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Obama urged to reassess Ethiopian relations over land evictions
Published: 18 May 2012
Posted in:  Ethiopia | US
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Bloomberg | 18 May 2012

By William Davison

The U.S. should reassess its support for the government of Ethiopia, amid concern that more than half a million people are being evicted to make land available for foreign investment in agriculture, advocacy groups including the Oakland Institute said.

A meeting tomorrow between President Barack Obama and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, among other African leaders, presents an opportunity for the U.S. to address the issue, the California-based group said in a joint statement with the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, or SMNE. The U.S. has provided aid worth more than $1 billion a year since 2007 to Ethiopia, according to the statement.

Foreign investment in commercial farming may be the “single largest man-made contributor to food insecurity on the continent today,” they said. “We hope that you will take leadership in responding to an international call asking you to put the brakes on this impending and present-day catastrophe.”

Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation, is leasing out land to investors to grow cash crops and generate foreign exchange. The government leased 350,096 hectares (865,106 acres) of land to 24 companies, including 10 foreign ones, according to the Agriculture Ministry’s website. Oakland puts the amount of leased land at 3.6 million hectares.

The government denies any connection between land leasing and resettlement programs. The relocation of about 20,000 households in the southwestern Gambella region last year was voluntary and aimed at providing people with access to farmland and public services, Federal Affairs Minister Shiferaw Teklemariam said in an interview in March.

Ambassador Criticized

Oakland and SMNE criticized U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Donald E. Booth, citing him as saying people in Gambella benefit from the government’s policies.

“Mr. Booth seems unwilling to acknowledge any of the abuse, violence, or coercion that human rights groups and the media have reported,” they said. The U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia is awaiting approval from Washington for its response to the statement, Diane Brandt, a spokeswoman for the embassy, said by phone today from Addis Ababa.

SMNE, which has branches in the U.K., the U.S. and Canada, advocates “rule of law, respect for human rights, equal opportunity and good governance” in Ethiopia, according to its website. The group’s executive director, Obang Metho, is being tried in absentia in Ethiopia for terrorism.

Horizon Plantations, an Ethiopian company majority owned by Saudi billionaire Mohamed al-Amoudi, criticized Oakland’s association with SMNE. Horizon has leased 20,000 hectares in Ethiopia’s western region of Benishangul-Gumuz to grow groundnuts for edible oil.

“All of the land being given to international investors is the land which is not developed at all,” Horizon General Manager Jemal Ahmed said in a phone interview. “Oakland Institute does not care for Ethiopia. They are doing their best to stop the development taking place by allying themselves with violent and hate-advocating diaspora opposition.”

To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa via Nairobi at [email protected]
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin in Johannesburg at [email protected]
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Source: Bloomberg

I'm not afraid you or anyone I would rather die than see my people been torched & killed every day, in their own country because of you policy to help the dictator. I hope someone will kill or are harm you as you let our children and family been slaughter as animals by the dictator while you ignore or pretending not hearing our peoples cry. I do apologize to his wife and children but Mr. Obama I had hoped you were a really hero and conscientious person I guess as they always said one is blinded by power and you're superficial. I prayed for you to be safe and a just leader I guess your no different than Meles Zenawi. What happen to your speech of MLK I'm not hiding you can track me or ask me to come forward you can see my IP address or just email me who ever you're I'll come forward. I rather die indignity than be colonized.

Posted on 19 May 2012

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