Ethiopian PM rejects land-grab allegations
By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
April 20, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) - Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Dessalegn has denied that the government is forcing tens of thousands of people off their land in order to lease it to foreign investors.
“As far as land grabbing is concerned this is not a case in [the] Ethiopia context”, he said while responding to queries raised from members of the European Union parliament at a meeting on Thursday in Brussels.
He said Ethiopia currently has more than 18 million hectares of arable land and out of these 2.6 million hectares of land has been given to Ethiopian investors.
Ethiopia remains one of the world’s poorest nations, with its government attempting to attract large-scale foreign investment in a bid to alleviate poverty and create jobs to millions of citizens.
Investors from India, China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are currently eyeing large tracts of land to cultivate cereals, coffee, tea and rice, among others.
According to human right organisations, Ethiopia has leased over 600,000 hectares of land to Indian companies alone.
However, the Ethiopian premier told EU lawmakers that only 400,000 hectares of land has been issued to foreign firms so far.
However, international human right organisations say the leasing of prime agricultural land to foreign companies has led to intimidation, repression, detentions, rapes, beatings, environmental destruction, and the imprisonment of journalists and political objectors.
Many of the people affected have been indigenous peoples.
Rights groups have warned foreign investors flocking to Ethiopia to ensure local populations are consulted and compensated prior to relocation before forging ahead with projects.
The premier and members of the EU parliament, as well as Ethiopian partners also held discussions on political and security concerns in the East African region during the meeting.
Hailemariam expressed concerns that the process and support provided by the international community to Somalia remains slow.
He said the support is not equitable according to what Somalians actually need to boost security and rebuild their country.
“We also organise as IGAD to bring the international community to one voice”, he said.
With Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda, Kenya and Burundi currently providing support to Somalia on the ground, the war-torn Horn of Africa nation is experiencing relative improvements to peace and stability.
With regard to Eritrea, the Ethiopian prime minster said that his country is always ready for peace talks to mend ties with the Red Sea nation.
“We have put on [the] table some issues for dialogue”, he said, adding “we have five points of peace and normalisation strategies put in place”.
He added Ethiopia has consistently urged Eritrea to come to the negotiating table to make peace and to normalise relations.
The two rival East African neighbours fought a bitter two-year war between 1998-2000 over their disputed boundary, which left over 70,000 people dead and crippled the economies of both countries.