News of Ethiopia

Ethiopian News Summary

compiled by Barry Hillenbrand (Debre Marcos 63–65)

The Great Ethiopian Land Grab (Continued)

For more than a year Ethiopia has been selling its farm land to the highest bidders, primarily large foreign argo-businesses eager to get their hands on Ethiopia’s fertile soil, large labor force and attractive export possibilities. The biggest players seem to be Indian companies, with the Chinese and Pakistanis not too far behind.

Land sale: farmland being examined

This month, Ethiopian Agriculture Minister Tefera Derbew visited India on an official visit and put more land on the block. Said Tefera, according to a report in a UK on-line site: “So far, we have transferred 307,000 hectares of land to foreign and domestic investors. Some 79 percent of this land has been transferred to Indian companies. This land is on 70-year lease. We are now proposing to transfer another 3.6 million hectares of land to investors from overseas. And I am confident that more than half of this 3.6 million hectares will go to Indians.”  That land equals about half the size of Punjab state, India’s main grain-growing region. “How much land will actually go to Indian investors depends entirely on the interest of investors. If they come and take all the land, then also we will be very happy. Indian investors are very welcome in Ethiopia,” said Tefera, who must be a very happy man indeed. According to Ethiopian numbers, Indian firms have invested $4.7 billion in Ethiopia’s farm sector. A good hunk of that cash has gone into land for sugar cane production, including crushing facilities. The Ethiopian government is quick to point out that all this agro-investment is producing jobs. Chadha Agro, PLC, one India’s largest agro-business corporations, was granted 22,000 hectares in Oromia State and will get an additional 78,000 hectares after its performance on the first land grant is assessed.  The company claims that it will employ 35,000 full and part-time workers.  For stories about the land grab in the Indian Press see: http://bit.ly/eEgKx5 and http://bit.ly/ezrBeh

But all the land is not going to large agricultural companies. A story in AFROL News which quotes an U.S. Embassy cable released on Wikileaks, African leaders, like former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasansjo and Djiboutian President Ismael Omar Guelleh and the former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, have received land grants.  For all the complicated details and some pointed comments by the U.S. ambassador about these deals see : http://bit.ly/eWqQTZ

Birtukan Mideksa steps down

Opting out of politics: Birtukan Mideksa

In a blow to opposition politics, Birtukan Mideksa, leader of Ethiopia’s opposition party, Unity for Democracy, and the country’s most charismatic political leader (sorry, Prime Minister Meles), has decided to step down as party president a mere four months after she was released from prison where she had been serving a life term.  Her decision was announced in the press.  The wide understanding was that the terms of her release and pardon included a provision that she would refrain from political activity. The seeming withdrawal of  Birtukan from the political arena will only strengthen the iron grip Meles’ ruling party has on politics.  See http://bit.ly/emxVpq for more details.

Price Control Mess

In an effort increasing food price inflation, the Meles government surprised the nation on Ethiopian Christmas eve, January 6, by imposing price controls on many basic items like meat, bread, rice, sugar, powdered milk and cooking oil. The government said that the controls were in response to price gouging by shop keepers. World food price have increased in recent months and the government claimed that merchants were taking advantage of “the market disorder.”

Well, what the new controls seemed to have brought about is more disorder. While it is true that buyers, especially low-income people, may have benefited from the freeze, the price controls also caused conflict in the markets thought-out the country.  Market women claimed that they could not make a profit selling at the capped levels. Fist-fights broke out in some markets over the interpretation of the controls.  Economists said that fixing prices is not the way to lower food prices or curb inflation. In November inflation was 10.2 per cent and 14.5 per cent in December.  For more, see a good Voice of America report: http://bit.ly/fB3vMR as well as a report from Bloomberg at  http://bloom.bg/htWUMg Also see on the effect of the freezes on suppliers from Kenya: http://bit.ly/goAzgB

Corruption on the line

Everyone knows Ethiopia has problems with corruption. Ethiopia also has problems with its tele-communications system. Last month the two problems were linked when Tesfaye Birru, the  former CEO of the former Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation and 16 employees of the corporation were found guilty of corruption by the Federal High Court. They were involved in a bid rigging operation involving Eriksson Electric which won a $47.4 million contract for a turn-key project to supply and install  mobile phones networks. Tesfaye was arrested in 2008 and has been in jail ever since — but hardly idle. He completed his Ph.D. by defending his dissertation via teleconference with professors in Germany. It’s unclear whether the equipment was supplied by Eriksson. See http://bit.ly/fP8krD for more details.

Over the road HIV/AIDS work

Fighting HIV/AIDS: long distance truck drivers

The Federal Transport Authority is setting aside special funds, up to 2 per cent of its budget, to fighting HIV/AIDS among truck drivers and their assistants. According to the latest UN report on HIV/AIDS, truckers and intercity bus drivers formed 22 percent of the client base of sex workers. And a 2009 government survey from mobile counseling and testing clinics in 40 towns located on the major transportation corridors that link Addis Ababa to Ethiopia’s borders found that 25.3 percent of the sex workers who received the clinics’ services were HIV-positive. The new funds will provide for condom distribution and also for care for drivers and their families who are suffering from the virus. See http://bit.ly/ij2gR6

Haile Gabrselassie is back. Really. For sure.

Back in the running: Haile Gabrselassie

After the confusing events in New York this fall when Haile Gabrselassie dropped out of the race midway and declared that he was giving up competitive running, the news about the runner has been confusing at best. But recently Haile has been direct and pretty clear about his future. He told Reuters recently that he is back to his daily routine of running, in two sessions, 35 km/day. “One of the things I want to tell people is that I am not making plans to retire,” Haile told Reuters. “Now I am preparing for London 2012.” He will be running in the Tokyo marathon on Feb. 27.

But does Haile, 37, have any plans when he does finally retire? Of course, he said, “”I want to do something for Ethiopia, for Africa, for myself, my family and my people. You know, what is the best to do to pay back those people who were supporting me all these years. To be involved in politics as prime minister, as president, minister if this gives something back, then why not?”

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