Ethiopia: Land grabbing is a Human Rights violation, No land, no life!

By Medhanit Adamu

For any Ethiopian farmer, land is different from other natural resources. Land constitutes the main asset from which farmers are able to derive a livelihood. It represents a very valuable economic asset, source of identity and culture. Access to land is necessary for access to numerous economic, social and cultural rights, and is an entry for many political rights. The realization of the right to food is intimately tied to the availability of land on which to produce livestock and to grow crops.Land grabbing was born in the era of MDG and within a decade it spread very fast.

Land grabbing, which is also tied to water, forest and mineral grabbing, represents a systemic violation of human rights. The condition of landlessness threatens the enjoyment of a number of fundamental human rights. In the current context of Ethiopia, the problem of landlessness continues to increase as land in rural areas comes under multiple pressures, including expansion of large scale commercial farming and land use conversion. For instance, in Afar, Gambella, Benishangul and Oromia regional states, large-scale land investments for export-oriented farming, biofuel production etc have resulted in the eviction of small scale farmers and pastoralists. Development plans including investment negotiations with investors (local or foreign) are conducted behind closed doors. Regional and Federal governments disregard the participation and voice of local farmers who would be impacted by such investments.

As we all know, rights are contingent upon policy commitment and applicable legal instruments. Ethiopia’s major policies and intervention seem to disregard the strong link between use, access to, and possession of land on the one hand, and development and poverty reduction on the other. The government increasingly commodities land as an exclusively commercial good not as a human rights issue. A human rights-based approach to land rights brings another perspective to the value of land, as a social and cultural asset and a fundamental right.

For example, the government has purposefully failed to come up with an appropriate land policy and legal instrument to protect the land rights of pastoralists who are mainly found in Afar, Gambella, Somali, and Oromia regional states. The main challenge for these pastoralists communities have always been the non-recognition of mobile land rights and tenure. According to the government, land that has been used by pastoralists for centuries is a vacant and unused land. For this reason, it has continued to forcibly remove pastoralist from their land and turning over their land to wealthy investors, its corrupt officials, etc. Forced evictions and other human rights violations by the tyrant are compelling helpless people to migrate to other non-productive land and urban areas, depriving them of their traditional livelihoods and exposing them to many economic, social, cultural and political risks. They are forced to leave or relocate somewhere else, without prior consultation, information, and compensation. Evictions are not carried out in accordance with the constitution and international standards. Evictions are made in violations of the constitutional rights of these people. The constitution says that land can be expropriated for public purpose. This means evictions must serve a legitimate public purpose; meet the requirements of due process, and must be accompanied by fair compensation.

The constitutional and human rights violations do not stop there. If anyone tries to question the government, they face enormous challenges. They are killed, arrested, beaten, and tortured by government forces. People cannot express their concerns or peacefully gather to discuss about the various activities taking place ON THEIR OWN LAND. As a result, large populations that previously produced their own food have now become food insecure with poor housing and adequate standard of living. Moreover, there are many instances where children are not able to go to school because of distance or unavailability of school. Women and girls also suffer from lack of access to water, market, clinic, forest, school etc.

Sadly, our smallholder farmers or pastoralists have no ability to voice their concerns over these developments on their land. There is no free and independent media in Ethiopia to cover and air the horrendous actions of the government. Civil society and individuals that tried to advocate on the land rights of farmers/pastoralists have been labeled as terrorists and decimated by repressive laws.

So what options are left for our people? These are indeed daunting challenges that my people face today. I am a strong believer in collective action – as the government remains determined to take away what rightfully belongs to our people in Oromia, Afar, Gambella, Benishangul, we must be more resolute than ever in our struggle to defend the land and human rights of our poor people.