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Ethiopia – Land for Sale – People & Power – Al Jazeera English

Ethiopia – Land for Sale – People & Power – Al Jazeera English.

Just a few decades ago, Ethiopia was a country defined by its famines, particularly between 1983-1985 when in excess of half a million people starved to death as a consequence of drought, crop failure and a brutal civil war.Against this backdrop, it is impressive that in recent years, Ethiopia has been experiencing stellar economic growth. The headline statistics are certainly remarkable: the country is creating millionaires faster than any other in Africa; output from farming, Ethiopia’s dominant industry, has tripled in a decade; the capital Addis Ababa is experiencing a massive construction boom; and the last six years have seen the nation’s GDP grow by a staggering 108 percent.

But it is not all positive news, because for all the good figures there are still plenty of bad ones.

Around 90 percent of the population of 87 million still suffers from numerous deprivations, ranging from insufficient access to education to inadequate health care; average incomes are still well below $1500 a year; and more than 30 million people still face chronic food shortages.

And while there are a number of positive and genuine reasons for the growth spurt – business and legislative reforms, more professional governance, the achievements of a thriving service sector – many critics say that the growth seen in agriculture, which accounts for almost half of Ethiopia’s economic activity and a great deal of its recent success, is actually being driven by an out of control ‘land grab’, as  multinational companies and private speculators vie to lease millions of acres of the country’s most fertile territory from the government at bargain basement prices.

At the ministry of agriculture in Addis Ababa, this land-lease programme is often described as a “win-win” because it brings in new technologies and employment and, supposedly, makes it easier to improve health care, education and other services in rural areas.

“Ethiopia needs to develop to fight poverty, increase food supplies and improve livelihoods and is doing so in a sustainable way,” said one official.

But according to a host of NGO’s and policy advocates, including Oxfam, Human Rights Watch and the Oakland Institute, the true consequences of the land grabs are almost all negative. They say that in order to make such huge areas available for foreign investors to grow foodstuffs and bio-fuels for export – and in direct contravention of Ethiopia’s obligations under international law – the authorities are displacing hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples, abusing their human rights, destroying their traditions, trashing the environment, and making them more dependent on food aid  than ever before.

“The benefits for the local populations are very little,” said renowned Ethiopian sociologist Dessalegn Rahmato. “They’ve taken away their land. They’ve taken away their natural resource, because these investors are clearing the land, destroying the forest, cutting down the trees. The government claims that one of the aims of this investment was to enable local areas to benefit by investing in infrastructure, social services … but these benefits are not included in the contract. It’s only left up to the magnanimity of the investor.”

And those investors, he continued, are simply not interested in anything other than serving their own needs: “They can grow any crop they want, when they want it, they can sell in any market they want, whether it’s a global market or a local market. In fact most of them are not interested in the local markets.”

He cited as an example a massive Saudi-owned plantation in the fertile Gambella region of south west Ethiopia, a prime target area for investors: “They have 10,000 hectares and they are producing rice. This rice is going to be exported to the Middle East, to Saudi Arabia and other places. The local people in that area don’t eat rice.”

But the most controversial element of the government’s programme is known as ‘villagisation’ – the displacement of people from land they have occupied for generations and their subsequent resettlement in artificial communities.

In Gambella, where two ethnic groups, the Anuaks and the Nuers, predominate, it has meant tens of thousands of people have been forced to abandon a traditional way of life. One such is Moot, an Anuak farmer who now lives in a government village far from his home.

“When investors showed up, we were told to pack up our things and to go to the village. If we had decided not to go, they would have destroyed our crops, our houses and our belongings. We couldn’t even claim compensation because the government decided that those lands belonged to the investors. We were scared … if you get upset and say that someone stole your land, you are put in prison. If you complain about being arrested, they will kill you. It’s not our land anymore; we have been deprived of our rights.”

Despite growing internal opposition and international criticism, the Ethiopian government shows no sign of scaling the programme back. According to the Oakland Institute, since 2008, an area the size of France has already been handed over to foreign corporations. Over the next few years an area twice that size is thought to be earmarked for leasing to investors.

So what does all this mean for the people on the ground? In Ethiopia – Land for Sale, filmmakers Veronique Mauduy and Romain Pelleray try and find out.

South Sudan army recaptures oil hub – Africa – Al Jazeera English

South Sudan army recaptures oil hub – Africa – Al Jazeera English.

Malcolm Webb reports from Uganda on flight of South Sudanese refugees into neighbouring countries
South Sudan’s army says it has regained control of the rebel-held town of Bentiu, handing the government control of Unity State’s oilfields where production had been halted.The army had earlier announced it was mobilising thousands of additional troops as it battled to recapture two rebel-held cities, including Bentiu, although regional mediators were still hopeful a ceasefire could be reached.

“It happened this afternoon at 2.30pm,” Philip Aguer, army spokesman, told Reuters news agency on Friday.

“When you control Bentiu, you control all the oil fields in Unity state.”

Forces in Bentiu loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar had been holding off the army of President Salva Kiir for several days, leaving it ransacked and emptied of its civilian population.

Machar confirmed rebel forces had lost control of the northern oil hub, but pledged his fighters would continue their battle against the government.

Follow our in-depth coverage of South Sudan

“We withdrew from Bentiu, but it was to avoid fighting in the streets and save civilian lives. We fight on, we will continue the battle,” Machar told AFP by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location in the country.

He said the rebel side would remain engaged in peace talks that are taking place in Addis Ababa in neighbouring Ethiopia.

“Yes, we are committed,” he said, without giving any indication if he was willing to agree to an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

Speaking in Addis Ababa, a rebel military spokesman described the loss of Bentiu as a “temporary setback”.

“Our forces made a tactical withdrawal to avoid civilian casualties,” Lul Ruai Koang said.

“The government does not have the capacity to defeat us militarily,” he added, accusing the South Sudanese government of “bringing in mercenaries” from neighbouring Uganda and the Darfur region of Sudan.

He also said rebels still controlled Unity State’s oil infrastructure outside Bentiu.

Troop mobilisation

Fierce battles have also continued around Bor, another rebel-held town in central South Sudan that has already changed hands three times since the conflict began nearly a month ago.

In the capital Juba, the government’s allies from several regions say they are in the process of calling up thousands of former soldiers to shore up the South Sudan army.

Infographic: Untangling South Sudan violence

“We have to mobilise all SPLA soldiers, all former soldiers who were in the Sudanese army,” Clement Wani Konga, governor of Central Equatoria State, said, adding 3,000 extra troops had been found in his region alone and a further 12,000 were expected to soon be armed and ready.

Nevertheless, in Addis Ababa, where the peace negotiations are being held under the aegis of the East African regional bloc IGAD, the chief mediator told AFP news agency he was still optimistic.

“If you ask me on the possibilities of signing, I am very optimistic … because we have now come a long way in establishing understanding between the parties,” Seyoum Mesfin said.

He said he expected a ceasefire in “the shortest possible time”.

Against this backdrop, the UN says it believes that “very substantially in excess” of 1,000 people have been killed in the South Sudan civil war.

It also says that nearly a quarter of a million people have fled their homes, many of them fleeing a wave of ethnic violence between Kiir’s majority Dinka tribe and Machar’s Nuer.

For its part, the US, which was instrumental in helping South Sudan win independence from Sudan in 2011, has said it fears implosion of the young country and is urging the two warring factions to immediately agree to a truce.

Egypt and Ethiopia agree to bridge dam divide – Africa – Al Jazeera English

Egypt and Ethiopia agree to bridge dam divide – Africa – Al Jazeera English.

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