Oduu Haaraya

Deliberate and systematic extermination of identities of indigenous peoples of Ethiopia via land grabbing (1870 – 2014)

Jaatee M. 

Land grabbing is classically known as the seizing of land by a nation, state, or organization, especially illegally or unfairly. It is recently defined as large scale acquisition of land through purchase or lease for commercial investment by foreign organizations (4). Abyssinian governments of Ethiopia are systematically used land grabbing as a tool either to eradicate completely or to reduce indigenous peoples of Ethiopia particularly Oromo and generally Southern peoples in favor of Abyssinian identities. Both micro and macro scales of land grabbing have effectively resulted in disappearance of indigenous identities over time, because land is not only a fixed asset essential to produce sufficient amount of crop and animal to secure supply of food, but it is the foundation of identities (language, culture, and history) of a community or a nation. Changes to land use without consultation of traditional owners of the land mainly by forceful displacement of indigenous peoples can in a long term result in disappearance of languages, cultures, and histories of the peoples traditionally identified by ancestral land. Both expansion of amorphous towns & cities without integration of identities of indigenous peoples and large scale transfer of rural land to investors are the major political strategies of current Abyssinian government to successfully achieve the target of eradicating identities of indigenous peoples of Ethiopia in order to replace with Abyssinian identities. Thus, problems associated with land grabbing become very complex in Oromia and Southern Ethiopia where the peoples are unrepresented by the Abyssinian government of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is politically divided into North (Abyssinia) and South (Oromia and Southern Ethiopia). Elites of the North are militarily and politically colonized the peoples of the South since the end of 19th century depending on technical, material, and financial aids of foreign organizations. The status quo of colonial relations of governance between the North and the South is still maintained. By 1889 emperor Menelik (1889 – 1913) had violently formalized expansion of imperial government of Abyssinia over much of present-day Ethiopia during the era of scramble for colonization of Africa & he had gained recognition of colonial boundaries of Abyssinia from European colonial powers. The state of Abyssinia had established itself in the Northern Ethiopia for centuries before formation of the present day Ethiopia that the present Ethiopian state is founded on Abyssinian traditional state and acquired its current shape & identity after passing through long and turbulent socio-political processes (3). Oromo people in particular and peoples in Southern Ethiopia in general are still politically marginalized, even though ethnic equality is constitutionally recognized since 1991. Government of Tigray people Liberation Front (TPLF) / Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) requires central control of local land resources and changes in livelihoods in order to protect its monopolistic governance powers based on technical differences from its predecessors, the imperial and military governments, but all of them strategically share similar political targets, exploitation of resources of indigenous peoples.

Rural communities of Oromia in particular and Southern Ethiopia of mainly Benishangul, Gambella, and Omo regions in general are at very high risk, because almost all of the large scale agricultural land transferred to investors by government of TPLF/EPRDF is located in these regions. Since 1996, the total area of agricultural land transferred to the investors is 5 million hectares. A total land transfer to investors will measure 7 million hectares of agricultural land by end of 2015 (10 & 11). In general 94% of the land allocated to investors is located in colonized regions of Ethiopia. Allocation of agricultural land to global investors is insignificant in North Ethiopia (Amhara and Tigray), because the land use rights of rural communities of Abyssinia is constitutionally protected by their government (9). However land accessibility rights of rural communities of Oromia and Southern Ethiopia is systematically regulated by land governance and investment policies of colonial regime. Moreover condition of global land grabbing in Ethiopia is the most attractive in the world, because the TPLF/EPRDF regime does not take into account the land use rights of colonized peoples. The regime offers protection of investors by being a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agencies that the agreements guaranteed investors’ right without providing opportunities for those affected by activities of investment projects to challenge the agreements and to call for adequate compensation. For example the agreement signed with the Netherlands on the encouragement and reciprocal protection of investment offers considerable incentives to the private corporations wishing to invest in Ethiopia: i.e., it guarantees transfers of profits, interest, or dividends in freely convertible currency of payments related to investments, that a Dutch company investing in Ethiopia would not have to pay tax and that profits can flow back to the Netherlands without any restrictions (2).

Impacts of land grabbing in Ethiopia is characterized by genocide, cultural extinction, and eradication of identities of colonized peoples of South Ethiopia through mass killing (1870 – 1900) and political attempt to destroy identities (1900 – 1991) of the colonized peoples. The aggression war was the first direct genocide attempted to wipeout peoples of Oromia and Southern Ethiopia from global map through cumulative effects of war, famine, and epidemic diseases that resulted in death of at least five million (50%) peoples of Oromia and Southern Ethiopia during the period between 1870 & 1900 (5 & 7). It is possible to call both the direct and indirect political motivations of successive regimes of Abyssinia intended to eliminate certain groups of communities as genocide, because their murderous actions are in agreement with the following definition of genocide. Genocide is crimes committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group with the deliberate purpose of eradicating them” (6). Acts of genocide (murder of a people) includes causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, forcibly transferring children of the group to another group, and etc (1).

Destroying identities (language, culture, and history) of the colonized peoples were articulated by both imperial (1989 – 1974) and military (1974 – 1991) regimes of Abyssinia in order to realize absolute ownership of the land. The second systematic genocide is articulated by the TPLF (EPRDF) regime through abusive implementation of land governance and investment policies. Social and economic powers of rural communities of Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular directly depend on rights to access land in order to access primary human needs (food, safe water, house, cloth, and medical services). Analytical evaluations of impacts of current land grabbing policies of Ethiopia indicates destabilization of livelihood assets of rural communities of Oromia and Southern Ethiopia via aggravation of poverty, expansion of food insecurity, intensification of conflicts, degradation of ecosystem, and advancement of violation of human rights (2, 9, & 12). The above stated facts are indicators of the loaming threat of systematic genocide designed by the successive regimes of Abyssinia either to wipeout peoples of Oromia and Southern Ethiopia or to reduce them to the minority level in order to achieve political goal of complete ownership of the land mainly through the tactic of silent eradication of identities of the indigenous communities in a long-term. For example Genocide Watch considers Ethiopia to have already reached Stage 7, genocidal massacres, against many of its peoples, including the Anuak, Ogadeni, Oromo, and Omo tribes” (8). The effort of human right organizations to defend victims of evil policy of land grabbing is full of challenges, because transformation of global business is mostly in favor of the strongest. Survival of the fittest is the norm in heightening global competitions to expand and protect economic empires at all levels. Therefore political organizations of Oromia and Southern Ethiopia must act effectively to overcome land governance policies and unfair investment strategies of Abyssinian government that continuously threaten existence of indigenous peoples of Ethiopia.


  1. Abagond, 2009. Genocide. http://abagond.wordpress.com/2009/04/22/genocide/
  2. Alison G., Sylvain A., Rolf K. and Sofía M. S. 2011. The role of the EU in land grabbing in Africa – CSO monitoring 2009-2010, “Advancing African Agriculture” (AAA): The impact of Europe’s policies and practices on African agriculture and food security. Paper presented at the international conference on global land grabbing: 6-8 April 2011.
  3. Asrat G., 2007. The search for peace: the conflict between Ethiopia and Ertrea: Twards sustainable peace between Ethiopia and Ertrea (chapter 6). Proceedings of scolarily conference on the Ethiopia-Ertrea conflict: held in Oslo, Norway, 6 – 7 July 2006. Fafo report 2007:14 (52 – 61)
  4. Daniel Sh. and Mittal A. 2009. The great land grabs: the Oakland institute. www.oaklandinstitute.org/pdfs/LandGrab_final_web.pdf
  5. De Salviac M. D. 2005 [1901]. An ancient people, great African nation, translation by Ayalew Kano, East Lansing, Michigan.
  6. Ford A. 2008. A Brief History of Genocide. www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1865217,00.html
  7. Gadaa M. 1988. Oromia, an introduction. Khartoum: Sudan
  8. 8. Genocide Watch, 2012. Genocide Alert: Ethiopia. http://genocidewatch.net/2012/12/06/genocide-watch-emergency-ethiopia/
  9. Jaatee M. & Mulataa Z. 2012. Review of land grabbing policies of successive regimes of Ethiopia. http://gadaa.com/OromoStudies/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/A-final-review-of-land-grabbing-policies-of-successive-regimes-of-Ethiopia-1.pdf
  10. Ministry of Finance & Economic Development (MOFED). 2010a. Updated 2nd PASDEP Agric. Sec. Plan (2003- 2007) [2011-2015].
  11. MOFED. 2010b. Implementation of first five year development plan (1998-2002 [Eth. C]), and preparation of next five year plan for growth and transformation (2003-2007 [Eth. C]) [Amharic]. [Unpublished power point document]. Addis Ababa
  12. Rahmato D.2011. Land to investors (large-scale land transfers in Ethiopia). Forum for social studies. www.mokoro.co.uk/files/13/file/lria/land_to_investors_ethiopia_rahmato.pdf

Jaatee M.

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