Author’s Note: What’s in a label? Well, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet…”? That may be true, provided, of course, those roses are not roses raised on the land-grabbed farmlands of Karuturi Global in Ethiopia, a topic I explored in my recent commentary on Karuturi and the power of India in Ethiopia. This is the third piece in my ongoing commentaries on land-grabbing and land giveaways in Ethiopia. Last week I asked whether there is any country left for Ethiopians after the T-TPLF hands over millions of hectares of land to foreign land grabbing scammers-cum-investors and neighboring countries. In this commentary, I question if the so-called “Addis Ababa Master Plan” is a clever public relations cover for the T-TPLF Masters’ Land Grab Plan.
No more Addis “Ababa Master Plan”?
A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF) “will scrap plans to expand the capital into surrounding farms after widespread opposition from the public.” The “Addis Ababa Master Plan” was designed to strategically incorporate municipalities and unincorporated areas surrounding the capital in to a rapidly developing metropolitan economy.
But the T-TPLF got serious push back from local residents in the impacted areas and had to resort to its hallmark massacres to suppress the resistance. Human Rights Watch reported that since mid-November 2015, T-TPLF “security forces [had] shot dozens of protesters in Shewa and Wollega zones, west of Addis Ababa”; and in the town of Walliso security forces fired “into crowds of protesters leaving bodies lying in the street.”
Getachew Reda, the crocodilian motormouth T-TPLF communications minister, unashamedly denied and downplayed the existence of a real “master plan”; and if there were such a plan, he said only rabble-rousers would oppose it. “There was not a plan that had taken shape following discussions with the people. There was not a [plan] that was designed in a professional way or scientifically prepared for a final political decision.” Reda blamed troublemakers for the T-TPLF’s massacres of unarmed protesters and characterized the victims as gangsters: “Elements trying to take advantage of the misunderstanding now have reached the point where they are organizing armed gangs and routinely burning down buildings belonging to private citizens, along with government installations.” (A 24-carat thug-to-the-bone calling unarmed protesters gangsters!)
The popular push back to the so-called Addis Ababa master plan sent shock waves through the T-TPLF rank and file and the parasitic elites who tail behind the T-TPLF bosses gobbling up land and property from increasing numbers of poor farmers who are fast becoming landless, hopeless, voiceless and powerless.
The hand that rocks the T-TPLF cradle in the land grabbing frenzy in the Addis Ababa metropolitan area is none other than, you guessed it, The World Bank, that ruthless gang of money changers I affectionately call “poverty pimps” and with whom I have locked horns for some years now. (See my November 2015 commentary, “Ethiopia and the World Bank of Lies, Damned Lies and Statislies.”
Truth be told, the Addis Ababa Master Plan is a cover story concocted by The World Bank to justify land grabs, forced evictions and displacement of poor people in metropolitan areas like Addis Ababa that are growing rapidly. The World Bank argues that the future urban development of cities like Addis Ababa necessarily requires geographic and spatial expansion beyond existing city boundaries to adjoining municipalities and unincorporated areas. The expansion is said to be necessary for efficient service delivery to outlying areas and maintenance of urban sustainability in an ever-expanding metropolitan area.
The Addis Ababa Master Plan is, to put it bluntly, a World Bank/T-TPLF conspiracy calculated to displace poor farmers and convert their land into private estates for the T-TPLF extended “royal families” and parasitical elites.
Of course, World Bank collusion with the T-TPLF to displace local populations in the name of “development” is nothing new. The Bank allowed the T-TPLF to use its so-called “Protection of Basic Services Project” (PBS) to “villagize” (that is a kinder and gentler word for displace, depopulate, uproot, and evict ancestral landholders) the people of Gambella in western Ethiopia (and other locations) and handover their land to “investors” who eventually proved to be scammers. (See my commentary, “The Moral Bankruptcy of the World Bank in Ethiopia.”
In May 2014, the World Bank proclaimed, “As cities grow rapidly, strategic planning at the metropolitan level is needed to ensure efficient and sustainable service delivery.”
In February 2015, “a team of specialists from the World Bank Group worked with government officials, experts and stakeholders in Addis Ababa to identify the priority actions and investments that will enhance the city’s resilience to metropolitan approach to urban planning.” The Group allegedly sought to “address the unprecedented urban growth by quickly focusing on the implementation of the new Integrated Development Plan for the city.”
In July 2015, The World Bank issued a report entitled, “Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Enhancing Urban Resilience.” That report argued Addis Ababa must be a resilient city, and “building a resilient city therefore requires a holistic, multi-sectoral, and flexible approach to urban development.” How can Addis Ababa become more resilient? The report says the city must take “priority actions” which include first and foremost, “effective implementation of the Integrated Development Plan and related regulations” and investments in infrastructure projects.
“Integrated development plan” means “connecting people with rapidly growing regions” and connecting “smaller cities” and regions “by transport and linked to the electricity grid, smaller cities can attract industries for which the more advanced cities have become too expensive.”
Simply stated, integrated development means gobbling up land adjacent to urban areas to facilitate urban sprawl and squalor into farmland surrounding the capital.
Is it even theoretically possible to have a genuine “integrated development plan” which absorbs communities surrounding Addis Ababa under the corrupt rule of the T-TPLF? Well, has hell ever frozen over and the devil gone ice-skating?
The answer is found in a 2012 World Bank study “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia“, pp. 285-326. I wrote multiple commentaries on that report in 2013; available at almariam.com).
The World Bank Ethiopia land corruption study documents the dangerous implications of the Addis Ababa Master Plan in terms of the negative effects of encroachment on surrounding areas. That study concluded, “land is being allocated that should not be allocated. The master plan for Addis Ababa is being ignored, and most of the green areas and some of the roads in the master plan have been allocated for private use.” (p. 303.)
But for the sacrifices of courageous Ethiopians who protested and temporarily stopped implementation of the master plan, “Oromia would lose an additional 36 towns and cities to Addis Ababa.” It would also mean the “proposed plan will expand Addis Ababa’s boundaries to 1.1 million hectares, covering an area more than 20 times its current size.”
Simply stated, that would mean hundreds of thousands of farmers and residents, if not millions, in the impacted areas would be subjected to forced evictions and displacement.
The T-TPLF Masters’ Land Grab Plan
To fully appreciate the far reaching implications of the so-called Addis Ababa Master Plan, one has to understand the nature of land ownership in Ethiopia.
The 1995 T-TPLF constitution declares, “The right to ownership of rural and urban land, as well as of all natural resources, is exclusively vested in the State and in the peoples of Ethiopia. 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.” (Article 40(3).)
If the state has exclusive ownership of rural and urban land in Ethiopia, then the obvious question is: Who has exclusive and complete ownership of the state in Ethiopia today? Who has exclusively owned and operated the state in Ethiopia for the past 25 years?
The answer is a question: Who won the May 2015 election by 100 percent (one hundred percent)?
State ownership of all land in Ethiopia is the fountainhead of land corruption.
The World Bank Ethiopia corruption report states that “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)].”
Wealthy and influential T-TPLF individuals, affiliated groups and assorted parasitical elites seize the land of the poor and marginalized through forced, but “legal” evictions and eminent domain actions.
Land-grab deals with the T-TPLF and international investors-cum-scammers in Ethiopia have gained much international attention thanks to the work of international human rights and environmental organizations. The World Bank Ethiopia corruption report stated 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.”
The internal land-grabbing by the T-TPLF has attracted less international attention but it has been equally devastating.
According to the corruption report, the internal land-grab process often begins by identifying a parcel of land and starting negotiations for a lease with the municipality. Conveniently for the T-TPLF, there are no guidelines. As a result (p. 302):
there is a lot of corruption… The rules for access to land are not clear, and some people have better access than others, largely due to relationships or payment of bribes. The private sector usually cannot rely on or wait for the lease or auction process, so it usually looks to other means. A key method to illegally allocate municipal land was to allocate it to housing cooperatives controlled by developers who then sold off the land informally. The resulting buyers were usually unaware of the legal status of the land they were buying.
Therein lies the answer. Those who own the state own the land. Those who own the land and the state are corrupt to the marrow. I did not say that; the World Bank did!
Corruption in land is indeed the root of all corruption in Ethiopia! Grand corruption in land originates from the upper circles of power in the public and private sectors. The powerful T-TPLF political and economic elites exploit the anarchic, arbitrary, secretive, unaccountable and confused governance system to weave their tangled webs of corruption and profiteering.
The World Bank Ethiopia corruption report explains that sophisticated corruption methods in the land sector in Ethiopia occur in several ways. First and foremost, “elite and senior officials” snatch the most desirable lands in the country for themselves. These T-TPLF 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.”
Another “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”.
Yet another “key method” of land corruption 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.
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 all served to accelerate the metastasizing corruption in land in Ethiopia.
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.”
That is exactly what the World Bank said!
So, who are the “government officials who demand huge bribes”? Well, who are the officials who own the state?
Management of rural land is similarly deeply infected with T-TPLF 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.” According to the World Bank Ethiopia corruption report, “Almost all transactions involving land most often incorporate corruption because there is no clear policy or transparent regulation concerning land.”
Simply put, there are no “public lands”, only “government lands”. Well, who owns the government and the land?
It is stunning to learn from the World Bank report that 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. There is 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.
But could the apparently chaotic land management system have been intentionally designed to maximize and facilitate T-TPLF predatory land-grab practices?
Land rip-offs or eminent domain?
The T-TPLF constitution empowers the T-TPLF to “expropriate private property for public use with the prior payment of adequate compensation.” (Art. 40.1). The T-TPLF has also “enacted” Proclamation No. 455/2005 on the Expropriation of Landholdings for Public Purposes and Payment of Compensation and Council of Ministers Regulation No. 135/2007 pertaining to the Payment of Compensation for Property situated on landholding expropriated for public purpose.
Do these “laws” have any teeth? Or are they merely words written (just like the T-TPLF constitution) on paper to put smiles on the faces of the international poverty pimps (and wipe off their crocodile tears) who bankroll the T-TPLF and fund the land-grabbing madness?
The World Bank corruption study in Ethiopia and other studies have shown that such “laws” are nonsense in light of the fact that in cases of urban expansion, location of industrial parks and other projects, local municipalities simply do not have the money to pay “adequate” compensation. As a result, the urban expansion process has largely been based on no compensation, inadequate compensation or straight out forced evictions without appeals or further judicial review. Simply stated, the Addis Ababa Master Plan is the T-TPLF Masters’ Land Rip-off Plan!
The T-TPLF does not want to divest the “state” from land ownership or privatize land ownership. Why should they voluntarily get off the gravy train?
The T-TPLF says Ethiopia’s feudal history combined with complicated systems of traditional landholdings and the risk of absentee landlords returning, potential explosion of landless population, etc., necessitates state ownership of land.
The T-TPLF also claims it can manage the land better. For whom?
Of course, expecting the T-TPLF to manage Ethiopia’s land for the people of Ethiopia is like expecting the fox guarding the hen house to care for the chickens or the wolf in sheep’s clothing to shepherd the sheep. It is utter nonsense!
State ownership of land in Ethiopia is in reality T-TPLF ownership of land because the T-TPLF has exclusive ownership of the state. For the T-TPLF to give up its ownership of land in Ethiopia is tantamount to giving up state power. Without exclusive ownership of all land in the country, the T-TPLF has no power. “Kapish?” (capisce), to borrow an Italian word. Dig what I mean!
For the T-TPLF, ownership of land means ownership of the livelihood of every single one of the 100 million people in Ethiopia.
Land for the T-TPLF is a gift that keeps on giving gifts called bribes.
Controlling land means owning rural “votes” (stolen, that is).
Land is the ultimate source of absolute power for the T-TPLF. If it is true that power corrupts, then corruption in land corrupts power absolutely.
The T-TPLF control freaks will hang on to every inch of land until they are swept into the dustbin of history.
The fact of the matter is that the T-TPLF owns 100 percent of the votes. It owns 100 percent of “parliament”, the “house of the people’s representatives”.
The T-TPLF owns 100 percent of the land in the country.
That makes the T-TPLF the new royalty, aristocracy and nobility in a modern day Ethiopian feudal state.
Isn’t “ethnic federalism” merely a 21st century euphemism for a feudal kingdom of the Middle Middle Ages?
The Medieval feudal King owned all the land in the country and granted use to whomever he pleased. Almost always, the King gave the land only to those he trusted and those who took oaths to remain loyal to him. The King’s men were known as barons and they fought for their King. The barons became wealthy, powerful and had complete control of the land they leased from the King.
Isn’t that what is happening in Ethiopia today with the “regional governments” or shall we call them by their right name, “principalities”?
Hail to the T-TPLF thieves (I meant chiefs).
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 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 do not object to urbanization and solving urban problems with advanced planning and technology. I have read and carefully studied the “Addis Ababa Master Plan.” It is purportedly a plan for “Addis Ababa and surrounding Oromia special zone, 2006-2030.” It is purportedly drafted by the “Addis Ababa Administration” and “Oromia kilil government”. The plan discusses in great detail all of the issues raised in various World Bank reports and recommendations concerning the “resilience of Addis Ababa” through “integrated development”. It talks about infrastructure development, transportation, services, industrial zones, ecological conservation, green spaces, irrigation and may other things. It provides maps showing future locations of parks, airports, regional development sites, etc. As a technical document, the “plan” is extraordinarily detailed and structured along World Bank urbanization plans.
The one thing the master plan completely disregards is the input of the ordinary people who will be impacted by the plan. What will happen to the people living in areas surrounding Addis Ababa once the capital’s urban sprawl and squalor oozes into their pastoral areas? Where will they go? How will they support their families? Will they become surplus people for the T-TPLF and its regional compradors to dispose of as they please?
The National Socialist German Workers Party followed a destructive policy of “lebensraum” (living space) and justified its aggressive territorial expansion into neighboring countries by depopulating, displacing and repopulating those areas deemed to be inhabited by “untermenschen”, those who were not as good as the Aryans. The National Socialists had two primary goals: 1) forcible acquisition of “living space” and 2) a permanent reckoning with the Jews. The National Socialists were stopped in the end.
The T-TPLF dug up “ethnic federalism” to bury Ethiopia and now “ethnic federalism” is about to bury the T-TPLF.
If every “kilil” created by the T-TPLF pushed back as did those in Oromia, what would be left of the T-TPLF?
It is written, “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.”
That is an eternal divine truth. Deal with it!!!