Oromsis

The Rush for Land Grab in Ethiopia – The Human Rights Issue of Our Time

By Oromsis Adula

As Election Day fast approaches, Ethiopians are under a cloud of fear and uncertainty. Reports show massive propaganda campaigns and endless mandatory meetings. Despite all the rhetoric of democracy, Ethiopia remains a country where a support for the opposition could mean imprisonment and/or a denial of foreign food aid. Mr. Seye Abraha, one of the former senior TPLF members, wrote poignantly about the politicization of foreign food aid.

The opposition is making significant strides to challenge the repressive government in Ethiopia. However, as tight as the political space is, most Ethiopians believe the election would be rigged. Human Rights, Economic Development and the current Federal arrangement in Ethiopia are among the common themes on which the campaign is being waged. The ruling party continues to use inflated economic growth rate and the current “investment” scheme as its attempt to modernize the country. The opposition, with fewer exceptions and phony parties created by the regime, is unanimously opposed to the policies of the current minority junta.

Mass imprisonment and harassment of opposition supporters especially in Oromo areas of the country continues unabated. Quoting Dr. Merera Gudina, the chairman of Medrek (Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum), the largest opposition coalition in the country, Jimma Times reports at least 150 representatives and members of the opposition party Oromo People’s Congress (OPC) have been arrested in Ethiopia in less than five months. Even in the regime’s key support base, the Tigray region, where victory was virtually uncontested in the past, reports show the ruling party is on defensive. Mr. Seye’s well written essay is a testimony of the fact that TPLF’s future is on the ropes. In the last three elections rarely did oppositions compete in Tigray and not a single seat at federal and state level was won by the opposition. Besides a growing detest for the increasingly repressive nature of the regime, the opposition has devised effective strategies to challenge the ruling party in its home turf.

At least three strategies seem to be in play;

a) The Multiethnic and relatively centrist UDJ, led by Tigray’s favorite hero, Mr. Seye Abraha, is waging an all out campaign.

b) ARENA Tigray – led by Gebru Asrat former President of Tigray, a regional party espousing Tigrean nationalism is making the old tactics that accuse the opposition as Amhara chauvinists useless.

c) Medrek helps the two parties to negotiate in order to avoid competition amongst each other.

All the while, the current rush for land grab remains one of the most critical tragedies of our time and an unbearable liability for future generations. Ethiopians are dying of food shortages as the government sells virgin land to foreigners. The foreigners are in turn enslaving our people. Despite an outpouring of reports about the minimal wage, inhumane work conditions and forced displacement of poor Ethiopians, the issue is yet to generate an interest within the so called international community. Even the Ethiopian Diaspora doesn’t seem to understand the magnitude of this slavery era African phenomenon. Most of the scramble for land is taking place in Oromia region that is heavily guarded from the media and lacks an effectively Diaspora advocacy group.

Modernizing agriculture, as the regime claims, doesn’t mean selling virgin lands to highest bidders. Perhaps improving the farming condition and subsidizing the farming sector would help improve the country’s image in the world. Continuing on the same path of unrestrained land grab will exacerbate the vicious cycle of poverty while foreigners rip the benefit of the 13 months of sunshine. If the ruling party did not have a crooked agenda of its own, Ethiopians should not continue to beg for food handouts for another decade or century. However, any agenda that does not empower the impoverished mass will not work in the long term. I hope the opposition would rally Ethiopians around a farsighted policy for economic growth and the country’s integration into the global village.

In the second decade of 21st century, Ethiopia remains largely secluded from the rest of the world. The effects of globalization are not yet felt even within the urban elites. Information flow is tightly controlled under the monopoly of government enterprises. Corporations like the telecommunication which supplies electricity and communication services including the Internet are under a tight monopoly of the government. Privatizing the service economy and opening up the political sphere for a healthier competition would drastically improve the lives of Ethiopians.

Election may not be the answer for a political change in Ethiopia. But political defiance by a determined mass can bring the ethno-racist regime to its feet. Public discontent with the current administration was observed in the form of protest votes and the riots in the aftermath the 2005 election. On May 22, 2010, Ethiopians can once again speak in one voice by voting the current oppressive regime out of office. If the regime decides on forcefully usurping the will of the people, Ethiopians can decide their fate by collectively engaging in what Gene Sharp calls nonviolent protest and persuasion. The future of Ethiopia hinges on the outcome of this election. Allowing the current minority regime to rule Ethiopia for another term means a continuation of suffering for Ethiopians and colonization of the country by foreigners.

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