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An Open Letter to Gennet Zewide, Ethiopian Ambassador to India

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An Open Letter to Gennet Zewide, Ethiopian Ambassador to India

September 30, 2010

Embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

7/50-G, Satya Marg, Chanakyapuri

New Delhi 110 021 (INDIA)

Tel : 0091-11-26119513, 26119514, 24675367

E-mail : [email protected]

Dear Ambassador Gennet Zewide:

The people of Ethiopia have a question for you and the government of Ethiopia you represent, “Why are you giving away our land to foreigners?”

Recently, during an interview on Indian TV: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsFyIeVD108&feature=related you made an outrageous offer to lease some of the most fertile land in Ethiopia to Indian investors; promising them long-term leases, government perks and land at giveaway prices. You said, “You don’t have to buy the land in Ethiopia because the government gives you the land for an almost negligible lease price for 25 to 50 years, which is then, of course, renewable. There are other government incentives as well.”

This offer was made without consulting the people in a land where any protest is criminalized, where the people have no democratic rights and where citizens cannot own land. Many hundreds of these secretive land lease agreements have already been made between Ethiopian government officials and foreign investors, with the ultimate intention of leasing millions of hectares of land. Much of the land is being seized from some of the most marginalized and oppressed people living in the lowland regions of the country.

We are writing to you on behalf of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE) a social justice advocacy movement concerned about the rights of the Ethiopian people, and in association with other national and international organizations, as we are all aware of the part you are playing in an Ethiopian government-based conspiracy to confiscate the national assets belonging to the people of Ethiopia; redistributing them to yourselves, your cronies and your foreign partners who are willing to “do business” under these conditions.

These foreign investors might not be fully aware that their investments are considered illegal by the people of Ethiopia for these transactions do not meet the requirements of our own Ethiopian Constitution, standards set in the international community or even the official legal requirements of the Indian government for similar deals within India. As a result, once this government—already highly unpopular and precarious—is no longer in power, these illegal agreements will not be considered binding.

For now, widespread human rights violations, brutal repression and rampant corruption are keeping this regime in place, but the people have had enough and will eventually refute your authority to make deals in their name; without their knowledge or consent! The failure of the EPRDF/TPLF regime to protect the land rights of the people has contributed to making Ethiopia chronically poor, now documented to be the second poorest country in the world according to the recent study on Multi-Dimensional Poverty by Oxford University. While the most free and prosperous countries in the world promote private land ownership as a road to prosperity, Ethiopia, where 90% of the people live under the poverty level, prohibits such land ownership even while depending on these other countries for food hand-outs.

In fact, in 2000, Mr. Meles Zenawi made it clear that the government would discourage or prohibit attempts by Ethiopian farmers to profit from leasing their land. He states, “There are peasant farmers who have access to significant tracks of land [a questionable statement] that they cannot use themselves and therefore they lease it out to others. Because it is too big a chunk for them to use in their own family labor, [again, a questionable statement] this would, in effect, be private ownership of land or would have the consequence of private ownership of land. And we may wish to correct that.” (Meles Zenawi, from: “The Reporter”-Addis Ababa, 3 May 2000 http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/33/053.html.)

Meles, with help from people like you, Ambassador Zewide, is now confiscating Ethiopian indigenous land; dispossessing the people from their homes and making outsiders think it belongs to no one. Additionally, instead of increasing agricultural productivity of Ethiopian farmers by supporting the use of more mechanized or modern farming methods, he and the his top officials are in hot-pursuit of more and more land for foreign investors, giving up to 99-year leases—essentially life-time control of the land; not to Ethiopians, but to foreign companies for export to other food-insecure countries like India. What is the difference between this and private land ownership except that it is Meles, his cronies and non-Ethiopian foreigners who are taking the land as theirs and profiting from it as they execute these secretive deals?  We, the Ethiopian people, wish to correct this!

Secondly, as you, Ambassador Zewide, openly peddle our land without our permission to Indian companies, coaxing them to capitalize on this “goldmine of opportunity,” why are you and others like the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Ato Mitiku Kassa and Ato. Esaya Kebede, from the government’s Agricultural Investment Agency (formed to facilitate these deals) working outside of the official legal framework in making these back-door deals; egregiously failing to make any disclosures of the details to the public? Additionally, neither is there any transparency related to the workings of this agency nor other government investment agencies. Why is that?

It leads most of us Ethiopians to the logical conclusion that those involved stand to gain considerable financial rewards from these deals. In fact, there must be such personal gain; otherwise, no government—even an illegitimate one—would ever “give away” its most precious assets to foreigners for nothing!  Some allege that those companies leasing the land are required to pay upfront for years in advance. Are these essentially bribes; in violation of such laws as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)? Who is receiving this money? Where is it going—to legitimate government accounts (made public) or laundered to personal overseas accounts? Who is signing these deals? What agreements are being made; both now and in the future?  The public has a right to know the answers to these questions; however, no one is telling!

The lack of transparency is clearly calculated and may also explain the Meles regime’s intransigence in correcting the strategic deficiencies which put at risk the international financial system as documented in the February 18, 2010 report from Financial Action Task Force (FATF).  That report found Ethiopia to be one of the five most at risk countries in the world for money laundering (AML) and the financing of terrorism (CFT); stating that the lack of such compliance made not only Ethiopia, but also others involved with them, whether inside or outside their borders, extremely vulnerable to illicit activities. (Please see: http://www.fatf-gafi.org/dataoecd/34/29/44636171.pdf). Are these prospective partners from India aware of these risks?  Does the government of India have a position on it? Are they aware of the “unspoken” dark side of these land investment deals; particularly regarding the impact on the lives of the people?  Is it permissible to do this in Ethiopia, but not in India?

According to a September 8, 2010 article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), “India Road Hits Unexpected Bump,” by Geeta Anand, in India right now, farmers are protesting government pressure to sell their land for the development of a highway from Delhi to the Taj Mahal for what they believe are inadequate amounts.  In the more outlying areas, the government is offering $10 US per square meter (11 feet) and the farmers are opposing it as being too low. The farmers are finding support from some, like Rahul Ghandi, who many believe will be the next prime minister.

Yet, in Gambella, in the fertile southwestern region of Ethiopia, most land is forcibly taken from the indigenous subsistence farmers; not for the development of needed infrastructure, but for lease to private foreign companies—mostly from India—like Karuturi Global, Emami Biotech, BHO Agro Plc, Ruchi Group, where neither the profits nor the majority of the produce will be shared with the communities. If you do the calculations, there are 10,000 square meters in every hectare of land in Ethiopia; land which is now being leased to these foreign companies for $1 per hectare in a country where protest is outlawed and where the farmers and indigenous people receive little or no compensation for this land! We, the people of Ethiopia wish to correct this!

The article also refers to an Indian mining conglomerate which was blocked from going ahead with the mining of bauxite because they had failed to obtain the endorsement of the tribal groups affected by the project. In a larger scope, the Indian mining ministry is now proposing guaranteeing tribals—also called forest dwellers—who are reluctant to give up their land, an equity stake amounting to a certain percentage of the profits. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave his commitment to introduce legislation ensuring fair compensation for land. (Please see: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703369704575461622844955894.html.)

Where is such a commitment on the part of the current one-party Ethiopian government of the EPRDF/TPLF which has instead shown that it cares about Ethiopian resources, but not the people? Let us make it clear; we Ethiopians, like our counterparts most anywhere, are pro-business and pro-investment. What we are against is the daylight robbery of our resources by modern day bandits posing as our government officials when they were not legitimately elected by the people. It is morally wrong and illegal.  Anyone who cooperates with it shares the risk and the responsibility.

Please understand that the SMNE is already working through various available mechanisms to make sure those who are involved in corruption, human rights violations and in the accumulation of ill-gained wealth will not find a safe haven in free countries because new laws now make it tougher for corrupt individuals or human rights perpetrators to find refuge once a government falls or implodes. This is not only about the head of state, but also pertains to others, as well as to you, Ambassador Zewide, who may  face later investigations regarding the part you or others may have played in acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and other human rights crimes in countries such as Ethiopia. Additionally it may also include identifying those who are conspiring to implement and profit from systemic corruption in Ethiopia.

Ambassador Zewide, you may already know that many Ethiopians hold you responsible for complicity in the killing of 51 student protestors at Addis Ababa University on April 18 2001, a tragic violation of human rights that was carried out by security agents while you were Minister of Education. Now you are in a different role, but again, are taking a stand against the best interests of the people of Ethiopia. We urge you to consider how you might play a role in bringing greater transparency and more shared benefits to the people; correcting the wrongs of the past and preventing future violations from occurring. These are moral and ethical concerns that are grounded in the belief that the way we treat each other today, will influence, for good or bad, our shared future together. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely yours,

Mr. Obang Metho and the rest of the executive team of the SMNE

P. O. Box 50561. Arlington, VA 22205. Phone 202 725 1616

Email: [email protected].

Web site: www.solidaritymovement.org

This Letter has been or will be CC to:

The CEO of Karuturi Global, Emami Biotech, BHO Agro Plc; Ruchi Group, Supra Floritech, Sharpoorji Pallonji and Co, Praj Industries, Verdanta, Harvest, Dhunseri Group, RPG Enterprises, BK Biria and Jayshree Tea and Industries. Major news media outlets such as BBC, the Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post etc,

Environment News Service http://www.ens-newswire.com/

The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) http://www.uncaccoalition.org/

Global witness http://www.globalwitness.org/

International Land Coalition http://www.landcoalition.org/?page_id=1376 Farm Land Grab http://farmlandgrab.org/12321

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