Land Grab and Human Right in Ethiopia
Land Grab is one of the new concepts that describe the legacy of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s rule of Ethiopia. It generally refers to the practice of selling or leasing agrarian land to foreign investors. The practice commonly became known as “land grab” mainly because of two reasons. The first is because of the fact that the selling or leasing of the agrarian land is largely to foreign investors who are considered by the Ethiopians to be aliens in all sense of the term. Secondly, because the practice of land leasing is being made by the Ethiopian government in an absolute secrecy with no public transparency about the terms of agreements, prices, location or size of the land to be sold and consequently about the federal revenue that comes thereof. The term “Land Grab” is therefore to depict, on the one hand, the colonial character of land acquisition by foreigners but, on the other, the illegitimacy and illegality of the practice.

The land leasing or selling has been practiced by the Ethiopian government as early as in 2004, though it has come to the public knowledge only in the last couple of years. Yet, there is no exact knowledge about the location or size of lands on selling. Thanks to some international Medias, we only know that the practice is currently getting intensified to the extent it came to knock on each peasant household in all administrative regions except Tigray. Tigray as the home region of the ruling party of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) is spared from the land grabbing policy. Alone this fact confirms that TPLF’s land grab policy is ethno centrically motivated. The Oromia region, by contrast, is the largest and main target of the land grab policy as it has been the case with human right violations in general. It is estimated all together that millions of acres of cultivable land have already been leased or sold to foreign investors. The tendency is to double or triple in the coming few years, as the TPLF regime recently started publicly to defend its land grab policy as economic imperative.  
It is said, land grabbing by investors is imperative for transforming the traditional subsistence agrarian economy to a mechanised one. It goes without saying; this would lead to an over all macro economic development of the country in which case not only higher state revenue in hard currency but also new job opportunity and more supply of agricultural goods could be achieved for the domestic market. In the face of frequent famine in Ethiopia, therefore, large scale foreign investment in agriculture is believed to bring about the badly needed food security to the population of the country.
However, both domestic and international economic experts doubt precisely the validity of this argument. First and foremost, lack of transparency with local peoples and the absence of institutional mechanism for checks and balances in contract negotiations would necessarily create rather a breeding ground for corruption than maximizing public interest in view of food security. Moreover, since the land grabbing practice of the government would necessarily engender insecure use rights on state-owned land, this would seriously undermine agricultural productivity and the position of local people in the future. Even International institutions such as FAO, World Bank and Aid and Development of the European Commission do share the mentioned concerns, as this became clear from their various released statements on pertinent seminars, studies and conferences.                    
So far, most foreign investors in Ethiopia are from China, India and some Arab countries like Saudi Arabia. Their interest in acquisition of land in the country is largely motivated in producing agricultural products they themselves need back at home. These are mainly oilseeds such as sesame and flowers. China, for example, who is currently the largest investor in Ethiopia, wants to produce sesame. China has been Ethiopia’s largest market for sesame export. China uses sesame for chocolates, biscuits, and extraction of oil for both its external and domestic markets. If China is to satisfy its enormous needs for oilseeds through its own production of sesame in Ethiopia, this would certainly put Ethiopia on a disadvantaged position. China in this case turns out to be both a supplier and a consumer in which case it can even do away with additional supply of sesame by the Ethiopian traditional producers. This fact would inevitably harm local sesame producers by imposing on them a lesser competitive advantage in terms of market price. Local Ethiopian farmers can in no way compete against the large scale agricultural farms in setting the market price, quality standard and terms of trade as they are weaker in know how and use of technology. Secondly, abundant productivity by the mechanised farming would immediately mean lower price for the production under question though tax and cost of production may remain the same for individual peasants. The expected advantage in employment and technology transfer may also not be realisable as China often uses its own employees. All these arguments hold more or less true as far as other investing countries, like India and Arab countries, are concerned.
This shows that the humanitarian consequences of the kind of foreign investment under discussion are far reaching, indeed. It uproots the peasants from their land, which is not only the source of their social identity but also their means of earning life. In doing so it may even turn the self employed to unemployed bulk of people with no means of livelihood. This is not to mention the destruction it would certainly entail in respect to environment and the ecological balance in general. For example, drinking water may get even scarcer in the face of irrigation necessities or deforestation that could result from the aggressive and irresponsible nature of foreign mechanised farming. As this is endemic to the entire social fabric, the current government campaign for land grabbing by foreigners is not less than what one might be tempted to call “global agrarian colonialism”.
The prime and sole motive of the Ethiopian government in leasing land can only be maximizing its hard currency reserve, which it often uses for its military expenditure for war and suppressing its own subjects as this has been the hallmark of the TPLF government in the last two decades. This is a typical self-estranging or self-alienating situation to the Ethiopian peoples, in which case they became victims of their own possession and labour. In short these are the most gross human rights violations perpetrated by the TPLF government against the very people it considers to be its own subjects.
The Oromo Human Rights and Relief Organization unequivocally condemn the land grabbing policy of the Ethiopian government. It demands the TPLF/EPRDF ruling party to immediately stop this dangerous policy; dangerous even to itself as this has become true to the overthrown government of  Madagascar as the result of similar land grabbing policy it attempted to implement. It calls upon all international communities to use all means available to stop the regime in Addis Ababa from its irresponsible and self destructive land grabbing policy.