Ethiopia's Meles Zenawi: Seller of Borderlands and Fertile Farmlands

Press Release - Ethiopian Border Affairs Committee / April 6, 2011

As the focal point of the border issue between the Sudan and Ethiopia, the Ethiopia Border Affairs Committee continues to champion the legitimate and irrevocable rights of the Ethiopian people to 1,600 kilometer-long border of fertile farmlands, valleys, meadows and water basins that the Ethiopian Government led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, and his ruling party ceded to the Sudanese government through secret deals only known to the top leaders of the Ethiopian Government. The Ethiopian Border Affairs Committee, in collaboration with numerous Ethiopian political, civic and other groups has repeatedly reminded the Ethiopian people, international and regional organizations as well as the regime in power that these agreements do not have the consent and agreement of the Ethiopian people; and are thus not legitimate or binding. We continue to adhere to the fundamental principle that Mr. Meles Zenawi and his Government do not have the authority or the legitimacy to cede any Ethiopian territory to the Sudanese Government or to any other government,

Over the past year, the Committee assembled a diverse group of experts on the border issue. This team has gathered a lot of original documents and is in the process of analyzing and synthesizing invaluable information on the multifaceted aspects of the subject. In the coming year, the Committee intends to disseminate a summary of its findings to Ethiopian audiences within and outside the country as well as to relevant international and regional organizations. We believe that our research findings and conclusions will serve as institutional memory and background in the ongoing struggle to restore our country’s legitimate claims of the lands that have been ceded to the government of Sudan by the Meles government. It is with deep regret and concern that the Ethiopian people and the world community are witnessing one of the largest transfers of fertile farmlands and water basins by the same regime to foreign investors and a selected group of domestic supporters. We believe that these huge transfers of farmlands and water basins to foreign investors and party loyalists disenfranchise Ethiopian households, communities, regions and the entire society.

The unprecedented decision and policy blunder of ceding Ethiopian lands by the Meles Regime is now repeating itself in the form of what the rest of the world has come to know as ”land grab” or as a prominent Ethiopian with knowledge of the subject calls it ”yemeret neteka”. The Amharic term is a better descriptor of the real content and implications of land grab. In our view, the governing party is taking away fertile farmlands and water basins from Ethiopian households and communities and allotting them at the lowest prices possible to foreign investors under terms and conditions that are not transparent and for terms ranging from 25 to 99 years. We believe that farmlands and water basins are strategic natural resource assets critical to our country’s development and the prosperity of its diverse population. Accordingly, we find these deals as outrageous as the secret deals of ceding Ethiopian lands to the government of the Sudan. In the short-term, the policy has resulted in the displacement and dispossession of thousands of families; and in the destruction of the environment, including the clearing of irreplaceable trees and forests. In the long-term, we are concerned that it will affect the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, food self sufficiency and security and future sustainable and equitable development prospects. Making matters worse, neither communities nor the Ethiopian people are consulted and protests are dealt with severely. In the Gambella region, dissenters were killed and many jailed for defending their social, economic and historical rights.

The Ethiopian Border Affairs Committee is outraged at the expanse of land grab (yemeret neteka) and the lack of consultation with communities, the Ethiopian people, opposition parties and civil society organizations within and outside the country. The immensity of these deals that favor foreign investors and the governing party and penalize communities and Ethiopian society is evidenced by the fact that these non-transparent deals cover the Afar, Beni-Shangul Gumuz, Amhara, Gambella, Ogaden, Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities, Peoples (SNNP) and environs around Addis Ababa. The Meles regime reconfigured our country into ethnic regions to facilitate its divide and rule policy. It now sells or leases common lands to foreign and a few favored investors in one of the largest natural resource transfers in history. The Guardian Co UK called it the “deal of the century and absolute madness”. As a consequence, thousands of Ethiopian families have been uprooted; villages have been destroyed; forests and trees have been cleared; protesters have been either killed or jailed; and massive deforestation has taken place.

Documentary evidence shows, to-date, land leases and sales involve more than 3 million hectares of the most fertile farmlands and the water basins that sustain and support them. The diversity of foreign governments, enterprises, hedge funds, billionaires and high profile individuals involved in these schemes shows the regime’s strategy to create new foreign stakeholders that will provide it diplomatic leverage. We have documentary evidence that the governing party continues to earn billions of dollars in foreign exchange from these secret deals.

In light of the magnitude of this new development in the country, the Ethiopian Border Affairs Committee is concerned about the void in ownership of this vital policy issue that will affect current and future generations. For this reason, we would like to call on Ethiopians in the Diaspora and in Ethiopia to consider land grab (yemeret neteka) as one of the most critical policy blunders of the Meles Zenawi regime. We urge compatriots to conduct dialogue on this urgent topic and suggest ways and means for greater collaboration among concerned individuals and groups. We also believe that there should be a focal point with credibility and competency to conduct research and champion the social, cultural, historical, security, sovereignty and developmental impacts of land grab (yemeret neteka) on households, communities, regions and the entire society. We believe that the border and land grab issues are, ultimately, inseparable and must be addressed in tandem. Both have enormous consequences on the country’s future. We are ready to collaborate and work with individuals and groups in the Diaspora and in Ethiopia on this important policy issue.

The socioeconomic and political disempowerment of the Ethiopian people as a whole and those in the border areas with the Sudan as well as regions where land grab is taking place reflect cruel and repressive governance. Compatriots will recall the erasing and burning of more than 24 farm villages, displacement, persecution and uprooting of inhabitants atrocities in the Gondar region of the country by the Sudanese Army. Instead of defending their fundamental rights, the Meles Zenawi regime denied that any atrocities took place. Adding insult to injury, the regime transplanted TPLF supporters and sympathizers and foreign investors in the region, effectively disempowering and disenfranchising inhabitants. In the areas where the land grab in currently being carried out, the Meles Zenawi's government is displacing thousands inhabitants from their birth lands; creating untold environmental catastrophe; killing those who protest against the land grab; and continuing to grant the most fertile farmlands and water basins to foreign investors and some loyalists.

In the midst of all of these transgressions and continued denials of political freedoms; violations of civil liberties and human rights, it is ironical that the Ethiopian government is sending a high level delegation to North America with a view of persuading the Diaspora to channel its financial and intellectual resources in support of the regime’s newly crafted Development and Transformation agenda. This diplomatic offense is intended to divide the Diaspora; silence champions of freedom, civil liberties, human rights and the rule of law. Our Committee urges Ethiopians to reject the regime’s pretensions of dialogue and support to Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people. In our view, a regime that wins 99.6 percent of a national election that was never free or fair; and dominates the national economy has no legitimacy to govern. It is its socioeconomic and political governance that keeps the country and the vast majority of its 88 million people malnourished, poor, dependent and oppressed.

Finally, the Ethiopian Border Affairs Committee continues to watch developments in North Africa, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa with keen interest, fascination and admiration. We believe that the thirst for political freedom, civil liberties, human rights and the rule of law is a universal aspiration and has no boundaries. The Ethiopian people are not novices to the phenomenon. We have no doubt that they will achieve their aspiration for a people-centered society of political freedom, civil liberties, human rights and the rule of law that will establish a solid foundation for democratic unity with diversity, national independence and sustainable and equitable development that the current regime is unable and can’t possibly offer. Our Committee will continue to do its part in advancing the causes of freedom, honor, and dignity and shared prosperity.

No to the secret border and land grab deals!

The struggle for Ethiopia's territorial integrity and Sovereignty continues!
Long Live Ethiopia!
Ethiopian Border Affairs Committee
P.O. Box 9536
Columbus, OH 43229
E-mail: ethiopianborders@gmail.com

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