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[PANEL] 0305 LANDS OF THE FUTURE. TIME FOR INNOVATION. CAN ETHIOPIA STILL SET A GLOBAL EXAMPLE FOR EQUITABLE DEVELOPMENT?
Echi Christina GABBERT, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Goettingen, Germany and Max Planck Institute, Halle / Saale, Germany
FANA Gebresenbet, Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS), Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
Edward (Jed) STEVENSON, University College London, UK
NIGATU Bekele Mengesha; Shauna LaTOSKY; OLISARALI Olibui; Günther SCHLEE; ASEBE Regassa Debelo;
TAKELE Merid; Sabine TROEGER; WONDWOSEN Seide; GETACHEW Senishaw; Edward G. J. STEVENSON;
Immo EULENBERGER; ADDISWORK Tilahun Teklemariam; MOHAMED Salih Abdelrahim; Jonah WEDEKIND;
Echi Christina GABBERT; FANA Gebresenbet
Ethiopia’s culturally diverse regions and populations provide unique resources of political, philosophical and socioecological knowledge, with century-tested agricultural and agro-pastoral production techniques still active. et the implementation of developmental land use schemes in Ethiopia in the last decade, understood to create benefit for all, has been overshadowed by approaches that often disregard local knowledge and cultural particularities without being suitable to decrease socio-economic inequality and ecological hardship.
But how can we meet the needs of all within the needs of the country and the planet? Can Ethiopia still set a much needed, much different and innovative example that seriously integrates local knowledge and cultural particularity in a globalizing world? What good could come out from recent changes in land lease policies, e.g. by giving more agency to the respective regions? Are international norms and principles, enshrined in the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems and Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure practicable? Can local knowledge inform national and global planning for food security, as realized e.g. in agroecology?
To address these questions, we are interested in bold and original contributions that discuss innovative and peaceful solutions on the local, national and global scope. We will look at national and international power relations while reflecting on cultural particularities and possibilities for mutual knowledge exchange and respectful communication in land use and development politics in Ethiopia. We want to share lessons drawn from particular cases in Ethiopia to a global audience and examine how ideas and principles at the global level are accepted and implemented at national and local levels. Topics of interest are: land use, resource management, local knowledge and livelihoods, centre-periphery relations, agro-pastoralism, human-nature relations, biodiversity, global markets, investment, climate change, drylands, conflict and peace. We especially welcome examples of innovative, integrative, cooperative and equitable development without asking for blue print solutions. This panel will also bring together researchers from two interdisciplinary networks - the Lands of the Future Initiative and the Omo-Turkana Research Network. Empirical and theoretical works from different academic backgrounds, including anthropology, political science, economics and development studies are welcome.
COMMUNAL LAND RIGHTS IN ETHIOPIA: A LIVELIHOOD PERSPECTIVE BASED ON THE CASE OF GAMO-GOFA ZONE [Abstract ID: 0305-21]
This paper investigates the drivers behind the dwindling of communal lands and the legal status of communal lands in Ethiopia, in light of the global commitments Ethiopia has pledged to observe. Until the recent past, the concept of the communal land tenure system was known mainly in academic discourses, not beyond, mainly due to the abundance of land compared to the lower population size until the first half of the 20th century. Since then, due to demographic expansion, especially in third world countries with their strong dependence on land, it has become imperative to craft policies and legislative measures aimed at recognizing and safeguarding land rights both nationally and internationally. In this regard, various scholars came up with their own theories, supported by empirical studies. Globally, even if enacting hard laws beyond national frontiers was unthinkable, soft laws such as guidelines and declarations were set in place for the recognition and protection of communal land tenure. On top of this, progressive steps in some nations showed a tendency to safeguard communal land tenure for the sake of the rural poor. In Ethiopia, to begin with the recent past, all the three regimes have never duly recognized communal tenure as a distinct type. The nation is comprised of an overwhelming proportion of agrarian communities, who in addition to their individual farmlands for crop production, are highly dependent on communal land and resources such as timber, firewood, traditional medicine, fodder and thatching grass; and most essentially, a place for ritual ceremonies. Nationwide, communal lands on which the rural mass is living on are admitted to be on the brink of disappearance. Empirical data from the study areas also show similar results. Even though the dwindling may be ascribed to a number of other factors, this study argues that denial of legislative recognition categorically adds fuel to an unfettered extinction. The writer urges government both at federal and regional level to accord sufficient legislative recognition of communal land tenure and protection of legitimate tenure rights of the rural poor.
CULTIVATING THE AGRO-PASTORALIST DIET IN SOUTH OMO NOW AND IN THE FUTURE [Abstract ID: 0305-09]
Studies of the sweeping changes affecting the lives of agro-pastoralists and pastoralists in East Africa focus overwhelmingly on ‘improving’ or ‘diversifying’ livelihood strategies and their outcomes. Within the context of Southern Ethiopia, livelihood diversification is equated overwhelmingly with improving agronomic practices through irrigation schemes. Both large-scale and small-scale irrigation schemes are intended to boost the national economy and meet local demands for food, scarce water supplies and, in the case of agro-pastoralists, to improve their unpredictable access to both. The Ethiopian government’s ambitious plan to increase the productivity and predictability of the agro-pastoralist diet through modern cultivation techniques has great potential for setting a global example, especially if long-term studies are considered as part of its plan. Longitudinal studies from neighbouring Kenya, for instance, already provide ample evidence of the importance of supplementing, rather than radically altering or replacing the agro-pastoralist diet through irrigation cultivation (e.g., McCabe 2003; Homewood et al. 2005; Fratkin and Roth 2005). This paper proposes a long-term study that adopts qualitative and quantitative methods similar to those used by Fratkin and Roth, McCabe, Homewood, Galaty and others, whose findings offer invaluable insights for any study of livelihood diversification in South Omo. The systematic and timely study proposed here would compare the pastoralist diet of the Mun in four settlement areas in Sala-Mago woreda, before and after their transition to irrigation cultivation. For the purpose of this paper, we begin with a baseline study of the nutritional and social value of the Mun diet. We then discuss the overall proposed project, study area, methods and timeline. While many Mun are interested in the benefits of irrigation strategies as a way to improve their access to food, while maintaining their rich diets obtained through livestock herding, foraging wild foods and food exchange systems, the Makki community is especially optimistic about the benefits of irrigation. Here elders have played an important role in negotiating and consenting to the government-funded irrigation project in their area. We begin in Makki, as we are interested in what drives their optimism for change and how they envision a healthy - and socially balanced - diet now and in the future.
FORMS OF COMMUNICATION AND NON-COMMUNICATION IN LAND USE MANAGEMENT [Abstract ID: 0305-14]
Taking up recent work at the department ‘Integration and Conflict’ at the Max Planck Institute for Social anthropology, the paper wants to examine information flow between government agents at various levels and the people affected by agricultural policies. These policies include the re-dedication of the land which so far local communities have used and managed, to other purposes. Examples are taken from Beni Shangul – Gumuz, Gambella and the Lower Omo region. Mechanisms of immunization will be identified, which exclude whole domains of local knowledge and the successful articulation of interests of local citizens and other segments of the general public from that part of the public sphere which is controlled by the state. Occasional comparisons with Sudan will show that this is not just an Ethiopian problem but a regional if not a continental one.
FROM CATTLE HERDING TO CHARCOAL BURNING: LARGE-SCALE AGRIBUSINESS AND LIVELIHOOD CHANGES IN ETHIOPIA’S PASTORALIST FRONTIERS [Abstract ID: 0305-04]
Since the 1960s, successive Ethiopian regimes have embarked on a broad policy of converting the pastoralist frontiers to mechanized agriculture by adopting high-modernist development discourses and practices. In the process, the three regimes (imperial, military and Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front – EPRDF) transferred lands in pastoralist and agro-pastoralist areas of the country to private and state-affiliated companies, mostly by resettling the local communities. Likewise, in 2010, over 14,000 ha of land in Abaya Valley, West Guji zone, was given to a certain private investor for the purpose of cultivating sugarcane and other commercial crops. For the implementation of the project, the federal government started a medium-level dam construction on Gidabo River in 2010, which is not yet finished, and resettled over 1000 households. This paper departs from studies on land grabbing, which often see the phenomenon from above, by investigating the agency of local communities in confronting and appropriating the state’s discourses while at times devising their own strategies for livelihoods and access to resources. It probes into livelihood changes resulting from the large-scale agribusiness project, which has brought a radical shift from cattle herding to charcoal burning. It also critically analyzes the capabilities and knowledge of the local communities in using resources at their disposal (e.g. networks, infrastructure, market and social capital) to connect themselves and their spaces to broader networks (e.g. the charcoal market). The data for this paper were collected through an ethnographic approach at different intervals over the last four years. The paper argues that large-scale agribusiness projects in Ethiopia’s pastoralist frontiers are mechanisms for emptying land for private and state-affiliated companies. On the other hand, local communities devise their own strategies for turning the transformations to their advantage, hence creating a nexus between local and extra-local spaces.
GENDER ASPECTS OF LAND ENTITLEMENT IN THE BLUE NILE WATERSHED, NORTHWESTERN ETHIOPIA [Abstract ID: 0305-06]
In rural Ethiopia land is often the only livelihood asset for rural households. Access to and control over the land is thus a significant way to succeed in households’ livelihoods. As a result, it has always attracted the attention of intellectuals, politicians and practitioners. It is almost two decades since the Ethiopian government started implementing rural land entitlement that is supposed to be “modern” and “better” as compared with previous approaches. Particularly, the government confidently states that rural households can ensure their livelihoods due to the current land entitlement policy. In this regard, there are two major views. On the one hand, some practitioners hold the view that the recent land entitlement paved ways for land owners to change the way they make use of their land. They also argue that the recent proclamation on land entitlement ensured women’s equality with men in controlling land and also helped them improve their livelihoods. On the other hand, another group of scholars formulated a great deal of criticism on the current land registration and entitlement policy. This group of scholars argue that, despite government’s intervention in rural land practices, peoples’ livelihoods were never improved. On both arguments there is no clear explanation about the impacts of the recent land entitlement policy on men and women in controlling land and other environmental resources. There is also a lack of understanding on whether or not the recent entitlement policy improved the livelihood of poor and female-headed households. By taking East Gojjam Zone, which is located in the Blue Nile Watershed, Amhara Regional State, as a case,the aim of this paper is to analyze policy interventions related to gender aspects of land entitlement, which is being implemented since a few years ago. It focuses on the gender dimension of emerging aspects of land entitlement: land measurement, the registration and certification process that has been taking place in the past few years. It also deals with perceptions of male- and female-headed households towards the process. To address these objectives, a combination of different methods such as in-depth and key informant interviews, focus group discussions, case studies and household surveys were used. Both quantitative and qualitative data were used for analysis. Findings of the study show that due to the new land policy, new land use patterns have emerged. After having received their land certificate, most female household heads prefer to rent their land in different forms.
'GOVERNANCE' - A PASTORALIST INTERPRETATION FROM THE LOWER OMO [Abstract ID: 0305-17]
Supplementing the general perspective of the panel on unique resources of indigenous and century old political, philosophical and socio-ecological knowledge with local reference to Lower Omo environments the presentation focuses on the overarching question of power of political representation and processes of transforming hegemonic structures. The paper reflects on modes and chances of Natural Resource Management (NRM) in terms of decentralized executive powers, responsibility and authority in decision taking in the hands of communities and local actors, in this case with special emphasis on pastoralist environments in the Lower Omo. In reference to empirical data from the Nyangatom community (data assessment: 2015, see Troeger 2016, 2018 in print) the claim for ‘governance for structural transformation’, as just recently emphasized on international grounds in Addis Ababa - Dec. 4-6 2017 (AEC) -, will be questioned. The argument concentrates on the articulation of social constructions in the recently advocated field of political decentralization and the mainstreaming of participatory approaches, capturing the ‘development narrative’ in Ethiopia in the shape of ‘committees’ according to the Northern ideal of democracy. It reflects on the ambiguous effects of these ideals in their meaning for processes of environmental communication in ethnic communities in the Lower Omo. With reference to empirical evidence in the field of enclosing rangeland in pastoralist environments it is argued that processes of communication do not manifest in the open and freed from structural power, dominance and, on the other hand, exclusion and voicelessness. Building on statements of Jaques Rancière (1999) and Chantal Mouffe (2013) as well as on the idea of ‘dispositiv’ as interpreted by Foucault (1977), the argument draws towards the momentum of disagreement and a rejection of the ideal of consensus finding as captured in the societal institution of a ‘committee’. Referring to the voice of the people the argument relinquishes the claim that the process of democratization should consist in the global implementation of the Northern liberal democratic model. Democracy in a multipolar world can take a variety of forms, according to the different modes of inscription of the democratic ideal in multiplural contexts.
LAND DEALS IN ETHIOPIA: THE NUER PASTORALISTS IN GAMBELLA REGIONAL [Abstract ID: 0305-19]
Pastoralist way of life is one of the oldest socio-economic systems in Ethiopia. Pastoralists constitute about twenty-nine different ethnic groups and about 12% of the total population. In Gambella The Nuer pastoralist way of life has been troubled in many ways. The Nuer are a transhumance community who have always been the most marginalized groups even from among other pastoralist communities in the country. In recent years, the Gambella region has been experiencing rapid processes of land leasing. This has been affecting the political economy of the region and the country. The Ethiopian government made it clear that large-scale land investment is an important part of the country’s strategy for steady development. To achieve this the government has leased large tracts of land to domestic and international investors in different parts of the country, particularly the Lare woreda (district). The government also had planned to resettle 1.5 million people in the four pastoralist regions of the country: Gambella, Afar, Somali, and Benishangul-Gumuz. The Gambella Regional State Villagization Programme Implementation Manual (2010), from 2010/11 to 2013/2014, with the objective of resettling the sparsely populated region settled in riversides that are engaged in shifting cultivation and exposed to natural disaster, like flood, by bringing them to safer and better settlement sites. Understanding the consequences of these state led Programmes requires rigorous sustained research and discussion, this paper is an attempt towards contributing to this debate by focusing on two major themes: large-scale agriculture and the villagization Programmes. It examines the dynamics of the political economy of the region and the process of incorporation of the Gambella region, particularly that of the Nuer people. Specifically, it explores how processes of commercial farming investments and the villagization programme impact Nuer pastoralists. Although a growing number of works address development in pastoral areas of Ethiopia (Little et.al., 2010; Getachew, et. al, 2003, Yohannes, et.al., 2011; Aklilu, 2009), there is still relatively little research done on the Nuer. The major research questions of the study are the following: How do changes in the political context and economic situation of the region affect the Nuer pastoralist? How has large-scale agricultural investment affected the Nuer? How has the villagization programme affected the Nuer? How have the Nuer been affected by the livelihood changes and what innovative strategy have they been employing to cope with these changes? Is there a future for Nuer pastoralist in the region? If so, what would it look like?
LAND TENURE, LAND USE, AND LIVELIHOODS IN MIDLAND GEDEO, SOUTHERN ETHIOPIA [Abstract ID: 0305-01]
This study was conducted among the Gedeo of southern Ethiopia, examining a complex nexus of demographic pressure, land scarcity, land access/tenure, land use and livelihood strategies. The study is based on twelve months of fieldwork (February 20, 2012 to March 1, 2013). Mixed methods were employed with emphasis on qualitative methods viz. participant observation, interviews, and focus group discussions (FGDs). The Gedeo are well known for extremely high population density, which stoof at about 818 people per square kilometer in 2012, and a consequently severe scarcity of farmland. Average household land holding was less than 0.5 hectares in 2012, which is under half the national average. This study revealed that the Gedeo managed to cope with population pressure and land scarcity through efficient land-use strategy, which they have developed into an intricate agro-forestry system that covered 95% of total land in the Gedeo Zone in 2012. The agro-forestry livelihood strategy that the Gedeo have developed over time includes components such as tree crops (enset, coffee, and timber), livestock and apiculture. Each component of the system contributes to and benefits from the others, thereby sustaining Gedeo agro-forestry and livelihoods. This complex agro-forestry system thus appears to be not only an adaptation to land scarcity but also a mechanism of ecological sustainability. It is a reflection of the Gedeo’s indigenous knowledge of land management. Agro-forestry, in conjunction with perennial crops as its major components, also plays the role of enhancing tenure stability and security. In these circumstances, despite evolving land tenure policies, Gedeo access to land is still more dictated by the land use system and local institutions (e.g. descent and kinship). The study concludes that agro-forestry seems to be central to the integration of land tenure/access, land use and livelihood strategies among the Gedeo, and that the synergy of these elements is the key to supporting high population density without environmental degradation.
PLANTATION DEVELOPMENT IN THE OMO-TURKANA BASIN: LESSONS FROM THE COLORADO AND THE ARAL SEA [Abstract ID: 0305-11]
Since the early 20th century ‘desert reclamation’ has been synonymous with large scale waterworks and irrigation. These techniques have made it possible to produce abundant crops in arid or semi-arid environments. The costs have often been externalized, with increased environmental productivity in the new croplands counterbalanced by increased aridity elsewhere. In this paper I consider whose interests are served by such projects, and what kinds of social constructions of the natural and human environment make them possible. I focus on the Omo-Turkana basin, a watershed spanning the Ethiopian and Kenyan borders, where large dams and irrigation projects are currently being established with the goal of producing cash crops and hydro-electricity. In the narratives of the projects’ proponents, the schemes are represented as part of a tradition of development stretching back to the American West. In the discourse of critics, the Aral Sea of Central Asia is frequently invoked. Considering Turkana in relation to these cases sheds light on the political and ecological gambits involved in desert reclamation, and helps us to understand the costs and benefits of such projects.
TAPPING THE POTENTIAL OF CROSS-BOUNDARY SYNERGY IN SOUTH-WESTERN ETHIOPIA [Abstract ID: 0305-08]
There has been mounting criticism and concern regarding the approach to development taken in South-western Ethiopia. This paper seeks to take a different tack by presenting a positive vision of what development in the agro-pastoralist regions of South Omo and adjoining parts of Bench-Maji, South Sudan and Kenya could look like. Building on a decade of study and fieldwork in and on the region, using both qualitative and quantitative methods, and multiple recent projects across the research-practice divide, it looks at the vast potential of cross-border cooperation and coordinated efforts across sectors (academia and policy making, governments, donors, NGOs and local communities) for responsible and equitable development. It focuses specifically on under-explored uses of the irrigation potential entailed in the construction of the Gibe III dam, aquifer development in the neighbouring plains and the integration of cross-border resource sharing and peace building. It sets out how the expertise accumulated by the region’s communities, academic knowledge and the capacities of modern economies and forms of organisation can be used in synergy. The paper refers specifically to the conditions and opportunities of the wider South Omo-Turkana interface by outlining the ways in which people and organisations with diverging socio-cultural and economic backgrounds can best learn from one another; how old and new forms of communication can best contribute to this; how sustainable resource management can be guaranteed and improved cooperatively across boundaries; how the productivity and resilience of socio-ecological systems can be increased simultaneously and equitably; which concrete measures, efforts and technologies can be employed to that end; which specific stakeholders could play which part; how social disintegration and ecological degradation that often accompany large-scale interventions can be avoided while strengthening local livelihoods and, at the same time, increasing extractable revenue that can be used to support Ethiopia’s ambitious modernisation efforts. It argues that Ethiopia has a unique chance to use its ecological, cultural and economic diversity to generate innovative examples of efficient and responsible development by integrating the complementary capacities and agency of the different actors already involved (or ready and willing to contribute) productively and smartly.
THE RUSH TO THE PERIPHERIES: LAND TENURE ISSUES AND LIVELIHOOD CHALLENGES OF PERI-URBAN FARMERS [Abstract ID: 0305-07]
According to the UN-Habitat report, ever-increasing population coupled with intensified rural-urban migration will result in 50% of Africa’s population inhabiting urban centers by 2030. Existing trends show that as urban centers become home to large segments of the population, their carrying capacity is exceeded, creating massive demand for urban land for housing and other urban infrastructural development. This increased demand for urban land tends to be met primarily by converting periurban agricultural land on the outskirts of existing centers. As a result, these periurban areas become tenure hot-spots. Ethiopia is no exception. According to the CSA 2008 report, Ethiopia’s urban population is projected to grow annually by 4.3% and is increasing by half a million every year. According to this preliminary population projection, by 2040 the populations of the major cities like Hawassa, Mekele, Adama and Bahir Dar are estimated to grow respectively by a factor of 6, 5 and 4. The intensity and scale of urban population growth places a great deal of pressure on the periurban zones, which are expected to pick up the slack. The paper investigates the distinct property rights issues, tenure related livelihood challenges and coping strategies of local periurban farmers in Addis Ababa and Hawassa. The study is based on a qualitative case study methodology, consisting of participatory observation and deep field immersion, interviews, focus group discussions and document analysis techniques. The study concludes that the expansion of urban development into periurban agricultural land and the resulting changes to the tenure system have caused intense tenure insecurity and livelihood challenges to the local farmers. The analysis suggests that the main strategies farmers employ to cope with the changing situation conflict with the formal laws of the country, which in most cases damages the farmers and raises issues of legal pluralism.
WHEN INVESTMENTS IN FARMLAND FAIL TO PRODUCE: RENT-SEEKING DISCOURSES AND LAND-USE QUESTIONS IN ETHIOPIA [Abstract ID: 0305-10]
A decade after the 2007/08 surge in agricultural land deals in Ethiopia, it is time to shift the empirical focus from ascertaining the size, scale and scope of investment projects to investigating the various reasons for why a significant number of them have since stalled. Numerous investors failed to use their leased land productively, had their investment licenses cancelled and their land confiscated, or were socially contested. A closer look at stalled projects allows us to consider to what extent agricultural investments can be organized to contribute to a responsible and equitable rural development process in Ethiopia. Indeed, there are notable economic sectors in Ethiopia where agricultural investments have stimulated national industrialization and international export in accordance with developmentalism―e.g. the flower-cut agro-industry―while the development of other sectors is stunted―e.g. the sugar-cane agro-industry―and yet others have failed or were abandoned completely―e.g. bio-diesel crop production and processing. While the general task should be to learn from all aforementioned sectors (successful or unsuccessful), this paper draws on insights from one of latter sectors, thus tracing the relatively short-lived boom and bust of biodiesel investments (2007 to 2015). The case of failed biodiesel investments allows us not only to analyse what happens to land and labour 'when investments in farmland fail to produce' in accordance with land lease agreements or the national developmental strategy. It also reveals the numerous rent-seeking behaviours (i.e. "value-grabbing" strategies) by which national and foreign investors have sought to reap profits from their land lease without agricultural production (i.e. 'profiting without producing'). Scholars have already traced in detail the initial institutional and policy changes which enabled and facilitated large-scale investments in land in Ethiopia. This paper seeks to shed light on the relatively recent institutional and policy changes (re- and de-centralizing land administration, limiting land lease sizes, cancelling unproductive investments, etc.) and argues that these are part-and-parcel of an ongoing political-economic attempt to overcome the phenomenon of value-grabbing; indicating moreover the inherent difficulties of ensuring that large-scale agricultural investments contribute to responsible and equitable rural development in Ethiopia.
WHO MAKES THE WORLD? RE-ASSESSING LAND USE EXPERTISE IN ETHIOPIA [Abstract ID: 0305-13]
In light of the rapid pace induced by fast track development plans in Ethiopia, it is appropriate to take a step back and reflect on the history, ecology and future of the people and land that are in transition. The paper will present approaches for analysis of the current land use practices and discuss alternatives in case studies. When analysing investments, the global neighbourhood approach tries to understand the different and often contradictory views and missions of the “global neighbours” - local communities, policy makers, investors, NGOs, human rights organizations, scientists etc. - involved and interested in the use of a particular territory, and wants to bring actors together in order to find points of convergence and constructive solutions. This approach, however also entails dangers because the world is made and managed by a few who are not necessarily interested in other points of view or the dynamics between them. Under such circumstances positive features of neighbourhood such as interest in one’s neighbour, mutual respect and communication become irrelevant. One obvious reason is that people who decide or talk about land use are far away from those who know every tree, every plant and the seasonal variations of every water point in detail. This asymmetry of interest and power is a decisive limiting factor and constant challenge in multiparty settings such as land use and environmental politics. The paper will scrutinize divergent perspectives on land use under the light of recent developments in Ethiopia and elsewhere to listen to the emerging tenor of global neighbours, their grounds, their relations, their fissures, their possibilities and abysses. When reassessing the expertise and potential of people who make the future of the land, in very different ways, the goal is to bring peaceful ideas into life that matter.
‘ANACHRONISTIC LAND POLICIES’ OR ‘DEVELOPMENTAL AMNESIA’: LAND GOVERNANCE IN CONTEMPORARY ETHIOPIA [Abstract ID: 0305-15]
Attempts by successive Ethiopian governments to master the lowland frontier and interfere significantly in local social, economic and political life have been futile. Among other things, this was predicated by the inability of available land control strategies and domestic/global approaches to construct land in the lowlands as an investible resource. In past decades, the EPRDF has been vocal in criticising these past attempts. While claiming to do things differently, the EPRDF has aggressively worked to commodify this land, most successfully in Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella and South Omo. Over the past decade, domestic political and economic developments, particularly the need to marshal resources for the demands of the developmental state project, and the global land rush, created options that made investment in the lowlands feasible in the initial planning stages. Based on extensive fieldwork in Gambella and South Omo over the past five years, this paper argues that the commodification of land and associated sedenterisation schemes have led to the deployment of a form of political economy comparable to what imperial rulers were doing to the highland periphery over a century ago. In effect, the EPRDF criticises the imperial system for its land practices and cultural hegemony/denigration, while essentially doing the same thing with different systems of economic organization, discourse, political order (development) and technologies. In fact local communities experience the alienation of huge amounts of land, an influx of settlers, and an increasingly coercive state apparatus. The political economy also favours the incoming labour force and settlers, despite constitutional norms of self-determination and prioritisation of ethnicity. The villagisation scheme serves this general process, primarily by enabling land alienation by making the exclusion more legitimate and the costs bearable through a modicum of service provision.