides, the fact that the governments at various levels turned blind eyes and deaf ears toward such deadly and destructive violence for this all time strengthens the allegations that the federal government and the ruling party are behind the conspiracy of clearing the area suspected of harbouring armed opposition groups of anything on it.
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa urges the Ethiopian Federal Government and the Regional Government of Oromia to discharge their responsibilities of ensuring the safety and stability of citizens by taking immediate actions of interference to bring the violence to end facilitate the return of the displaced Oromos back to their homes. It also calls upon all local, regional and international diplomatic and human rights organizations to impose necessary pressures on both the federal and regional governments so that they refrain from committing irresponsible actions against own citizens for the purpose of political gains.
The UNESCO has awarded the Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu, who has been detained since June 2011, the 2013 UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in recognition of her “exceptional courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression”.
An independent international jury of media professionals took note of Reeyot Alemu’s contribution to numerous and independent publications. She wrote critically about political and social issues, focusing on the root causes of poverty, and gender equality, The UNESCO said.
The Ethiopian journalist, who worked for several independent media before she founded in 2010 her own publishing house and a monthly magazine called Change, was arrested in June 2011 and is currently serving a five year prison sentence.
Many press freedom defense NGOs have called on the Ethiopian authorities to reconsider the sentence handed out to Reeyot Alemu on alleged terrorism charges and to show clemency on humanitarian grounds, as the iconic journalist underwent surgery for breast tumor.
Last week, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect journalists (CPJ), Joel Simon, sent a letter to Ethiopian Minister of Justice asking for the release of the journalist “whose health has deteriorated,” “who is now being threatened with solitary confinement,” and whose “full human rights are being denied to her”. According to the letter, Prison authorities have threatened Reeyot with solitary confinement for two months as a punishment for alleged bad behavior toward them and for having threatened to publicize human rights violations by prison guards.
The prison sentence against Reeyot for performing her duties and exercising her rights as a journalist calls into question Ethiopia’s commitment to the democratic values and human rights the country claims to uphold, said the CPJ executive director, urging Ethiopia to honor its promise to build a humane and democratic state by withdrawing the threat of solitary confinement against Reeyot and ensuring her access to adequate medical care.
Reeyot had received the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award in 2012.
Source: Middle East Confidential (http://me-confidential.com)
The dividing line between developmental assistance and aid that is intended to strengthen human rights and democratic governance is an obscure boundary, yet it has considerable moral and strategic significance. Donor countries must weigh a variety of factors—including security and economic questions and the geopolitical role of the beneficiary country—that often leave democracy and human rights goals on the back burner. Such a ranking of priorities has an immediate negative effect on the ground, and it ultimately represents a costly trade-off in which long-term interests are exchanged for short-term gains.
By any plausible account, the performance of Ethiopia’s current government raises daunting dilemmas of this kind. International donors have generally responded by emphasizing economic growth and all but ignoring the erosion of human rights. It is an approach that flies in the face of American values and of current U.S. policy for sub-Saharan Africa, which explicitly promotes the creation of democratic and just societies.
The Ethiopian government’s recent actions clearly warrant scrutiny. In February of this year, the Federal High Court revived previously dismissed charges against one of the regime’s few remaining critics in the country, the respected journalist Temesghen Desalegn, who had been chief editor of the weekly newspaper Feteh until it was shut down by the government in July 2012. Temesghen must now confront charges of “outrages against the constitution” for having exercised a basic human right that Americans cherish—freedom of expression. The case is illustrative of a continuing and pervasive deterioration in the space for free speech, peaceful protest, and opposition political activity.
The death of longtime Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi in August 2012 raised many uncertainties about the future of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, marked his passing by praising the prime minister’s “decades-long commitment to Ethiopia’s development” and “his tireless efforts to liberate his proud people from famine, poverty, and disease.” It is true that Meles was a leading figure in the revolutionary movement that rid Ethiopia of the Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. And while Ethiopia remains one of the world’s poorest countries, Meles did preside over significant gains in economic development during his two decades as undisputed leader. He even adhered to a range of democratic standards after taking power. However, his leadership style became increasingly ironfisted over time, following a trajectory that is all too familiar in Africa. The close elections of 2005 led to years of persecution of the political opposition and suppression of civil society. The next elections in 2010 were thoroughly tainted by government intimidation of opposition parties and their supporters, independent media, and civic activists.
Despite this degradation on human rights and democratic governance, the international community has maintained its robust support for Ethiopia’s economic progress. The World Bank has become the country’s largest provider of official development assistance, offering over $7 billion in aid over the past 21 years. In 2006, amid growing concerns about human rights violations by the Meles government, the bank canceled all of Ethiopia’s debt as part of the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative.
Bilateral donors have also been active. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has shifted from the famine relief efforts of past decades to a relatively new strategy intended to help Ethiopia “transform its economy and society toward middle income status.” USAID hopes to achieve this by “coordinating its efforts more closely with the Government of Ethiopia, other donors and civil society.” But under Ethiopian government pressure, USAID projects to strengthen human rights and democratic governance have been assigned a lower priority than economic growth and trade. If it continues, this pattern could have sobering consequences.
For now, the EPRDF’s rule appears to be secure. An internal party compromise after Meles’s death confirmed Hailemariam Desalegn as prime minister. Nevertheless, the leadership shows no sign of opening the political space and allowing some dissenting voices to be heard. To the contrary, the assault on human rights has continued apace, with widespread use of internet surveillance, censorship of websites and social media, smear campaigns against all opposition figures, and broad application of restrictive statutes like the antiterrorism law and the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP). Few human rights organizations remain active in Ethiopia; they have not benefited from a largely symbolic relaxation of restrictions on nongovernmental organizations addressing issues like gender equality and maternal and child health. The CSP has cut off local human rights groups from foreign donors, and the authorities have stripped them of any existing assets and any opportunity to raise funds. Several opposition activists and Ethiopian journalists, including the blogger Eskinder Nega, still languish in prison, serving sentences on terrorism and treason charges. The EPRDF inhibits free private discussion by maintaining an presence at all levels of society, exploiting a network of paid informants and a nationwide telephone-tapping operation.
Recent economic development efforts in Ethiopia do benefit the poor in some ways, but they also serve to perpetuate and legitimize what is essentially a one-party authoritarian regime. Some argue that economic growth must come before high democratic governance standards and observance of human rights. Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen offered a rebuttal to this position in his 1999 bookDevelopment as Freedom, explaining that “political rights, including freedom of expression and discussion, are not only pivotal in inducing social responses to economic needs, they are also central to the conceptualization of economic needs themselves.” In short, when economic growth is not linked to development priorities established through the democratic process, it is more likely to serve the existing power elite while neglecting the real needs of ordinary citizens.
Donors should devote more attention to the long-term costs of authoritarian rule. Businesses can only go so far in the absence of impartial courts, strong property rights, and independent corruption watchdogs in the media and civil society. Left to their own devices, dictators inevitably sacrifice the well-being of their subjects to protect their own wealth and security. Moreover, their regimes frequently end in violence and disorder, partly or totally destroying any economic or social gains they may have achieved, and reversing any contributions they might have made to regional stability. An aid strategy dedicated to genuine, sustainable prosperity and security would emphasize political rights and civil liberties at least as much as basic economic development, and resist pressure to work against the true interests of both donor and recipient.
Article by: Chloe Schwenke
An international media advocacy group has identified 10 countries where press freedom has suffered in 2012. Risk List 2012 from Committee to Protect Journalists on Vimeo. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), on Thursday released its annual “Attacks on the Press” assessment of global press freedom, revealing a rise in attacks, which it attributes to a trend of repressive press laws as well as governments’ intolerance of dissent.
CPJ has for the first time compiled what it described as a “risk list” of countries that have shown the most significant “downward trends” on press freedom in 2012. Ethiopia was one among the countries listed in the new group, with its inclusion following the imprisonment of large numbers of journalists on anti-state or “terrorism” charges to thwart critical reporting, the group said. According to CPJ, Ethiopia is one of the leading jailers of journalists in Africa, with seven journalists currently behind bars. Only neighbouring Eritrea has more journalists in jail in Africa.
Other worrisome “downward trends” include high murder rates and “entrenched impunity”, as well as restrictive laws targeted at silencing dissent. Other countries on the risk list are Somalia, Pakistan, Brazil, Ecuador, Turkey, Russia, Vietnam, Iran and Syria. “Attacks on the press exposes the aggressive efforts of state and non-state actors to silence journalists, particularly those covering crime, corruption, politics and conflict,” said CPJ deputy director Robert Mahoney.
“The right to receive and impart information transcends borders, and international and regional bodies have a key role to play in upholding these principles, which are under attack,” he said. CPJ’s survey revealed an unprecedented rise in the number of journalists killed and imprisoned during 2012. According to the figures, 70 journalists have been killed in the course of their duty in 2012, a 43% increase over the previous year, while at least 35 journalists have disappeared. The group identified that a record 232 journalists were behind bars because of their work in 2012, an increase of 53 from 2011 and the highest since CPJ began surveys in 1990, indicating a deteriorating environment for global press freedom.
“We have seen whole newspapers brought down in countries like Ethiopia because there’s been an attack,” Mahoney said.
Some 79 Ethiopian journalists have fled their home country since 2001. According to the 2013 World Press Freedom Index report produced by Reporters Without Borders (RWR), Ethiopia dropped to 137th position in 2012, down from 127 the previous year.
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) has issued a statement regarding the ever deteriorating human rights situations in Ethiopia, despite some fundamental changes out of which Ethiopians and the world peoples have been expecting improvements. Below is the full text of the statement by the human rights agency:
Ethiopians and the friends of Ethiopia have recently witnessed two major changes taking place in the country particularly in relation to honouring and protecting human rights. One is the replacement of Mr. Meles Zenawi, whose government tightly restricted fundamental human rights and severely punished those who attempted to exercise some of their basic freedoms, by another prime minister. The other change is Ethiopia’s election to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.
Following those changes, again Ethiopians and their friends expected some kinds of improvements in terms of human rights situations in the country. There have been reasons why improvements were expected in both cases. Firstly, the new prime minster, Mr. Hailemariam Dessalegn, was believed to be much more and well educated person than Mr. Meles Zenawi, who was just a rebel leader and a first-year university drop-out before coming to power. Besides, contrary to Mr. Meles’ underlying political principles of racism and regionalism, Mr. Hailemariam was expected to be far from racial partiality, discriminations and political biases. Secondly, membership to the UN Human Rights Council comes with such obligations as holding the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe (UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251). Unfortunately, the expected improvements haven’t happened. Instead, we are witnessing the worsening of the human rights situations in the country. Good most recent cases in point are the Suri massacre in the Omo Valley, south-western Ethiopia, and racially motivated brutal crackdown against the students of Addis Ababa, Arat Kilo University, almost all of whom were Oromo nationals.
The massacre of members of the Suri tribe took place in December 2012, when a heavily armed national army was sent to the area to silence the Suri people’s protest against evictions and displacements from their ancestral land, properties, and all forms of livelihoods against their will and out of their consent. According to the report obtained from a Human Rights researcher called Doglas Burji, 147 Suris were killed in a one time attack by the national army at an area called Beyahola in Suri village; and their dead bodies were buried in a mass grave deep in the Dibdib forest not far from the village.
The Oromo students of Addis Ababa University were severely attacked, apprehended, and sent to detentions simply because they attempted to express their anger and opposition to racial attacks. In the incident, more than 130 students (most of them Oromos) were arrested. Among the detainees, one student was severely beaten by security forces and died in a hospital where he was taken to for a pretentious treatment. From among the 130 detained students, many were released during the first week of their detention; while 35 Oromo students are still in prison. Both cases were not the first of their kinds to happen. They were exact duplications of previous similar incidents that took place for the same purposes of promoting political and economic interests of the group in power.
Not only the international documents and/or treaties that Ethiopia has so far ratified, but also a lot of legal and constitutional documents issued at different times by different regimes of Ethiopia, including the ones currently in power talk a lot about the protection and promotion of fundamental human rights. But, all remained on paper. As a result, Ethiopians from all walks of life, age, and gender, religious and ethnic groups have been paying so dearly including in their lives.
It is still not too late to reverse the current harmful approach to human rights in Ethiopia and, by so doing, to prevent the worst from happening. Therefore, the HRLHA calls up on all local, regional, and international human rights and diplomatic agencies to renew, under the new leadership, their commitment to encouraging and supporting the protection and promotion of fundamental rights in Ethiopia. We also call up on those agencies to put all necessary pressures on the Ethiopian Government so that it abides by all laws and constitutional provisions of the country that apply to human rights as well as the international human rights instruments it has adopted.
URJII, Novemeber 20, 2012.
Eskinder Nega, an award-winning journalist who has been imprisoned for over a year, appeared briefly in court this week to appeal the terrorism charges levied against him. Eskinder has unwaveringly denied the charges, maintaining that blogging about human rights abuses and democracy is not a form of terrorism. In July, Eskinder was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his reporting. In court this week, his appeal was cut short: according to one report EFF received from partners working on his case, Eskinder was not allowed to read his defense statement and the appeal was rescheduled to November 22. We are continuing to seek confirmation about the status of the trial. For now, we’re asking concerned individuals to join us in calling on the Ethiopian government to live up to the promises in their own Constitution and free Eskinder Nega.
While many journalists have either fled Ethiopia or been silenced by repressive policies, Eskinder Nega has become a national symbol for press freedom. Educated in the United States in the 1980s, Nega studied political science and economics at American University. He subsequently returned to Ethiopia where he has worked as a journalist for over twenty years. Nega founded 4 newspapers –all of which were shut down by the Ethiopian government –and has been jailed 9 times in the last two decades for his outspoken articles.Upon his release from prison in 2007, Nega’s journalism license was revoked and he was banned from working on newspapers. He immediately turned to the Internet and began using blogs to speak out. Some of his work has been published on Ethiomedia, a blog that is inaccessible from inside Ethiopia.
Four years later in 2011, Nega was the recipient of the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Peter Godwin, President on the PEN American Center, noted that Eskinder understood the risks of continuing to speak out publicly:
He went back into the breach knowing full well what the risks were for doing so. He had a number of other options. He grew up in the DC area. He could have left the country, but he chose to stay. He’d been arrested 6 or 7 times before, he’s had newspapers closed down. He’s really been hounded by the Ethiopian regime. Birtukan Midekssa, a former federal judge and opposition leader in Ethiopia, says Nega has been unwavering even in the face of death threats from the police. Midekssa said: “At some point, they told him that, you know, they are tired of arresting him. And they said, this time around, we are not going to arrest you, we are going to kill you. Better stop it. But he can’t, you know. He can’t stop. That’s him.”
Already targeted by police, Eskinder Nega drew even more ire from the Ethiopian government when he continued to blog about the Arab Spring uprisings. Through articles like As Egypt and Yemen protest, wither Ethiopia’s opposition? and Egypt’s and General Tsadkan’s lesson to Ethiopian Generals, Nega discussed the implications of the pro-democracy movements in North Africa and the Middle East on Ethiopia. Nega was picked up by the police in February 2011. According to a harrowing account Nega wrote afterwards, he was interrogated at length about his journalism, and the police threatened to seek retribution against him if protests broke out in Ethiopia.
A few months later, he was arrested again. This time, Eskinder Nega was charged with terrorism.
Where are all the Newspapers? The Plight of Independent Press and Ethiopia’s Internet Access
To understand the risk –and importance—of Nega’s work, one must first understand the status of independent media in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Constitution promises to uphold freedom of expression, stating: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression without any interference. This right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice.” But Ethiopia has a dark history of shutting down newspapers and imprisoning journalists.
Immediately prior to the 1990s, there was no independent media to speak of in Ethiopia as the country struggled under a Communist regime and devastating famines. The early 1990s saw major political change in the country. Communism was ousted, a bicameral legislature and judicial system were created, and a new Constitution was written and enacted. Meles Zenawi, who would prove himself deeply aligned with U.S. interests, governed—initially as President, then as Prime Minister. While in some way Zenawi helped Ethiopia to recover after many difficult years of conflict and depravation, his government was marked by an intractable disrespect for human rights and press freedom.
In 1992, Ethiopia issued a Press Proclamation that, in addition to other restrictions on free expression, gave the government the ability to shut down publications that printed “false” information. Ethiopia became one of the leading countries in imprisoning journalists during the 1990s, trailing only Cuba and China. In the lead up to the 2005 election, there was a brief period of improved journalistic freedom in Ethiopia. However, the aftermath of the controversial election brought a severe crack down on independent media. Even as clashes between government troops and protesters left dozens of civilians dead, law enforcement began a witch-hunt for journalists. Dozens of journalists were arrested and charged with serious crimes such as treason and even genocide. Some of these journalists faced decades in prison or even the death sentence.
The Committee to Protect Journalists described the crackdown:
Along with issuing its “wanted lists,” the government raided newsrooms, blocked newspapers from publishing, and expelled two foreign reporters, including a long-serving Associated Press correspondent. About a dozen exiled Ethiopian journalists were charged in absentia with treason. The U.S. government-funded Voice of America and Germany’s Deutsche Welle, which broadcast radio programs into Ethiopia in local languages, were targeted by smear campaigns in state media, endangering their local correspondents…Eight newspapers were shut as a result of criminal indictments and the jailing of their top journalists.
Many of the journalists who were not arrested fled the country or stopped reporting. The few newspapers that survived the purge increased their self-censorship. Eskinder and his then-pregnant wife, Serkalem Fasil, a newspaper publisher, were both arrested during the 2005 crackdown on dissent. They each spent over a year in prison. In Ethiopia today, journalism is still a dangerous occupation. In July 2009, the Ethiopian parliament passed the Anti-Terror Proclamation, a sweeping piece of “anti-terrorism” legislation that’s been used to imprison journalists and political dissidents. Amnesty International researcher Claire Beston, who was expelled from Ethiopia in August of last year, has criticized the application of the law, noting: “Since the law has been introduced, it’s been used more to prosecute opposition members and journalists than persons who might be committing so-called terrorist activities.”
Eskinder Nega criticized the anti-terrorism law just before he was arrested for violating it. In the article, Eskinder pointed to Debebe Eshetu, a famous actor, whose imprisonment under the anti-terrorism law Eskinder said “defies logic.” The problems with press freedom in Ethiopia are compounded because the majority of the population can’t get to the open Internet, which might otherwise give them access to international news outlets. Part of this is due to difficulties in accessing the Internet at all. Internet penetration in Ethiopia is among the lowest in all of sub-Saharan Africa. According to Open Net Initiative’s 2009report, the majority of Internet access in the country occurs in Internet café, most of which are in the capital city. These cafes provide slow and unreliable service. As Nega noted in 2011, Internet access in Ethiopia is slow and cumbersome to use: “It is hard to sign in and out of a simple email window. Fast broadband Internet gave birth to the North African revolution, and now the revolution-phobic EPRDF-led Ethiopian government [Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front] is struggling against fast internet access.”
But even Ethiopians who can get online often can’t reach independent, international news. The only telecommunications service provider for all of Ethiopia is the state-owned Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (Ethio-Telecom), which heavily censors access to the open Internet. Tests conducted by the Open Net Initiative in September 2012 showed that online political and news sites are heavily blocked within the country. In June, EFF reported on recent increases in the censorship and surveillance practices in Ethiopia. Ethio-Telecom began deep packet inspection of all Internet traffic in the country, which engineers at the Tor Project discovered when Tor stopped working there in May of this year.
In the same month, the government of Ethiopia ratified the new Telecom Service Infringement Law. This law criminalizes online speech that may be construed as defamatory or terrorist, and holds the website or account owner liable even if the speech is posted as a comment by someone else on their website. Endalk, a prominent Ethiopian blogger, has wondered if this law could be “the most creative way of copying SOPA and PIPA.” The law also tries to squash competition of VOiP services and harshly punishes citizens for using or having in their possession any telecommunications equipment without prior permission from the government.
Through law and practice, through intimidation and arrest, the Ethiopian government has looked to choke off free expression at every corner. It is no wonder that Eskinder Nega is one of the few outspoken journalists still operating inside Ethiopia.
Article: By BY RAINEY REITMAN
Source: Awramba Times
URJII, November 12, 2012.
A U.S. panel on religious freedom has accused the Ethiopian Government of trying to tighten its control over the worshipers of the Islam Religion, the second biggest, if not the first, belief in the country, amid mass protests, saying it is risking greater destabilization of the Horn of Africa region.
Ethiopia, which has long been seen by the West as a bulwark against Muslim rebels in neighboring Somalia, says it fears militant Islam is taking root in the country. However, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) accused the government of arresting peaceful Muslim protesters, noting that 29 of them had been charged last month with what the authorities said was “planning to commit terrorist acts”.
Ethiopian Muslims, who make up about a third of the population in a country believed to be dominated by Christianity, accuse the government of interfering in the highest Muslim affairs body, the Ethiopia Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC). Thousands of Muslims have staged weekly mosque sit-ins and street protests in Addis Ababa over the past year. “The arrests, terrorism charges and takeover of EIASC signify a troubling escalation in the government’s attempts to control Ethiopia’s Muslim community and provide further evidence of a decline in religious freedom in Ethiopia,” the Commission said in a statement issued on Thursday.
Ethiopian officials were unavailable for comment on the statement from the Commission, whose members are appointed by President Barack Obama and senior Congressional Democrats and Republicans. Commission Chairwoman Katrina Lantos Swett called on the U.S. government to raise the issue with Addis Ababa. “USCIRF has found that repressing religious communities in the name of countering extremism leads to more extremism, greater instability, and possibly violence,” she said. “Given Ethiopia’s strategic importance in the Horn of Africa … it is vital that the Ethiopian government end its religious freedom abuses and allow Muslims to practice peacefully their faith as they see fit,” she added. “Otherwise the government’s current policies and practices will lead to greater destabilization of an already volatile region.”
Over the past six years Ethiopia has twice sent troops into Somalia to battle Islamist rebels, including al Shaabab militants, and officials say some of the protesters are bankrolled by Islamist groups in the Middle East. The Commission backed the protesters’ complaints that the government had been trying since last year to impose the apolitical Al Ahbash sect on Ethiopian Muslims. The government has denied this but dozens of Muslims have been arrested since the demonstrations started in 2011. Ethiopia is 63 percent Christian and 34 percent Muslim, according to official figures, with the vast majority of Muslims adhering to the moderate, Sufi version of Islam.
URJII, September 19, 2012.
By: Graham Peebles
“What’s yours is mine; what’s mine’s my own.”
It is a colonial phenomenon, appropriate land for the needs of the colonists and to hell with those living upon the land, indigenous and at home. Might is right, military or indeed economic. The power of the dollar rules supreme in a world built upon the acquisition of the material, the perpetuation of desire and the entrapment of the human spirit.
Africa has for long been the object of western domination, control and usury, under the British, French, and Portuguese of old. Now the ‘new rulers of the World’ large corporations from America, China, Japan, Middle Eastern States, India and Europe, are engaged in extensive land acquisitions in developing countries. The vast majority of available land is in Sub-Saharan Africa where, according to The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues report, ‘The Growing demand for Land, Risks and Opportunities for Smallholder Farmers’ “80 per cent (of worldwide land) –about 2 billion hectares that is potentially available for expanded rain-fed crop production” is thought to be. Huge industrial agricultural centres are being created, off shore farms, producing crops for the investors home market. Indigenous people, subsistence farmers and pastoralists are forced off the land, the natural environment is levelled, purging the land of wildlife and destroying small rural communities, that have lived, worked and cared for the land for centuries. The numbers of people potentially affected by the land grab and its impact on the environment is staggering. The UN in it’s report states “By 2020, an estimated 135 million people may be driven from their land as a result of soil degradation, with 60 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone.”
This contemporary ‘Land Grab’ has come about as a result of food shortages, the financial meltdown in 2008 and in light of the United Nations world population forecast of 9.2 billion people by 2050, and three main resulting pressures. 1. Food insecure nations – particularly Middle Eastern and Asian countries, seeking to stabilise their food supply. 2. To meet the growing worldwide demand for agro-fuels and thirdly, by the rise in investment in land and soft commodities, such as coffee, cocoa, sugar, corn, wheat, soya and fruit. Often investors are simply speculators seeking to make a fast or indeed slow buck, by ‘Land Banking’, sitting on the asset waiting and watching for the price to inflate, then selling, the Oakland Institute in its report ‘The Great land Grab’ found “along with hedge funds and speculators, some public universities and pension funds are among those in on the land rush, eyeing returns of 20 to as much as 40%”. Land not as home, land as a chip, to be thrown upon the international gambling table of commercialisation.
Chopping Trees Cutting Costs
As well we know everything and indeed everyone ‘has its price’. Even the people and land of a country, sold into destitution by governments motivated by distorted notions of development, where people, traditional lifestyles and the environment come a distant second to roads, industrialisation and the raping of the land. People too poor to hold on to their dignity, too weak in a world built and run on power and might, to protest and demand justice for themselves and their families and rounded, responsible husbandry for the environment. And the price of land, well as one would expect bargain basement, with 99 year leases the norm and various government incentive packages. In some cases the land is literally being given away, as the Oakland Institute (OI) states in its report, “In Mali one investment group was able to secure 1000,000 hectares (ha) of fertile land for a 50 year term for free. Elsewhere “$2.00 a hectare (roughly equal to two Olympic size athletic grounds) is the going rate.” According to The Guardian (21/3/2011) “The lowest prices are in Africa, where, says the World Bank, at least 35 million hectares of land has been bought or leased. Other groups, including, Friends of the Earth say the figure is higher.”
Ethiopia: For sale
The Ethiopian government, through the Agricultural Investment Support Directorate is at the forefront of this African Land Sale. Crops familiar to the area are often grown, such as maize, sesame, sorghum, in addition to wheat and rice. All let us state clearly, for export to Saudi Arabia, India, China etc, to be sold within the home market, benefitting the people of Ethiopia not.
The Oakland Institute research “shows that at least 3,619,509 ha of land (an area just smaller than Belgium) have been transferred to investors, although the actual number may be higher.” The government claims that the land available for lease is unused and surplus, this is disingenuous nonsense. Large areas of land are in fact already cultivated by small holders, subsistence farmers and pastoralists using land for grazing, all of which are un-ceremonially evicted. Villages are destroyed and indigenous people expelled from their homeland and forced into large scale villagization programmes. Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report ‘Waiting Here For Death’ states, “The Ethiopian federal government’s current villagization program is occurring in four regions—Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, Somali, and Afar. This involves the resettlement of approximately 1.5 million people throughout the lowland areas of the country—500,000 in Somali region, 500,000 in Afar region, 225,000 in Benishangul-Gumuz and 225,000 in Gambella.” Imposed movement then, often applied with force, in order to provide pristine land, free of any inconveniences to the corporate allies.
Level growing field
There are five areas of prime, fertile land up for grabs. Gambella is the largest where unbelievably a third of the region (around 800,000 hectares) is available. Indian corporations have already snapped up 352,000 hectares (ha) and around 900 foreign investors have so far taken advantage of this giveaway. Afar, The Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region, where 200,000 hectares has been leased or sold, Oromia, where three Indian companies have leased a total of 138,000 ha and Amhara, make up the reduced to clear rail.
With the land grab crucially goes water – and the appropriation of this vital resource, both surface and ground water. Investors are allowed to do what they will with the land they lease, this includes diverting rivers, digging canals from existing water sources, building dams and drilling bore holes. The Oakland Institute in its report ‘Land Investment in Ethiopia quotes Saudi Star stating “that water will be their biggest issue, and numerous plans are being established (including the construction of 30 km of cement-lined canals and another dam on the Alwero River).” There are no controls imposed on foreign corporations whatsoever and no payment structure for ‘appropriating’ water is in place. These politically favoured investors are being offered carte blanche. Water supplies in Ethiopia are poor, even in the capital, where irregular mains flow is common in many neighbourhoods. There is water galore 90% of the Nile e.g. flows through Ethiopia, distribution though is inconsistent, maintained to be so some say, the people drained, exhausted and kept firmly in their place.
In Gambella the government in 2011 offered huge areas of land to Bangalore-based food company Karuturi Global for the equivalent of $1.16 per hectare, to lease more than 2,500 sq. km (1,000 sq. miles) of virgin, fertile land for more than 50 years. This cost compared to an average rate of $340 per ha in the Punjab district of India, no wonder then that the CEO of Karuturi described “the incentives available to the floriculture industry in Ethiopia as “mouthwatering,” including low air freights on the state-owned Ethiopian airlines, tax holidays, hassle-free entry into the industry at very low lease rates, tax holidays, and lack of duties,” reports Oakland in its Ethiopia report. Up to 60,000 workers will be employed by Karuturi, who are paying local people less than $1 a day, which is well below the level of extreme poverty set by the World bank. The company will cultivate according to The Guardian 21st March 2011 “20,000 hectares of oil palm, 15,000 hectares of sugar cane and 40,000 hectares of rice, edible oils and maize and cotton… “We could feed a
nation here”, says Karmjeet Sekhon, Karuturi project manager. Land and people for a few rupees, cushioned by a cocktail of sweeteners offered by the Ethiopian government, allowing the decimation of the environment and the destruction of lifestyles – generations old. And in a hurry, The Guardian found “the [land] concessions are being worked [by Karuturi] at a breakneck pace, with giant tractors and heavy machinery clearing trees, draining swamps and ploughing the land in time to catch the next growing season. Forests across hundreds of square km are being clear-felled and burned to the dismay of locals and environmentalists concerned about the fate of the region’s rich wildlife.”
Unstable supply of staples
Around five million people in Ethiopia rely on food aid and live with constant food insecurity that will only increase under the land grab bonanza. According to the Oakland Institutes report “commercial investment will increase rates of food insecurity in the vicinity of the land investments” and Open Democracy reports an interview with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, for the Financial Times (7 August 2008), in which he ‘predicted that “large-scale farming could bring some employment, but “not much”. It would not solve the problem of food insecurity.” Intensifying food insecurity is the transfer of vast areas of land used for the cultivation of traditional staples such as Teff to other crops. This is largely responsible for costs of Teff (used to make injera – the daily bread) quadrupling in the last four years. The Guardian (Monday 23 April 2012) reports Friends of the Earth International “The result (of land sell offs) has often been … people forced off land they have traditionally farmed for generations, more rural poverty and greater risk of food shortages” Food security will be realised when local smallholders are encouraged to farm their land, given financial support, machinery and the needed technology, as Oxfam in its report ‘Land Power Rights’ points out, “Small-scale producers, particularly women, can indeed play a crucial role in poverty reduction and food security. But to do so, they need investment in infrastructure, markets, processing, storage, extension, and research.”
Keep development small, for, of, and close to the people in need, and see them flourish.
Land rights, human cost, environmental damage
The land rights of the indigenous people of Ethiopia are, as one would expect somewhat ambiguous. As a legacy of the socialist dictatorship of the 1960s and ‘70s, the government technically owns all land. However there is protection in law for indigenous people. The Ethiopian constitution Article 40, 3 states “Land is a common property of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or to other means of exchange. And 4) “Ethiopian peasants have right to obtain land without payment and the protection against eviction from their possession.” And in regard to pastoralists affected by the land sell off, paragraph 5) “Ethiopian pastoralists have the right to free land for grazing and cultivation as well as the right not to be displaced from their own lands.”
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Ethiopia signed in 2007, making it a legally binding document, states in Article 26/1. “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources, which they have traditionally owned, occupied or other- wise used or acquired.” And paragraph 2.”Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.” The declaration also outlines compensation measures for landowners. Article 28/1. “Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.” Paragraph 2. “Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources 10equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.”
The law it would appear is clear, implementation and respect for its content is required, and should be demanded of the ruling EPRDF by the donor countries to Ethiopia.
Land and People
People are not being consulted or democratically included in the decisions to transform their homeland. This contravenes the Ethiopian constitution, that states in Article 92/3. “People have the right to full consultation and to the expression of views in the planning and implementations of environmental policies and projects that affect them directly”. Hollow words to those being evicted from their land, like Omot Ochan a villager, from the Anuak tribe whose family has lived in the forest near the Baro river in Gambella for ten generations. Speaking to The Observer Sunday 20 May 2012, he “insisted Saudi Star had no right to be in his forest. The company had not even told the villagers that it was going to dig a canal across their land. “Nobody came to tell us what was happening.” He goes on to say “This land belonged to our father. All round here is ours. For two days’ walk.” Well that was the case until the Government in their infallible wisdom leased some 10,000ha to their friend, the Ethiopian born Saudi Arabian oil multi millionaire, Sheik Al Moudi (In 2011, Fortune magazine put his wealth at more than $12bn) to grow rice for his Saudi Star Company. Omot continued, “two years ago, the company began chopping down the forest and the bees went away. The bees need thick forest. We used to sell honey. We used to hunt with dogs too. But after the farm came, the animals here disappeared. Now we only have fish to sell.” And with the company draining the wetlands, the fish will probably be gone soon, too. Sheik Al Moudi plans to export over a million tonnes of rice a year to Saudi Arabia. To ease relations with the Meles regime and as The Observer states “to smooth the wheels of commerce, Amoudi has recruited one of Zenawi’s former ministers, Haile Assegdie, as chief executive of Saudi Star.”
Traditional land rights for people who have lived on the land in Gamabella and elsewhere for centuries are being ignored and in a country where all manner of human rights are routinely violated, legally binding compensations are not being paid.
Government drafted lease agreements with investors state the Meles regime will hand over the land free of any ‘encumbrances’ – people and property that means, anyone living or using the land to graze their livestock or pastoralists moving through. The Independent 18th January 2012 reports “Ethiopia is forcing tens of thousands of people off their land so it can lease it to foreign investors, leaving former landowners destitute and in some cases starving.” The Government says any movement is voluntary and not enforced, a clear distortion of the facts. HRW in their report confirms the government’s criminality “mass displacement to make way for commercial agriculture in the absence of a proper legal process contravenes Ethiopia’s constitution and violates the rights of indigenous peoples under international law.”
A price worth paying it would seem, to the Ethiopian government and those multi nationals appropriating the land, seeing a market and capitalizing on the countries need for dollars. Desperate in a world propelled by growth to maximize the value of every so called asset, even if it means prostituting the land, sacrificing the native people and destroying the natural environment.
Graham is Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity, supporting fundamental social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need. He may be reached at email@example.com
Source: Eurasia Review News and Analysis online – http://www.eurasiareview.com/30052012-the-ethiopian-land-giveaway-oped/
URJII, July 7, 2012
The 2012 Sports tournament of Oromos in North America, that has been taking place in Toronto, Canada from June 30 to July 7, 2012, was colourfully completed this evening with the final match and battle over trophy between Oromia 11 Stars and Ten Thousand Lakes; Oromia 11 Stars winning the trophy with 4 to 1 victory over Ten Thousand Lakes.
The tournament attracted about eight teams from North America, Canada and the USA; and over twenty matches were carried out among those teams. There were also different socio-cultural events and public gathering accompanying the tournament, among which the Golden Jubilee of the formation of Afran Qallu, (the first Oromo arts and cultural band), the launching of which also marked the beginning of Oromo cultural and political movements.
Although the tournament was really well planned and executed, the turnout of fans was very minimal. Though around 7,000 (seven thousand) Oromos are believed to be living in the GTA (the Greater Toronto Area), the seats around the stadium very almost empty most of the time, even on July 2nd, which was a holiday in Canada. However, there has been a good size of fans on this final day of the tournament. Oromos in diaspora need to re-think about being part of the social and cultural campaigns, regardless of the challenging live in exile. They need not to abandon themselves just in pursuit of a foreign life and/or lifestyle.
URJY, June 29, 2012
An Ethiopia court has convicted on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, 24 people, including the prominent journalist Eskinder Nega and opposition leader Andualem Arage, of terrorism after finding them guilty of having links with a US-based opposition group designated by the ruling TPLF/EPRDF party as a terrorist organization.
Only eight defendants, including Iskinder Nega and Andualem Arage, were present in court when the verdict was announced. The remaining 16 defendants were convicted in absentia. The 24 men were accused of several offenses, including conspiring to dismantle the constitutional order, encouraging terrorism and high treason, charges that carry maximum punishment including death penalty according to the law. Nevertheless, prosecutors demanded life imprisonments for each of the defendants. They are expected to be sentenced next month. The defendants were convicted under a 2009 terrorism law, which human rights groups have consistently criticized for being too far-reaching.
Mr. Iskinder Nega was arrested last September for publishing an article questioning arrests made under the anti-terrorism law, particularity that of an Ethiopian actor and government critic Debebe Eshetu. He was also accused of inciting violence by writing about a possible popular unrest in Ethiopia like the Arab Spring and of supporting a US-based opposition party called Ginbot Seven, which the government has designated as a terrorist group. This is not the first time for Iskinder to be charged, convicted, and punished in the same way. He has previously spent years in different Ethioopian jails including Kaliti.
Incidentally, two Ethiopian journalists were sentenced to 14 years in prison in January on similar charges. Previously, two Swedish journalists were sentenced to 11 years in prison in December. All of them were accused of having links with the outlawed Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).
Like Ginbot Seven, the Ethiopian government has designated the ONLF also as a terrorist organization. The ONLF has been fighting the Ethiopian government for securing greater independence for the Ogaden region bordering Somalia.