National Press Club of India, New Delhi, India. February 5, 2013
I would like to give a special thank you to the Centre For Social Development (CSD) in association with Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), Popular Education and Action Centre (PEACE), and The Oakland Institute for inviting me to this important discussion on “Indian Agriculture Investments in Ethiopia: A Boon or a Bane—the reality on the ground and its human rights implications.”
To start with, you may not realize but this open discussion would never take place in Ethiopia for it is a country where speaking the truth can land you in prison alongside some of the most courageous voices for freedom in the country. Ethiopia and its neighbor, Eritrea, are the worst jailers of journalists on the African continent so if you wonder why much of the debate on land investments in Ethiopia is being carried on in New Delhi and other countries in the world, it is for fear of becoming another casualty to this repressive regime.
Few dare speak out within Ethiopia. However, we on the outside have many direct pipelines of communication to our people within Ethiopia—they are our family members, our former classmates, colleagues and community members. On-the-ground investigations have gathered the evidence, testimony and documentation of the truth that would otherwise be covered up by a regime expert in duplicity and propaganda.
For your information, my name is Obang Metho and I am the executive director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE). I am coming here to speak to you as a person, as a fellow human being first, as an African and as an Ethiopian. I am representing the people of my country who just want to live like everyone else; having their basic needs met, like for food and shelter. This can apply to every human being in any part of the world, but in Africa, the struggle for the basics is not just about weather, floods or famine, it is about freedom.
According to the 2012 Index of Freedom[i], a study completed yearly by Freedom House, 88% of all Africans are not free or are only partially free.[ii] Food insecurity is more about freedom than any other factor. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), one out of three persons in sub-Saharan Africa is undernourished and according to the African Human Development Report of 2012,[iii] hunger in Africa is the highest in the world; yet, it is said to possess some of the most fertile agricultural land in the world.
It is also one of the richest and most untapped continents in terms of natural resources; but yet it is at the bottom of every index of human development[iv] and overall wellbeing. These are the concerns of the SMNE.
The SMNE is a grassroots social justice movement of the people who are seeking freedom, an end to the widespread perpetration of human rights abuses, the restoration of justice and the reconciliation of its people. Africa is a rich continent, capable of becoming a source of prosperity not only for its own people, but also for others in our global society. It does not have to remain malnourished, chronically hungry, in chaos and victimized by its own African strongmen and their cronies.
Instead, the rights of the people must be respected and the wellbeing of all Ethiopians promoted, regardless of ethnicity, religion, political view, gender, or other distinctions. The SMNE’s core goals are not only to advocate for the rights of the people, but to also empower the people through embracing principles which can build a freer, more just, healthier, more caring and more productive society.
One of these core principles is putting “humanity before ethnicity” or any other differences because of the God-given value of every human being. A second core principle is that “no one will be free until all are free”, meaning that freedom, justice, equality, opportunity or peace cannot come only to a few and be sustainable; it must be enjoyed by all if we are to have a harmonious and well-functioning global society.
This applies directly to today’s topic of Indian agricultural investments in Ethiopia. How these principles are upheld will make all the difference as to whether such investments are a “boon or a bane” to the stakeholders—the people, the investors, the countries involved and our world. I want to be clear; with the right protections, most Ethiopians are pro-development, pro-investment and pro-foreign partnerships in Ethiopia. The only ones leaving themselves behind in this fast-moving world—where there are smart-phones, new technologies constantly emerging and where with the click of a mouse you can do business with partners on the other side of the globe—are countries where dictators try to cut off their people from the rest of the world.
The same thing is true of the economy where autocrats want to hijack all business opportunities for their own interests while blocking their own citizens from entering the global market for fear their people will become too powerful and turn against them. There is no better example of this than in Ethiopia where the media and technology are so tightly controlled by the government that it has made Ethiopia one of the least “connected” countries in all of Africa and the world.
In Ethiopia, Internet usage is 0.5%, is seven times behind the African average with the government being the only provider; limiting access and monitoring use. Internet sites have been blocked like our own until only recently.[v] The rate of mobile phone usage (5%) is 20 times less than leading African countries and even lower than war-torn Somalia. The government is the only provider. The rate of fixed land phones is 1%.
The single radio station and TV station are owned and operated by the government. They have admitted jamming broadcasts from other countries, like the Voice of America. It is not me, or others who are speaking about social justice, who want the people left behind, but it is the government and its cronies who use foreign investment to capture the economic benefits and to shore up their power while excluding the people.
As a result, the economy might grow, but income disparities are exponentially increasing, something that could be reversed with private land ownership, the rule of law and a free market; instead, Ethiopian land grabs may worsen hunger and poverty.
Right now, Ethiopia is one of the most unlivable and backward places on earth, depending on significant amounts of food aid from other countries for millions of its people to survive. Instead of empowering their own people, the Ethiopian regime, in power for over 21 years, maintains its hegemony—domination of a minority over the majority—by using strategies to divide and conquer the people based on ethnicity, tribalism, religion, politics and regional background.
This is what has gone wrong in Africa and is being practiced in Ethiopia. Now, allow me to give some historical background to today’s topic by sharing with you the current Ethiopian government’s own strategic plan from 1993, which has not been seen by most people, in order to better describe what has been going on for the 21 years of their rule and continues to be in play. It may help to explain how it all came about and how investors in these land grabs are simply pawns to be used in TPLF/EPRDF’s plan to control Ethiopia and all of its resources rather than empowering the people.
The current regime devised a master plan when they first came to power. It was allegedly an 86-page strategic plan, written in June of 1993, which laid out the TPLF/EPRDF’s strategies of Marxist-Leninist influenced “revolutionary democracy” to gain and maintain perpetual power and control of all of Ethiopia giving them full reign to pillage the country of its resources with impunity. That plan, “TPLF/EPRDF’s Strategies for Establishing its Hegemony & Perpetuating Its Rule,” has been closely followed, with alarming success, since that time and is a central “how-to” manual for all its cadres up until today. The document in a condensed form is available online. Here is the link to that document: http://www.enufforethiopia.net/pdf/Revolutionary_Democracy_EthRev_96.pdf[vi]
For clarity, the word hegemony, coming from Marxist-Leninist philosophy, is the concept where the ruling class imposes or forces upon the population the regime’s values or ideology so that what the people believe they are agreeing to—as a result of their own beliefs—is in reality in the interest of the ruling class. It is all about brain-washing, propaganda and a system of rewards for the cooperative and punitive consequences for those who dare to challenge them. Words are redefined to mean something completely different. Illustrations are rampant in regards to today’s land grabs. For example, the forced eviction of the people from their land is denied, instead calling it “voluntary resettlement” in order to access better services. Land grabbing is called “development” and those against it are called “anti-development.”
To better understand who is running Ethiopia today and the nature of those signing these land deals with Indian investors, let me back up a bit. In June 1991, the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Eritrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (EPLF) with the help of other ethnic-based armed groups in Ethiopia overthrew the dictatorship of pro-Soviet Mengistu Hailemariam. Shortly thereafter, the EPLF broke off from Ethiopia, becoming an independent country. The agreement left Ethiopia landlocked, but it gave the TPLF unchallenged control of Ethiopia.
The TPLF was an armed rebel group that emerged as a result of the harsh treatment of the Mengistu regime towards Tigrayans as well as towards other Ethiopians. They were Marxist-Leninist in ideology and had been classified as a terrorist group by the US State Department; however, early on they realized in order to succeed they had to align with the west in order to achieve their goals in a post-Cold War society.
To gain the support of the U.S. and other democratic countries, the TPLF superficially adopted the language, institutions and structures of a democracy but it was only a thin veneer meant to dupe the west into providing them legitimacy and financial aid. Underneath, the TPLF never changed its colors.
The same Marxist-Leninist ideology they had ruthlessly followed in the bush remained their modus operandi on the ground. The only real difference was the level of deception they practiced to maintain their democratic pretenses. The former Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, who just died in August of 2012, was called “a new breed of African leader” by the west while earning the nickname of the “silent killer” within Ethiopia due to the two-sided nature of this regime. It was all very calculated from the beginning. Here are some of their major goals as per their strategic plan: Read more…
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