by Tedla Asfaw
On A chilly spring Tuesday April 24 more than 1,000 pages of leaflet were distributed in front of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan, New York for the passers as well as for the the three day conference participants who were willing to hear the other side of the story for free in contrast paying $3,000 not to miss the “Giant Africa Cake” to be cut at the end of their conference today.
More pictures below
“Hedging on Hunger” a one page leaflet written on both sides reads, I quote, “It is neither just nor sustainable for farmland to be taken away from communities in this way nor for food to be exported when there is hunger on the doorstep. Local people will not stand for this abuse-and neither should we. “Kofi Annan former UN Secretary General, June 2011. This was the core of our rally organized by various groups what I call “The Coalition of African Small Farmers Voice” against the speculators which we exposed on our ten foot banner among many other placards, “Wall Street Speculators Out of Africa” that is also the title for this piece.
The reaction of speculators was not unexpected. A woman claiming to be a farmer from North Dakota “challenged” us pointing to one of our slogans which says, “Agro Fuel Does Not Feed People”. She said she is doing it both for agro fuel as well as feeding humans/animals. She might be right in America but we told her that in Africa is different by giving the example of Ethiopia. The regime publicly advertise cheap land for sale it took by force from farmers and indigneous people to foreign buyers for anyone to do whatever they like similar to our rallying cry “buy one hectare get the other hecatre for free” as long as it pays the rent/year which on average a dollar per hectare. Mind you Ethiopia needs foreign help to feed its 8.5 million people until 2015 according to recent World Bank report.
Land and water in Ethiopia is sold to generate foreign currency. The Ethiopian regime lied about job creation resulting
from selling farm land. According to them daily and unskilled laborers, dubbed as Ethiopian”middle class” can support their families by buying imported food on market. What a joke! Foreign Commercial Farmers as job creators in country like Ethiopia where 80 percent of people support their family in a plot of land that is less than one hectare is a miracle that is only happening on 51St Park Avenue !!!. Self sufficiency in food nor paying Living Wage for the host countries has never been and will never be the interest of foreign commercial farming around the world. It is all about making Money.
It is only by empowering small farmers like what China and India did two decades ago Africans can be self sufficient in food. Few of the speculators like the woman from North Dakota who accused us for distorting the truthdoes does not get it, just a Money Talk !!! One person/speculator “informed” us about a new study supported by the Bill Gates and another foundation that will come out shortly on the “miracle of investment” on land and water in Africa. We will watch the “movie” when it is out but we have already sen it in black and white.
We were not “against investment in Africa” as some angry speculators claimed. We were for open, transparent investment that includes the largest share holder of such investment the small farmers of Africa. The speculators that includes pension funds, university and foundation endowments, private equity firms, and hedge funds representative however in their “expensive” conference ignored the voice of small farmers by colluding with African dictators…
The speculators are doing business with unaccountable African dictators like Meles Zenawi. For African dictators what matters is foreign currency. Their agents are exchanging information on why “their land and water” is better than another African country. The speculators/buyers will invest on African land and water where “stability” is on the highest scale where regime like Ethiopia try to put down rebellions by farmers and locals in Gambella and Afar the major victims of land grab in Ethiopia.
That is why we accused the participants as crookes and thieves and be held accountable for the crime committed by African dictators to realize a high return for their investment, between 20-40%, by spilling African blood. It is good to remind all in business of Land Grab in Africa to learn from the experience of South Korea in Madagascar in 2008. I can assure all that Ethiopian farmers and indigenous people have learnt a good lesson and declaring war on land grabbers. It is up to India and Saudi Arabia major land buyers to get out of land grab like South Korea. For the speculators we made it clear that they are part of the problem not a solution to empower small farmers in Africa.
The huge Ethiopian flag and Amharic posters we carried gbrought Mr. Haddis Tilahun an Ethiopian by birth for side ealk “debate”. It was a good opportunity to inform him what his government is doing to Ethiopian small farmers he wanted to ignore was not aware of. The general public was informed and was asked to join the battle against the Wall Street Speculators and their African allies, corrupt and unaccountable regimes. Millions of Small Farmers and indigenous people in Africa are made landless. As of now in Ethiopia alone more than 1.5 million people are displaced to give land for foreign buyers for a long lease up to 99 years. In Tanzania 160,000 small holder farmers will be displaced by the U.S. investors land deal in 2012.
As Kofi Annan warned local people will not stand such abuse on their land. Gambella and Afar is a war zone. The new landlords Karuturi i and Saudi Star are now ploughing “their land” with heavy machine gun protection. Young people are killed being accused of anti-Development/Limate. The same is happening in Afar region. The Afar made it clear that they will die for their ancestral land.
We need many voices like Mr. Kofi Annan. I heard similar opinion from Ambassador Jendayi Frazer but she has to bring such discussion in the university she is teaching now. Professor Jeffrey Sachs on Leonate Lopate NYC Pubic Radio this year declared that he is against Land Grab. Professor Joseph Stieglitz of Columbia recently on The Responsible Endowment Fund raising told us in private discussion that he assumed the Ethiopian regime is giving barren land for investors which we told him not true. I hope he will stand with the African small farmers like he did with the middle class working people in America by exposing Wall Street in his books and speeches. Joe We need You!
The 10 and half our rally ended by “occupying Walrof Astoria” from Air. At 8:30pm in Night Rage the light display started on the walls of Walfof Astoria facing Park Avenue. We all went to that side to watch live Light Power on the Night of Rage. Passers by watching Waldrof Astroia wall reading messages. “Walforf Astoria is hosting Crooks and thieves”. “More than 1.5 milion Ethiopians are displaced”, “More than 2 million hectare in Ethiopia alone is already sold for foreign land grabbers”. The hotel management tried to stop the Light Show as soon as it started but NYPD officers ignored her request.
I am proud of all who came yesterday to join the Day/Night rage under the “Coalition of the Voice of Small farmers in Africa”. Even if most of us were from NY Tri state area some came from distance like California. We all agreed Universities activists will take this battle in the coming fall season and will force their universities endowment to be out of land investment in Africa like Harvard did recently. We will also take the petition that has been posted on www.oaklandinstiute.org or soldiaritymovement.org since January of this year and still open to sign to Washington DC, USAID the facilitator of land grab and Indian and Saudi Embassies the major land grabbers in Africa. We are coming!
I thank BBC African Service and Dutch Broadcasting Corporation for coming and covering the rally. Appreciate if they share with us their coverage. Many thanks to the Oakland Institute for their research in exposing the land grab phenomenon on world medias.
The NY area public radios need to be educated to get involved on Land grab issue which affects all of us. Our money is invested on unethical basis which we all have to question. We do not want Wall Street destruction of the middle class in 2008 to repeat on small farmers in Rural Africa!