Ethiopia: Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Keeping One’s Land [Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam]

In memory of Liu Xiaobo, Chinese dissident, human rights advocate, co-author of Charter ’08,  Nobel peace laureate (2010) and political prisoner who died in Chinese government custody on July 13, 2013.

An enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation and inflame brutal life and death struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and hinder a country’s advance toward freedom and democracy.


Author’s Note: In this commentary, I wish to share a “prophesy” I made in January 2016 calling for “eternal vigilance” in anticipation of the return of the T-TPLF land snatchers to the outskirts of Addis Ababa to gobble up the lands of struggling Oromo farmers. The excerpt of that foreboding “prophesy” follows this note. 

In my January 2016 commentary, “Addis Ababa Master Plan? No, the T-TPLF Masters Plan!”, I discussed the implications of the so-called Addis Ababa Master Plan, and condemned it as a thinly-veiled land-grabbing scheme. I also issued a strong warning to those who defended their land against the T-TPLF land snatchers to exercise eternal vigilance for the T-TPLF shall return like a thief in the night.

In July 2017, the T-TPLF land snatchers have returned for a daylight land robbery with a vengeance.

In my commentary this past Monday, I offered an extensive examination of the T-TPLF’s Addis Ababa Master Plan B (“Oromia’s Special Interest in Addis Ababa”).

In July 2017, the T-TPLF land snatchers have returned to Oromiya as sheep in wolves’ clothing carrying loads of cotton candy in the form of special privileges, promises for possible first class citizenship, affirmative action, free land and all the pies-in-the-sky the Oromos can eat.

In his book “Facing Mount Kilimanjaro”, Jomo Kenyatta wrote, “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”

The T-TPLF today says to Oromos, “Let’s talk about ‘Oromiya’s  special interest in Addis Ababa and self-determination. Here is some cotton candy to chew on while we talk. How about some of this tasty pie-in-the-sky? Wash it down with milk from the cow-in-the-sky. Yum, yum! The Oromos closed their eyes. When they opened them, they held a bag of empty promises in their hands; they had empty words and cotton candy in their mouths and dreams of pies-in-the-sky in their eyes. The T-TPLF had their land”.

Land and the landowners in Ethiopia

The T-TPLF says the “government owns the land”, or in their constitutional mumbo jumbo (Art. 40), “Land is a common property of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or to other means of exchange”; and “All sovereign power resides in the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia.” (Art 8.)

The only “sovereign power” in Ethiopia today is the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front which controls 100 percent of the land. (As one T-TPLF party boss said, “We don’t give land to those who are not loyal to us.”)

The T-TPLF  owns 100 percent of the “parliament”.

The T-TPLF owns 100 percent of the top military leadership positions.

The T-TPLF owns 100 percent of the top businesses.

The T-TPLF owns 100 percent of the top civil service jobs and political appointments.

And using its bogus state of emergency decree, the T-TPLF today is also desperately, but futiley, trying to own and control 100 percent of the people.

Because the T-TPLF owns all the land in Ethiopia, it hands it out for free (ok, for pennies)  to Indian, Saudi, Turkish, Chinese and other “investors”, who often have under-the-table arrangements with T-TPLF bosses.

In 2011, in the Gambella region of Western Ethiopia, the T-TPLF

in the deal of the century  for £150 a week leased more than 2,500 sq km (1,000 sq miles) of virgin, fertile land – an area the size of Dorset [U.K.]– for 50 years. Bangalore-based food company Karuturi Global says it had not even seen the land when it was offered by the Ethiopian government with tax breaks thrown in.”

The Karuturi project manager triumphantly declared:

It’s very good land. It’s quite cheap. In fact it is very cheap. We have no land like this in India. There you are lucky to get 1% of organic matter in the soil. Here it is more than 5%. We don’t need fertiliser or herbicides. There is absolutely nothing that will not grow on it.”

The best arable land in Ethiopia is not just “quite cheap” or “very cheap”. It is literally dirt cheap!

Were the “nations, nationalities and peoples” of Gambella consulted or compensated when the T-TPLF handed over their ancestral lands to fly-by-night Indian investors?

No. The people of Gambella were “villagized” (the highest stage of kililistization) by the T-TPLF.

According to Human Rights Watch:

The Ethiopian government is forcibly moving tens of thousands of indigenous people in the western Gambella region from their homes to new villages under its “villagization” program. These population transfers are being carried out with no meaningful consultation and no compensation. Despite government promises to provide basic resources and infrastructure, the new villages have inadequate food, agricultural support, and health and education facilities. Relocations have been marked by threats and assaults, and arbitrary arrest for those who resist the move…

By 2015, Karuturi was in bankruptcy. That was the end. Bye, bye Karuturistan, Ethiopia!

What happened to the people of Gambella after Karuturi left?

According to the Oakland Institute:

Before Karuturi, people used the cultivated area near River Baro on both sides. If there was a flood, the people went to the forest. After Karuturi arrived, only the riverbank is left. There is no way out when there is a flood.

The “sovereign nations, nationalities and peoples” who allegedly “own the land” are Ethiopians corralled by the T-TPLF in the kililistans (“kilils” or ethnic homelands) by ethnicity and represent, in the 21st century, the new, improved, kinder and gentler version of apartheid South Africa’s Bantustans (black homelands).

Art. 40 of the T-TPLF constitution was drafted in the spirit of the 1913 Land Act of South Africa which systematically and progressively dispossessed black South Africans of their land leading to the ultimate creation of the “black homelands” or Bantustans.

T-TPLF’s Kililistanism is the highest stage of Bantustanism.

The various “land proclamations” that have been passed by the T-TPLF to hoodwink the people into believing that they have “rights to land for unlimited time” are slick exercises in window dressing.

Those “proclamations” have not stopped the T-TPLF from ripping off urban or rural land as they please and hand it over to their members, supporters, lackeys and all sorts of parasitic fly-by-night land-grabbers that sing and dance as “investors”.

According to one Ethiopian scholar, “The [T-TPLF] government has implemented a program of land certification and registration in the last ten years, and while the program has been welcomed by many land holders, it has not prevented public authorities from expropriating land and natural resources.”

Expropriation and use of any land in the country is determined solely in the discretion of the T-TPLF bosses regardless of what their constitution or laws say.  Of course, neither the constitution nor the laws apply to T-TPLF members. The T-TPLF and its supporters are above the law.

The T-TPLF bosses decide what/whose land is to be taken and for what purpose it is going to be used or not used. Indeed, there are thousands of expropriated lots in the capital city that have laid vacant for years. The decision to take land is a purely political one. If any land is wanted by a T-TPLF member, supporter or lackey, silent/invisible partner, s/he gets it. No questions asked. Of course, they will go through the window dressing of eminent domain proceedings, kanagroo/monkey court processes and all that, but at the end of the day that land will be taken from a struggling farmer or urban resident and delivered to whomever the T-TPLF bosses choose.

Land is BIG BUSINESS for the T-TPLF.

For instance, the T-TPLF using its wholly-owned subsidiary “Addis Ababa City Government” evicts people from their land for dirt cheap prices literally and sells it to “investors” at obscenely sickening profits. According to one report:

the Addis Ababa City administration, for example, expropriates land from farmers by paying displacement compensation calculated at 18 birr/m2 and subdivides and transfers it by leases to private residents for an average of 8,000 birr. Assuming farmers have an average land size of 1 ha (10,000 m2) one can imagine the size of profit that is collected by the government, while leaving the farmer with insignificant amount of compensation.

Expropriation of land with nominal compensation is expropriation of land without compensation.

Land Corruption in Ethiopia

The 2012 World Bank’s 448-page report, “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia” identified land as the root and branch of corruption in Ethiopia (See also my March 2013 commentary, Land and Ethiopia’s Corruptocracy “).

That report stated “the land sector [in Ethiopia] is particularly susceptible to corruption and rent seeking [using social or political institutions to redistribute wealth among different groups without creating new wealth (profit seeking)].” Corruption in land in Ethiopia is inherent in “the way policy and legislation are formulated and enforced.”

The World Bank report explained that corruption in the land sector in Ethiopia occurs in several ways. First and foremost, “elite and senior officials” snatch the most desirable lands in the country for themselves. These fat cats manipulate the “weak policy and legal framework and poor systems to implement existing policies and laws” to their advantage. They engage in “fraudulent actions to allocate land to themselves in both urban and rural areas and to housing associations and developers in urban areas.” These “influential and well-connected individuals are able to have land allocated to them often in violation of existing laws and regulations.”

In the capital Addis Ababa, it is “nearly impossible to a get a plot of land without bribing city administration officials.” These officials not only demand huge bribes but have also “conspired with land speculators” and facilitated bogus “housing cooperatives [to become] vehicles for a massive land grab. It is estimated that about 15,000 forged titles have been issued in Addis Ababa in the past five years.”

Second, management of rural land is similarly deeply infected with corruption. “In rural areas, officials have distorted the definition of ‘public land’ to mean ‘government land’”. Officials define “public purpose” in applying expropriation which is believed to be a leading cause of “landlessness”. Officials have also “engaged in land grabbing to grant land to functionaries” and this is “happening at the woreda (district) level and is being copied by the elected committee members at kebele (subdistrict) level.”  Moreover, “Almost all transactions involving land most often incorporate corruption because there is no clear policy or transparent regulation concerning land.”

Third, the T-TPLF does not even have the most elementary system of  land management in place. “Rural areas have no maps of registered holdings… In urban areas, there is little mapping of registered property. Encumbrances and restrictions are not recorded in the registers, and the encumbrances, if registered, are listed in a separate document. Land use restrictions are not recorded in the register.

According to the World Bank report, the T-TPLF has no inventory of public land, which affects the efficient management of public land and creates opportunities for the illegal allocation of public land to private parties.” Because existing institutions and laws are evaded, ignored and manipulated for private gain, the system of land management is a total failure making it impossible to hold officials in power legally accountable for their corrupt practices.

The World Band report identifies a variety of methods used to perpetuate corruption in land in Ethiopia. One “key method” of land corruption involves the illegal allocation of municipal land “to housing cooperatives controlled by developers who then sell off the land informally.” Often “buyers were unaware of the legal status of the land they were buying” and end up in court before judges who are “aligned (in cahoots) with the corrupt officials”.

Another “method” is official falsification of documents. “With limited systems in place to record rights, particularly in urban areas, and limited oversight, officials have plenty of opportunities to falsify documents. It is not uncommon for parcels of land to be allocated to many different parties, sometimes to as many as  different parties, from whom officials and intermediaries collect multiple transaction and  service fees.”

Fourth, blatant conflict of interest of board members who oversee the lease award process, the absence of a compliance monitoring process for lease allocations and payments and the absence of land use regulations have served to accelerate the metastasizing corruption in land in Ethiopia.

Fifth, state ownership of all land in Ethiopia is the fountainhead of land corruption. Wealthy elites and influential groups seize the land of the poor and marginalized through forced, but “legal” evictions and eminent domain actions. Nowhere is this type of land grab corruption more conspicuous than in the regime’s land giveaways to foreign “investors”.

The World Bank report states that “a substantial proportion of expropriated land is transferred to private interests”, but not to smallholders. “The expropriation and relocation of smallholders has been to the advantage of extensive commercial farming, including flower farms, biofuel, and other commodities.” It is also documented that the Ethiopian “government is  forcing indigenous peoples of the southwest off their ancestral lands and handing it over to foreign companies.  This expropriation has been achieved through a bogus program of “villagization” in which 1.5 million people have been “resettled” from the regions of Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, Somali, and Afar and their ancestral lands handed over to domestic and international “investors”.

The proverbial golden rule is sometimes stated as “He who owns the gold makes the rule.”

I have made my own “Golden Land Rule”: “He who own the land owns the gold buried in it and therefore makes the rules for the land and gold.”

No land, no human rights, no peace, no justice!

There can be no human rights with rights in land. The right to land is the foundation of liberty. There has been no society that had rights without rights to land.  State ownership of land has invariably resulted in state dispossession of human rights. Landless people are rightless, defenseless, hopeless and powerless people. “Land is everything for the Oromo. It is our culture and identity. It is a matter of life and death.”

Our forefathers fought and shed their blood to ensure the land of Ethiopia remained free of European domination and colonialism. Hundreds of thousands died defending that land with their bare hands, bows, arrows, swords and muskets. They were Oromo, Amhara, Tigre, Gurage, Afari…. They were like the fingers on two hands.

In the battlefield against the Italians and other would-be European colonists defending Ethiopian territory, our forefathers were ONE. The ten fingers clenched as ONE fist. That was the Ethiopian fist that crushed the invading Italian fascists equipped with the most modern weapons and sent them packing with their tails between their legs.

From many ethnic groups, our forefathers made ONE ETHIOPIA.

To paraphrase the  motto of the United States,  “E Pluribus Unum Æthiopiam” (out of many [ethnic groups] one [Ethiopia]).

It has been said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

To me, liberty and land are one and the same.

That’s  why I believe Ethiopia is “LAND OF THE FREE and HOME OF THE BRAVE.” Free from tyranny and ethnic oppression, and bravehearts who will fight for their land and liberty so that Ethiopia shall rise once more.

As Kwame Nkrumah put it poetically:

Ethiopia shall rise

Ethiopia, Africa’s bright gem
Set high among the verdant hills
That gave birth to the unfailing
Waters of the Nil
Ethiopia shall rise
Ethiopia, land of the wise;
Ethiopia, bold cradle of Africa’s ancient rule
And fertile school
Of our African culture;
Ethiopia, the wise
Shall rise
And remould with us the full figure
Of Africa’s hopes
And destiny.


Below is my “prophesy” on the return of the T-TPLF land snatchers extracted from my January 2016 commentary.

The need for eternal vigilance


Those who pushed back the T-TPLF and forced it to declare the Addis Ababa Master Plan null and void after incurring  great cost in human life may now feel jubilant and victorious. They may even feel they have “defeated” the T-TPLF.

Such feelings are not only foolish but could ultimately prove to be fatal miscalculations.

As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, the T-PLF land-grabbers will be back to grab their land like scared off buzzards picking carrion. Sure, they will step away for a while to let the dust settle, but they will be back with a vengeance!

There is no doubt the T-TPLF bosses are rattled by the push back.

The lies dripping from the motormouth Getachew Reda tell how shocked and shaken the T-TPLF bosses are in the resistance they faced in their business-as-usual land grabs.

(I always find it curious and funny that the T-TPLF bosses NEVER, NEVER step up and explain themselves on what they have done. They always stand behind some dud motormouth frontman like Reda or Redwan to do the talking for them. Isn’t that what Hailemariam Desalegn does for them too?)

The T-TPLF will come back and try again to grab the same land.

Reminds of the old tongue-twister? How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Well, how much land would a T-TPLF land-grabber grab if a T-TPLF land-grabber could grab land?

The bottom line is that the T-TPLF bosses and fat cats are salivating at the mouth just thinking about grabbing the land surrounding Addis Ababa. They will do anything to get it all, NOW. They operate on borrowed time.

The T-TPLF will be far more sophisticated next time. There will be no wrangling or brouhaha over a “master plan” next time.  There will be no knock-down drag-out street and alley fight to grab land.

It will all be done covertly, systematically and invisibly.

The T-TPLF will try to lull everyone into thinking that they have abandoned their master plan. They will put out more public statement to that effect.  They will say the “master plan” is dead if it had ever lived. They will pledge to “work” with the people of Oromia to get another community project (not plan) implemented. (I am pretty sure the T-TPLF will NEVER use the word “master” in any plan they will present to the public.)

The T-TPLF will bide its time and wait until the people in the affected areas to let their guards down.

They will use the old “frog in the boiling water” strategy. If you drop a frog into boiling water, it will immediately jump out. But if you put a frog in a pot of cold water and then bring the water to a boil very, very slowly, the frog will stay until it is cooked to death.

The T-TPLF tried to grab all the land at once and the people jumped up and protested.

But if the land-grabbing is done piece by piece, the people won’t even blink. I am afraid, in time, the people in the impacted areas will let their guards down.

In the meantime, the T-TPLF will not sit idle twiddling their thumbs. They will implement “Master Plan B” (bet you did not know they had a Plan B) or the plan to systematically and methodically neutralize those who oppose their land-grab.

The T-TPLF has a variety of methods available to it to implement “Master Plan B” against those opposed to the land-grab: 1) buy them off, 2) scare them off, 3) threaten and intimidate the hell out of them, 4) jail and torture them and 5) kill (massacre) them. That is standard T-TPLF operating procedure — T-TPLF MO (modus operandi).

It is foolhardy for those in the affected areas to think even for a moment that the T-TPLF is gone with its tail between its legs.

T-TPLF victims should never forget that the T-TPLF is comprised of some of the most cunning, conniving, wily, scheming, evil, crooked, vicious, diabolical, wicked, shadowy and Machiavellian political operators to be found anywhere on the planet.

They are not the type that will simply walk away from a land-grab fest, the land-grab gravy train. If they can’t gobble up all the land around Addis at once, they will gobble it piece by piece. No problem. The T-TPLF leaders believe that if they cannot physically push the poor farmers off their land and steal it, they can sure as hell outwit and outfox them out of their land.

I have no doubts that the T-TPLF will use any means including local frontmen and bagmen to buy the land for them for later transfer. They will masquerade as private developers partnering with locals to do different “projects”. They will put up make-believe projects to acquire land in pieces. They will mask their “master plan” in some other sweet sounding name. They will do whatever it takes to grab that land. After all, if their plan works they will eat up some 36 cities and towns surrounding Addis Ababa. That’s a lot of “living space”!

I wish I could predict the T-TPLF will lick its chops and walk away. That would be like expecting buzzards to lick their chops and simply fly away from carrion.

It has been said that the “price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” I would say the price of keeping one’s land is also eternal vigilance. Those who could have been impacted by the Addis Ababa Masters’ Plan must remain eternally vigilant and scrutinize any and all land transactions in their areas if they are to have a snowball’s chance in hell to save their lands and protect their children’s future.

I shall “prophesy” that the T-TPLF will continue to take the land from the poor people of Ethiopia, but in the end they shall INHERIT THE WIND!

Land to the Tiller!

Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Keeping One’s Land! 

Ethiopia is ONE.   ኢትዮጵያ አንድ (እ)ናት !

E Pluribus Unum Æthiopiam!

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