Karuturi has nothing to show for his “investment”, except a humongous debt. Where are the tens of thousands of hectares of oil palm, sugar cane, rice, edible oils and maize and cotton he promised? Where are the 60,000 workers? They exist only in the warped imaginations of the corrupt state fat cats in Addis Ababa.
It was too good to be true. It is too bad it was true for the people of Gambella in western Ethiopia.
Last month, the ignoble demise of Karuturi Global, Ltd. (a/k/a “Ethiopian Meadows Plc.”, “Gambella Green Valley Plc (Ethiopia)”, “Karuturi Agro Products Plc (Ethiopia)) in Ethiopia was announced quietly and without fanfare.
Karuturi, an Indian agribusiness, is touted to be “the world’s largest producer and exporter of cut roses with operations spread across Ethiopia, Kenya and India.” In 2008, Karuturi “leased” 300,000 hectares in the western Ethiopia region of Gambella. The “lease” was ballyhooed as the stepping stone to Karuturi’s rise to become one of the world’s largest food producers. The Karuturi rose ultimately proved to be the titan arum (corpse flower) of Gambella.
When the Guardian newspaper did its eye opening report in 2011, it claimed Gambella is about the size of Wales (the land of the mythical King Arthur and his kingdom of Camelot) in the west of England. If Karuturi is going to OWN so much of Gambella for the next 99 years, I figured, in the interest of factual accuracy and to make official the change of ownership of the land, Gambella should be renamed “Karuturistan”.
Karuturi sealed its deal with the ruling Thugtatorship of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (T-TPLF), which touted the Karuturi deal as an example of the wholesome foreign investment being made in Ethiopia. By 2011, the late T-TPLF leader, Meles Zenawi, was bloviating about how he had found the magic bullet to make Ethiopia food secure. Meles’ secret weapon against the Black Horseman of the Apocalypse spreading famine across the land for decades was Karuturi. Meles boldly bragged “within five years Ethiopia will no longer need food aid.”
Shortly after Meles rose to his “throne” in 1991, he declared he would consider his government a success if Ethiopians were able to eat three meals a day. The “Congressional Budget Justification Foreign Operations Appendix 2 for Fiscal Year 2015” reports, “Ethiopia is among the poorest countries in the world, with an annual per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $471 and it remains one of the top recipients of U.S. food and emergency assistance to respond to chronic food insecurity and under-nutrition.” So much for “not needing food aid”!
There are too many unanswered questions about the 300 thousand hectare “lease” (it was literally a gift) to Karuturi. That is not particularly surprising. The secretive T-TPLF leadership has always operated in the shadows (even when they were in the bush) without any transparency or accountability. Everything is a state secret to the T-TPLF. Meles’s cause of death is still a highly guarded state secret nearly three years after his passing. The state within the state in the T-TPLF is a sort of reverse skunkworks. At the core of the T-TPLF is a small group of the most cunning, conniving, wily, scheming, crooked, vicious, diabolical, wicked, shadowy and Machiavellian political operators to be found anywhere on the planet.
Few outside of the core T-TPLF leadership have any clue about the “negotiations” that led to the Karuturi or any other similar deals with "investors" from various Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Given the long history of secretiveness, it seems logical that the T-TPLF always has at least two deals going: the deal it presents for public consumption tongue-in-cheek and the real deal under the table. (I guess Meles and his T-TPLF got their cut and who cares about the rest!)
Frankly, my initial puzzlement over the Karuturi “lease” was whether the sly, cunning and cagey T-TPLF operators had hoodwinked Karuturi into “investing” in Gambella? Or could it be simple greed that blinded Karuturi into getting in the Gambella boondogle? Can anyone believe any representations by the T-TPLF about any “lease” it concluded with any “investor”?
The fact of the matter is that the T-TPLF and its late leader are the reincarnation of the Pseudologoi, the gods of lies in Greek mythology. They are the masters of deception, falsehood and disinformation. They are such bold faced liars and con artists that they almost hoodwinked the whole world into believing that Ethiopia soared the economic stratosphere with an 11 percent annual growth rate for the past ten years. (In my commentary, “The World Bank and Ethiopia’s “Growth and Transformation”, I proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the T-TPLF’s (and its booster clubs' claims, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, USAID and the Development Assistance Group (a/k/a international poverty pimps) claim of an 11 percent economic growth in Ethiopia over the past 10 years is a bold faced lie, a damned lie and a statislie (statistical lie)).
Nonetheless, with regards to what is known and unknown about land “leases” in Ethiopia including Karuturi’s, Dessalegn Rahmato, an Ethiopian scholar, raised a number of very important issues in his 2011 article “LAND TO INVESTORS: Large-Scale Land Transfers in Ethiopia.” Dessalegn argued, “MOARD [“Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development”"> and the Regional Investment Commissions are responsible for signing contracts with investors. The contract documents are simple and do not demand heavy obligations on the part of investment projects. Investors are free to choose what crops to grow and where to market what they have grown, without any interference from their hosts. They are not obliged to supply the local or national market and strongly encouraged to export most or all of their products. There are no provisions in the contracts aimed at meeting the food security needs of the country. Project managers have no contractual obligations to provide social services to the communities concerned or invest in basic infrastructure… “ The environmental impact assessments for these projects are nominal, if any, and do little to “prevent damage the environment and the land” often resulting in “serious erosion and land degradation, and deprivation of local populations of valuable natural resources.” (Emphasis added.)
KARUTURI’S “UNDUE DILIGENCE”
What were Karuturi’s specific contractual requirements in its 99-year “lease” in Gambella in light of Desalegn’s observations? Since the T-TPLF keeps everything secret, I have no way of verifying facts. However, the circumstantial evidence garnered from various analyses and studies paint an incredible picture of apparent naivite, wishful thinking, greed, gullibility and manipulation on the part of Karuturi.
When Karturi got its “leasehold” in Gambella in 2008, it was as though it had been served Manna (divine food) from Heaven on a golden plate. Karmjeet Sekhon, Karuturi’s head in Ethiopia explained, “We never saw the land. They gave it to us and we took it. Seriously, we did. We did not even see the land (cackling with triumphant laughter). They offered it. That’s all. It’s very good land. It’s quite cheap. In fact it is very cheap. We have no land like this in India.”
Sekhon’s euphoria confirms the fact that the T-TPLF delivered the crown jewels of the most fertile land in Ethiopia to Karuturi for “very cheap” and let Karuturi do whatever it wanted with the land. What is the logical thing one would do with a big winning lotto ticket in hand?!
There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that Karuturi undertook some due diligence work after it was “given the land without seeing it.” (For my readers who may not be familiar, "due diligence" is a process by which a purchaser, lessor or prospective investor would undertake reasonable inquiry into the commercial potential of a business venture as part of a comprehensive appraisal of assets, liabilities, etc,.)
By late 2009, Karuturi began infrastructure improvements on its “leasehold” (gift) in Gambella. To guard against catastrophic floods from the Baro River (known to the indigenous Anuak as Upeno River) with its tributaries, the Alwero and Jikawo Rivers, Karuturi built dykes (to block the natural flow of the water) and undertook other construction activities. Karuturi’s business strategy from the beginning was to skate on the thrifty side of things. It calculated it could import cheap agricultural equipment from India, but soon determined the Indian equipment was inappropriate for large scale commercial farming. In 2010, Karuturi placed orders with John Deere, the American multinational agricultural equipment manufacturer.
Karuturi apparently had not planned carefully enough in its due diligence for its skilled labor needs. It became clear to the company by late 2009 that getting skilled personnel to manage the Gambella project in a remote area with few modern amenities would prove to be exceedingly difficult. To complicate matters, the technical help it imported from India did not have much experience managing large commercial agricultural enterprises. These planning blunders soon became evident in increased costs, schedule delays, cost overruns and loss of revenue. There were also problems training the unskilled labor from the local area in modern agricultural techniques. The problems were piling up for Karuturi.
I first wrote about the T-TPLF-Karuturi deal in March 2011 in my commentary, “Ethiopia: A Country For Sale”. I could not believe the giveaway of the ancestral lands of the people of Gambella by the T-TPLF. There was no question in my mind the Karuturi “lease” was the deal of the century for any company. “For £150 a week ($245), you can lease more than 2,500 square kilometres of virgin, fertile land - an area the size of Dorset, England - for 50 years, plus generous tax breaks.” That was how John Vidal of The Guardian described the newly established “Karuturistan” (as I affectionately call it) complete with an onsite video of Karmjeet Sekhon, the rapturously giggling Karuturi representative.
Sekhon could barely contain himself in his euphoria as he explained Karuturi’s incredible fortune to Vidal. He bubbled with promises. “There is absolutely nothing that will not grow on it. To start with there will be 20,000 hectares of oil palm, 15,000 hectares of sugar cane and 40,000 hectares of rice, edible oils and maize and cotton. We are building reservoirs, dykes, roads, towns of 15,000 people. This is phase one. In three years time we will have 300,000 hectares cultivated and maybe 60,000 workers. We could feed a nation here…” (Meles apparently bought the Karuturi puffery about feeding the nation hook, line and sinker when he declared Ethiopia will be self-sufficient in food in five years.)
By October 2011, Karuturi learned its first lesson best expressed in the verse of Alexander Pope: “ For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread./ Distrustful Sense with modest Caution speaks;…/”. Karuturi faced the “thundering Tyde” of the Baro (Upeno) River and its tributaries which overflowed their banks and submerged Karuturi’s 80km long system of protective dikes. In a flash, Karuturi saw its corn harvest of 50 thousand metric tons flushed down river without a paddle.
Karuturi CEO Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi announced his company took a $15 million “hit” from the floods. He was dumbfounded by the intensity of the calamity: “This kind of flooding we haven’t seen before. This is a crazy amount of water.” Who “crazy”!? The Baro River or Karuturi? Had Karuturi come down from his high horse and talked to the local people, he would have found out that most of the land he wanted to develop was in a flood plain. That is why the local people use it mostly for grazing and hunting. So much for Karuturi’s due diligence.
THE 2011 FLOODS WERE A BAD OMEN FOR KARUTURI IN GAMBELLA.
By April 2013, Karuturi was convicted of tax evasion in Kenya in the amount of USD$11 million. Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN, a non-profit organization that supports small farmers observed, “Not only are they fiscal cheats, but Karuturi has been accused of human rights abuses, poor labour practices, threats to the environment and so on… Even the World Bank Group did not grant Karuturi the political risk insurance it requested for its Ethiopian operations.”
By June 2013, it was becoming crystal clear that the Karuturi project in Gambella was facing insurmountable problems. That year Karuturi had cultivated only 5 per cent of the land area it had leased. The T-TPLF was hassling the company threatening to reduce its lease holdings. The company was accumulating debt and having difficulties obtaining working capital. Big investors were getting jittery over the management and the political problems brewing in the local community and quickly beat feet. Others who had promised to invest would not touch the Gambella project with a ten foot pole.
Karuturi was under investigation “for criminal activities” by local Gambella authorities. The land development plan and Karuturi’s farming practices were having visibly devastating environmental and demographic impact on the local flora and fauna. Thousands of displaced villagers were complaining bitterly about loss of crops and grazing lands. Local residents were complaining bitterly about the diminution of their communal grazing areas and restrictions on access to water for their livestock. Local resident were demanding Karuturi make good on its promises of modern amenities and respect their traditional lifestyle.
Their ancestral paradise of the people of Gambella was being transformed into a living nightmare.
The tiny local work force Karuturi had employed for its project was fighting for improved wages and working conditions. According to studies by the International Land Coalition, Karuturi paid “Ethiopian farm labourers at its Bako (its other plantation to the northeast of Gambella) farm ETB 10 per day (US$ 0.50) which compares with about ETB 20 per day (US$ 1.00) for labourers on commercial sesame farms in the country. Night guards for the company are said to be paid ETB 300 per month (US$ 15) if they own a gun and ETB 200 (US$ 10) per month if they do not.” Karuturi had also imported several hundred farm laborers from India to work which proved to be flashpoint.
The major international human rights and environmental groups were weighing in on the human rights abuses occurring in Gambella. In 2012, Human Rights Watch published its report, “’Waiting Here for Death’ Forced Displacement and “Villagization” in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region” documenting the “forcible moving tens of thousands of indigenous people in the western Gambella region from their homes to new villages under a ‘villagization’ program.”
In 2012, the Oakland Institute published its “briefing paper”, “UNHEARD VOICES THE HUMAN RIGHTS IMPACT OF LAND INVESTMENTS ON INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES IN GAMBELLA” providing an “overview of the human rights impacts of land investment and villagization” in Gambella.
In October 2014, Cultural Survival reported on “death, dispossession and the continuing struggle of indigenous peoples in Gambella, Ethiopia.” That report highlighted that the “villagization” problem had deeper roots preceding the T-TPLF. In 1986, Cultural Survival in its quarterly had reported that the “Ethiopian government had resettled ‘17,553 heads of families from Tigray … to unoccupied ‘virgin, fertile’ lands in the Gambella region’ and that nowhere did the government say that these lands were the ‘traditional homelands of the Anuak people.’”
Karuturi denied all allegations of abuse and misconduct in its Gambella project. It denied any connection between his company's activities and the T-TPLF’s villagisation program. He characterized the accusations as “hogwash” and “a completely jaundiced western vision”.
By April 2014, the UK’s Department for International Development and the World Bank were facing legal accountability or internal inquiries for funding projects that were causing massive harm to the people of Gambella. In a letter dated September 24, 2012, unnamed Anuak refugees alleged that they have been severely harmed by the World Bank-financed “Ethiopia Protection of Basic Services Project (PBS)” and demanded an investigation. An investigation was instituted and in November 2014, the World Bank’s Inspection Panel issued a confidential report which found its way online. The Panel report confirmed that the World Bank’s project, through acts of commission and omission, had caused harm to the people of Gambella.
By January 2015, Karuturi had apparently gone belly up. The T-TPLF Director of Agricultural Investment and Land Administration Agency, Abera Mulat, was quoted by The Reporter as saying, “Karuturi has gone bankrupt following internal management crisis.” According to the same report, Ram Karuturi, the Chief Executive Officer, said he was “selling out machineries and equipment worth some 15 million birr to repay debts the company has incurred here. Karuturi is known for borrowing from CBE, Dashen and Zemen banks. The loan extended to the company exceeds 170 million birr (in monopoly money) and the CEO said that his company is set to settle the debts by the end of this month.”
THE T-TPLF LAND CON GAME
The T-TPLF land “lease” (gift) to Karuturi reminds me of the land scams of the 1960s and 70s in the U.S., particularly in the State Florida. Back then, land scammers would advertise for a fe hundred dollas “acres of pristine forestland in sunny Florida perfect for building homes”. They would puff up the value of the land with ecofriendly descriptions. That “pristine forestland” was actually swampland. Those who braved to travel to Florida to see their purchases or prospective buyers were met by squinting salesmen who would point into the horizon and tell their victims that their property is just beyond the tree line. They would assure them roads, utility lines and subdivisions would soon be built; but they better sign up today or the deal was off the table. Thousands bought acres of swampland over the phone and sent in their checks in thinking they had made the deal of the century only to find out that it was useless investment.
I have also learned about other real estate scams run by the T-TPLF over the past few years involving numerous wide-eyed Diaspora Ethiopian “investors”. One popular scam requires substantial cash down payments in U.S. currency (not local birr). Many such victims have lost their “cash down payments” and their promised condos never materialized.
Another incredible real estate scam with Diaspora Ethiopians seeking residential property in Addis Ababa involves substantial down payments in U.S. currency to begin construction on a condo. As the construction approaches completion, the scammer would tell the Diaspora investor to come up with more money (as much as three times the contract price) or take his initial deposit back. The scammer, having used the initial down payments for construction, can now sell the nearly completed condo for a much a higer price since the housing market has gone up significantly. When the initial investors ask to take possession of the unfinished condo, the scammers refuse. When the investors sue, and even win, the scammers appeal and have the case reviewed by a judge who often rules in their favor. What a scam! What heartache Diaspora home builders have gone through in the T-TPLF real estate scam!
The urban real estate scams remind me of the so-called “Nigerian 419 scams”. (In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I represented a few clients in what proved to be a wild goose chase of the slickest and untraceable financial fraudsters to ever infest the fax machine.) The scammers would fax official-looking letters from the “Director” of the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation or from an alleged Nigerian prince, general or royalty seeking to transfer a large sum of money (often in the millions) out of Nigeria. The scam victim is promised a substantial percentage of the money to be transferred once the transfer is complete. There is only one hitch: The victim is asked to send several thousand dollars as processing fee. Unfortunately, after the scammers get the “fee”, they disappeared into thin air. Just like the condo scammers in Addis Ababa!
I am still not sure if Karuturi was a (willing) victim of a Florida-type land scam. It is unimaginable to me how any company would invest so many millions of dollars in an area known to all to be a floodplain. Didn’t Karuturi complete an environmental (including impact) study? Didn’t it talk to the local elders and people? Maybe it did and arrogantly forged ahead full speed, damn the torpedoes. If it had done so, it would have certainly found out that the land designated for the Karuturi project has always been used for grazing and hunting, and not so much for farming, precisely because of seasonal flooding problems. How could Karuturi possibly believe its little mickey mouse dykes, irrigation drains and ditches could could possibly contain the fury of the mighty Baro (Upeno) River and its tributaries? Perhaps I should not be so incredulous. Many of the die hard land owners in the Florida land scams also believed they could drain the swampland and make it usable. Is there much of a difference between swampland and a flood plain? P.T. Barnum, the great circus master, once said, “There is a sucker born every minute”.
THE PEOPLE OF GAMBELLA AND OTHER MINORITIES NEED THE FULL SUPPORT OF THEIR COMPATRIOTS DEFENDING THEIR ANCESTRAL LANDS
Until 2006, I did not know much about Gambella or the people living there. I was not even aware of the “murder, rape and torture against the Anuak population in the remote southwestern region of Gambella since December 2003” perpetrated by the Meles Zenawi and his T-TPLF and documented in the Human Rights Watch report, “Crimes Against Humanity in Gambella Region”. In fact, until the Meles Zenawi Massacre of unarmed protesters in the aftermath of the election in Ethiopia in 2005, I had only passing interest in Ethiopian politics. The Meles Massacres became a defining moment in my life causing me to plunge headlong into Ethiopian human rights advocacy.
It was in September 2006 that I first became fully aware of the crimes against humanity that were being committed in Gambella. The Meles Massacres were fresh in my mind when Obang Metho, the young Ethiopian human rights advocate and director of the Anuak Justice Council from Gambella, invited me to speak at the premier of his documentary “Betrayal of Democracy” at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Obang had produced that documentary in association with the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. Obang described the documentary as a record of “human rights abuses in Ethiopia that continue to go on today to the Anuak and throughout the country despite the government’s claim to be a democracy.”
I met Obang for the first time in the Spring of 2006 after the hearing on H.R. 4423 (Ethiopia Consolidation Act of 2005) held by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa was adjourned. I recounted that day in the subcommittee hearing room in my speech at the UCLA event.
As Obang began to testify, I observed him from the back of the gallery. He seemed to be a man in pain. “I will talk today about the Anuak. I am an Anuak. I grew up in Gambella. Please bear with me if I am emotional.”
Obang glanced towards the gallery of the large hearing room filled with many Ethiopian spectators, and continued: “As I am speaking, most of you may look at my face today and most of you would say I am not Ethiopian. To some Ethiopians, I could pass for German. I have been excluded even today. The only person who mentioned the word Anuak was Chairman Smith.”
His words hot me like a thunderbolt. I knew exactly what he was talking about, but I was not prepared to see an exhibition of our dirty laundry in public, in all places in the U.S. Congress where they keep a record of everything. I was not prepared to handle the truth Obang had declared so openly and courageously. Undaunted, Obang continued with the reckless confidence of a true patriot. “The Anuaks belong in Ethiopia. They are Ethiopian citizens. Ethiopians have to accept that reality.” I could only bow my head and look at the floor with shame. I knew he told the truth but I did not have the courage to look up into the gallery to see how many other Ethiopians were holding their heads in shame like me gazing at the floor.
Obang went on to plead the cause of the Anuak people with passion and fervor. “We are a very tiny minority. There are no more than 100,000 Anuaks. That is including me.” He said he has appeared before Congress to have his cry for justice for the Anuak people heard by the American people. He said he has come to seek the help of Congress to save his people from annihilation by the Ethiopian “government”. He said 1,600 hundred of his brothers, sisters, relatives, friends and neighbors had been murdered, massacred by Ethiopian “government” troops. Countless thousands have become refugees. He sat in that hearing room as the lonely voice of a tiny minority which now sat precariously on the precipice of ethnic annihilation.
Obang spoke of the despair of the Anuak people: “Right now, the Anuak have lost hope. And the international community has failed them.”
No one could have made a more passionate plea for justice than Obang that day in Congress. As I sat in the back of the gallery, I found myself in a state of shame.
The fact of the matter is that there are many who consider themselves Ethiopians but do not accept the Anuak or other indigenous minorities including the Omotic peoples in southern Ethiopia as Ethiopians. There is still much prejudice, and even worse, complete indifference, to minority ethnic groups in Ethiopia even today. In a way, ten years later, I still find myself in a state of shame. I am ashamed of anyone who claims Ethiopian heritage and does not fully and unreservedly accept the brotherhood and sisterhood of the people of Gambella or the Omotic people. It is a shame that the T-TPLF should feel free to sell, lease and squander the ancestral lands of the people of Gambella like a Florida-type swampland scam. It is a shame the people of Gambella should be “villagized” and massacred. It is a shame…
We should all cry, shout and scratch when the rights of the people of Gambella or the Omo River basin are flagrantly violated by the T-TPLF and its shadowy “scamvestors” (my latest contribution to the English language, scammers in investor vestments) . We should never keep quite.
Like the people of Gambella, the people who live in the Omo River Basin in Southwestern Ethiopia are today facing an environmental disaster that “could push them not only to hunger, starvation, dislocation and conflict, but potentially to extinction through habitat destruction.” A report released by International Rivers last week warned of dire consequences on the people and ecosystem in the Lower Omo Valley from the filling of the Gibe III dam reservoir. We must not close our eyes, plug our ears and purse our lips as the T-TPLF commits genocide-by-destruction-of-ecosystem in broad daylight against Omotic peoples. We must speak out and loudly!
Who is to be held accountable for the genocide and crimes against humanity committed against the people of Gambella?
There is no doubt in my mind that crimes against humanity and genocide have been committed against the people of Gambella in flagrant violation of the Rome Statute. Article 15 of the Rome Statute authorizes the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court to “initiate investigations proprio motu [in the discretion of the Prosecutor"> on the basis of information on crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court.” The crime of genocide under Article 6 (c) of the Statute requires proof of “deliberate infliction of conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction” of a population. Under Article 6 (b), genocide could also be inflicted “by causing serious bodily or mental harm to a population.” The crime of crimes against humanity under Article 7 (1) (d) requires proof of “deportation or forcible transfer of population” and commission of “other inhumane acts (Article 7 (1) (k)).
Art. 28 of the Ethiopian Constitution defines “crimes against humanity” as such crimes are “so defined by international agreements ratified by Ethiopia and by other laws of Ethiopia… [The crime of genocide"> shall not be barred by statute of limitation…” Art. 269 of the Ethiopian Penal Code provides, “Whoever, in time of war or in time of peace, with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a nation, nationality, ethnical, racial, national, colour, religious or political group, organizes, orders or engages in (a) killing, bodily harm or serious injury to the physical or mental health of members of the group, in any way whatsoever or causing them to disappear; … is punishable with rigorous imprisonment from five years to twenty five years, or, in more serious cases, with life imprisonment or death.” (Emphasis added.)
Not long ago, the bumbling marionette “prime minister of Ethiopia”, Hailemariam Desalegn said, “Our institutional process and our laws and regulations are perfect. It is not the law that hinders but the implementation of these laws.” Borrowing from the wisdom of Hailemariam, I would argue that the constitutional and legal processes for the investigation and prosecution of genocide and crimes against humanity in Ethiopia are perfect. It is not the law that hinders but the implementation of these laws. Then who, what is hindering the implementation of the laws?!?
KARUTURI IN THE FIRE OF BANKRUPTCY!
In my October 2011 commentary, “Karuturistan, Ethiopia: The Fire Next Time?”, I echoed the bitter complaints of the people of Gambella that, despite millions of dollars in investments by Karuturi (and the odious World Bank), they have seen few jobs, schools, clinics or clean water facilities for their use. I argued that at the end of the day, the people of Gambella will be the ones suffering the long-term effects of deforestation (land clearance by burning), reduction of ecological diversity, loss of local species, and environmental contamination caused by herbicides and pesticides used in large-scale commercial farming.
I made a specific recommendation to Karuturi in my commentary. Dump the current land acquisition and ownership deal and replace it with contract farming and deal directly with the farmers of Gambella. Provide training to farmers in Gambella and enhance their expertise to make them more productive. By doing so, Karuturi could supply grains and other agricultural commodities for the Ethiopian market profitably and over the long term maintain a sustainable and ecologically balanced agricultural venture. Karuturi could have made Gambella the archetype of responsible, prudent and profitable investment in Africa.
In concluding my commentary, I warned Karuturi by invoking a prophesy told in the lyrics of a song of African slaves toiling on vast cotton and tobacco plantations in the southern states of America. "God gave Noah the rainbow sign: No more water. The fire next time!”
In 2015, Karuturi has nothing to show for its “investment” except 170 million birr debt, if the T-TPLF alleged claim is credible. Where are the tens of thousands of hectares of oil palm, sugar cane, rice, edible oils and maize and cotton promised by Karuturi? Where are the 60 thousand workers? They exist only in the warped imaginations of the T-TPLF leaders.
God gave Karuturi a rainbow sign over the Baro (Upeno) River in October 2011. Karuturi did not heed the sign. Today Karuturi broils in the fires of bankruptcy.
As for the others who have troubled the Ethiopian house by “villagizing” and massacring the people , I have prophesied they shall inherit and be gone with the wind.
Bye, Bye Karuturistan! Hello! And welcome back Gambella, Ethiopia!
* Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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