Deliberate and systematic extermination of identities of indigenous peoples of Ethiopia through land grabbing (1870 – 2014)

                   Jaatee M.

 Land grabbing is classically known as the seizing of land by a nation, state, or organization, especially illegally or unfairly. It is recently defined as large scale acquisition of land through purchase or lease for commercial investment by foreign organizations (4). Abyssinian governments of Ethiopia are systematically used land grabbing as a tool either to eradicate completely or to reduce indigenous peoples of Ethiopia particularly Oromo and generally Southern peoples in favor of Abyssinian identities. Both micro and macro scales of land grabbing have effectively resulted in disappearance of indigenous identities over time, because in agrarian society land is not only a fixed asset essential to produce sufficient amount of crops and animals to secure supply of food, but it is the foundation of identities (language, culture, and history) of a community or a nation.
Changes to land use without consultation with traditional owners of the land, mainly by forceful displacement of indigenous peoples, can, in a long term, result in the disappearance of languages, cultures, and histories of the peoples traditionally identified by ancestral land. Both the expansion of amorphous towns and cities without integration of identities of indigenous peoples and large scale transfer of rural land to investors are the major political strategies of current Abyssinian government to successfully achieve the target of eradicating identities of indigenous peoples of Ethiopia in order to replace it with Abyssinian identities. Thus, problems associated with land grabbing become very complex in Oromia and Southern Ethiopia where the peoples are unrepresented by the Abyssinian government of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is politically divided into North (Abyssinia) and South (Oromia and Southern Ethiopia). Elites of the North militarily and politically colonized the peoples of the South since the end of 19th century using the capability gained from technical, material, and financial aids of foreign organizations, mostly Euro-American organizations. The status quo of colonial relations of governance between the North and the South are still maintained. By 1889, emperor Menelik II (1889 – 1913) had violently formalized the expansion of imperial government of Abyssinia over much of present-day Ethiopia during the era of the scramble for colonization of Africa.  Menelik had gained recognition of colonial boundaries of Abyssinia from European colonial powers. The state of Abyssinia had established itself in the Northern Ethiopia for centuries before the formation of the present day Ethiopia. The present Ethiopian empire state is founded on Abyssinian traditional state and acquired its current shape and identity after passing through long and turbulent socio-political processes (3).
 Oromo people in particular and peoples in Southern Ethiopia in general are still politically marginalized, even though ethnic equality is nominally constitutionally recognized since 1991. Government of Tigray people Liberation Front (TPLF) / Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) requires central control of local land resources and changes in livelihoods in order to protect its monopolistic governance powers based on technical differences from its predecessors, the imperial and military governments, but all of them strategically share similar political and economic goals, exploitation of resources of indigenous peoples.
 Rural communities of Oromia in particular and Southern Ethiopia of mainly Benishangul, Gambella, and Omo regions in general are at very high risks of genocide because almost all of the large-scale agricultural land transferred to investors by the government of TPLF/EPRDF is located in these regions. Since 1996, the total area of agricultural land transferred to the investors is 5 million hectares. A total land transfer to investors will measure 7 million hectares of agricultural land by the end of 2015 (10 & 11). In general, 94% of the land allocated to investors is located in colonized regions of Ethiopia. Allocation of agricultural land to global investors is insignificant in North Ethiopia (Amhara and Tigray), because the land use rights of rural communities of Abyssinia is constitutionally protected by their co-ethnic government (9).
However, land accessibility rights of rural communities of Oromia and Southern Ethiopia are systematically regulated by land governance and investment policies of colonial regime (2). Moreover,  the condition of global land grabbing in Ethiopia is the most attractive in the world because the TPLF/EPRDF regime does not take into account the land use rights of colonized peoples. The regime offers protection of investors by being a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agencies and the agreements guaranteed investors’ right without providing opportunities for those affected by activities of investment projects. The victims are unable to challenge the agreements and unable to call for adequate compensation. For example, the agreement signed with the Netherlands on the encouragement and reciprocal protection of investment offers considerable incentives to the private corporations wishing to invest in Ethiopia: i.e., it guarantees transfers of profits, interest, or dividends in freely convertible currency of payments related to investments, that a Dutch company investing in Ethiopia would not have to pay tax and that profits can flow back to the Netherlands without any restrictions (2).
The impact of land grabbing in Ethiopia is characterized by genocide, cultural extinction, and eradication of identities of colonized peoples of South Ethiopia through mass killing (1870 – 1900) and political attempt to destroy identities (1900 – 1991) of the colonized peoples. The aggression war was the first direct genocide attempted to wipeout peoples of Oromia and Southern Ethiopia from global map through cumulative effects of war, famine, and epidemic diseases that resulted in the death of at least five million (50%) the peoples of Oromia and Southern Ethiopia during the period between 1870 and 1900 (5 & 7).
 It is possible to call both the direct and indirect political motivations of successive regimes of Abyssinia intended to eliminate certain groups of communities as genocide because their murderous actions are in agreement with the following definition of genocide. Genocide is crimes committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group with the deliberate purpose of eradicating them” (6). Acts of genocide include causing “serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, forcibly transferring children of the group to another group, and etc (1).”
Destroying identities (language, culture, and history) of the colonized peoples were articulated by both imperial (1989 – 1974) and military (1974 – 1991) regimes of Abyssinia in order to realize absolute ownership of the land. The second systematic genocide is articulated by the TPLF (EPRDF) regime through abusive implementation of land governance and investment policies. Social and economic powers of rural communities of Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular directly depend on rights to access land in order to access primary human needs (food, safe water, houses, clothes, and medical services). Analytical evaluations of the impact of current land grabbing policies of Ethiopia indicate destabilization of livelihood assets of rural communities of Oromia and Southern Ethiopia, which is  aggravating poverty, expansion of food insecurity, intensification of conflicts, degradation of ecosystem, and overwhelming human rights violations (2, 9, & 12).
The above stated facts are indicators of the past and present looming threat of systematic genocide designed by the successive regimes of Abyssinia either to wipe out peoples of Oromia and Southern Ethiopia or to reduce them to the minority level in order to achieve political goal of complete ownership of the land mainly through the tactic of silent eradication of identities of the indigenous communities in the long-term. For example, Genocide Watch considers Ethiopia to have already reached “stage 7, genocidal massacres, against many of its peoples, including the Anuak, Ogadeni, Oromo, and Omo tribes” (8). The effort of human right organizations to defend victims of the evil policy of land grabbing is full of challenges because transformation of global business is mostly in favor of the strongest.
The Darwinian “survival of the fittest” is the norm in heightening global competitions to expand and protect economic empires at all levels. Therefore, political organizations of Oromia and Southern Ethiopia must act effectively to overcome land governance policies and unfair investment strategies of Abyssinian government that continuously threaten existence of indigenous peoples of Ethiopia (3).
2. Alison G., Sylvain A., Rolf K. and Sofía M. S. 2011. The role of the EU in land grabbing in
Africa – CSO monitoring 2009-2010, “Advancing African Agriculture” (AAA): The impact of Europe’s policies and practices on African agriculture and food security. Paper presented at the international conference on global land grabbing: 6-8 April 2011.
3. Asrat G., 2007. The search for peace: the conflict between Ethiopia and Ertrea: Twards sustainable peace between Ethiopia and Ertrea (chapter 6). Proceedings of scolarily conference on the Ethiopia-Ertrea conflict: held in Oslo, Norway, 6 – 7 July 2006. Fafo report 2007:14 (52 – 61)
4. Daniel Sh. and Mittal A. 2009. The great land grabs: the Oakland institute.
5. De Salviac M. D. 2005 [1901]. An ancient people, great African nation, translation by Ayalew Kano, East Lansing, Michigan.
6. Ford A. 2008. A Brief History of Genocide.,8599,1865217,00.html
7. Gadaa M. 1988. Oromia, an introduction. Khartoum: Sudan
8. Genocide Watch, 2012. Genocide Alert: Ethiopia.
9. Jaatee M. & Mulataa Z. 2012. Review of land grabbing policies of successive regimes of Ethiopia.
10. Ministry of Finance & Economic Development (MOFED). 2010a. Updated 2nd PASDEP Agric. Sec. Plan (2003- 2007) [2011-2015].
11. MOFED. 2010b. Implementation of first five year development plan (1998-2002 [Eth. C]), and preparation of next five year plan for growth and transformation (2003-2007 [Eth. C]) [Amharic]. [Unpublished power point document]. Addis Ababa
12. Rahmato D.2011. Land to investors (large-scale land transfers in Ethiopia). Forum for social studies.

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