Tigrayan youth land blow on TPLF
ownership of land has led to the relocation of hundreds of thousands of
Ethiopians in recent decades to make way for investments, profiting
foreign and local firms at the expense of farmers.
Some evictees are often no longer able to farm or access education,
healthcare, and other basic services in a country where maybe four out of
five people still live in rural areas. Expropriations in places such as
Gambella, in Oromia around highly contested Addis Ababa, and the far
south, have caused outrage after violent displacements, imprisonments, and
beatings. Now, its Tigrays turn to suffer unrest due to land
tensionswhich is just the latest of the regions challenges.
has been after protesters in the Raya area
stepped up demands to receive autonomy within Amhara region, adding to
Amhara elements claims on Wolkait, another district of Tigray. The
ruling Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) lost most federal cabinet
positions and control of national intelligence last year. The former spy
chief Getachew Assefa, a TPLF politburo member and now advisor to the
regional president, is a from
federal authorities after being one of a of Tigrayan officials charged with
corruption and human-rights abuses.
events combined with harassment and displacement of Tigrayans, blocking of
traffic heading through Amhara to the region, and over the designs of Isaias Afewerki and
Abiy Ahmed, had allegedly led to increased public support for the TPLF,
but there is also ascendant feisty homegrown opposition.
Tigray has felt the pain of land grabbing for a long time. The
outskirts of towns such as Mekele, Shire, Humera, and Maichew have
experienced it in the name of development that benefits only the
few. The recent cause of fury in the Enderta district around Mekele is
mostly maladministration and corruption.
Victims have been asking the regional administration to give due
compensation for snatched land. But, no one in authority is willing to
listen to their grievances. As a result, the youths from Enderta woreda
started protesting against Tigrays governmentand have suffered for
it. The movement has mostly been led by youths from public institutions.
One of these, Nebiyu Sihul Mikael, an Ethiopia Insight who wrote about Tigrayan solidarity in
the face of the current adversity, is a university lecturer at Mekele
University and land-rights defender who recently became popular. He is now
among those detained.
On social media, he created awareness on how to ask for rights, how
to protest land policy, and how to organize a grassroots movement in a
district of Mekele called Kuha. In a meeting in early April attended by
TPLF politburo member Getachew Reda, Kuha youths demanded officials
Had Getachew not been there, they may have challenged the mayor.
However, the reassurances of the politician proved successfulat least
to buy time. On April 14, the authorities arrested around 60 youths who
participated in the meeting, including Nebiyu. Getachew said only five
troublemakers from the meeting, including Nebiyu, were arrested
weeks later for an unrelated incident that he didnt specify.
Reportedly, they were confronted by authorities when engaged in a
street-cleaning campaign. Liya Kassa, a spokesperson for Tigrays
government, didnt respond to several requests for comment, and there is
no clarity on why they were arrested. Some observers said they would have
supported the rights campaigners, but the timing was inappropriate because
of the ongoing threats to the region, and national instability.
TPLF-led governments have been arresting dissenting citizens for
decades. Denial of rights and due process has routinely been used to quash
opponents. In an interview given to Voice of America, chairman of
opposition party Arena Tigray, Abraha Desta, said he and families were
denied access to prisoners. Witnesses said this was because police had
After nine days in custody, the detainees appeared before court
without legal support and their cases were adjourned for a month. In
another potential violation of due process, that hearing was said to be
secret. Police also reportedly assaulted the arrested youths including
Nebiyu when it apprehended them in Kuha, and arrests have continued in
other parts of Tigray. Their latest court appearance was yesterday when
they were denied bail and police were granted more investigation time.
a separate case, Mehari Yohanes, Mekele University political science
teacher and director of the recently founded civil society movement, ,
was also detained for a few hours around Wukro in early April.
The organization has about 1,500 members, four branch offices
across Tigray, and strong diaspora support, according to Mehari. It is
focused on holding meetings, which it films, and working at the grassroots
to promote democracy, the rule of law, justice, and constitutionalism, he
said, but has been blocked and harassed by officials and TPLF cadres.
Rather than debating them the group has been tarred by their
opponents as agents of Abiy Ahmed, the Eritrean government, or the CIA.
The different parts of local government are undemocratic. Theyre not
interested in respecting the basic human rights of people, or even
entertaining different ideas, there is no room for debate. The big picture
is the partys antidemocratic behavior and practice, he said.
tensions are also growing, with federal and regional elections set for
next year. Opposition figure Michael Tesfay was arrested then released in
Tenbien. Michael is a prominent member of Arena in who manages the
grassroots movement in Tenbien. Abraha he will
brief on the situation soon and try and initiate charges against TPLF for
the wrongful arrest of Arena members.
Land is valuable as its a source of shelter and food, but its
also a source of conflict, and serves as an effective tool for controlling
citizens in undemocratic societies. In Ethiopiastill entrenched in
Marxist-Leninist ideologythe TPLF conveniently bestowed land ownership
rights on the people; i.e., the government. The policy infringes on
property rights, worsens food security, and leads to unsustainable
development and environmental degradation.
The three problems associated with land policy in Ethiopia and
Tigray are urbanization, evictions, and investment. They are
Urbanization is neither participatory nor supportive to residents
and farmers. Urban housing encroaches on rural settlements and changes
lives, but the non-farm economic sector is not advanced enough to absorb
evacuated farmers. This marginalizes communities and forces them to live
in poverty amid diminishing natural resources.
Most of the cultivated land in Tigray was redistributed between
1989 and 1991. It occurred when micro-dams were created and farmers were
resettled; when people left their village for more than two years or died
without legal heirs and the land returned to the local government for
distribution; or when infrastructure-development caused land to be taken
Although the vast majority of possessions have not changed since
1991, farm households still expect redistribution. It is 20 years since
the last time it occurred though, which means something like half to
two-thirds of adults today have not benefited. Worse, in the hallowed name
of investment and development, the regional government is depriving
property owners of not only the land they inherited, or obtained with
hard-earned money, but also providing them way below market-value
compensation. In some areas of Enderta, the government is providing as
little as three birr per square meter, while leasing it for as high as
30,000 birr per sqm. This is a travesty.
are two types of investment policies in Tigray. The first is to attract
investors by providing free land and other inducements. Velocity, a
garment factory in Messobo area, and in Kuha are
prominent examples of such investments, which have triggered the removal
of farmers for allegedly inadequate compensation.
Tigrayan farmer; Nov 21, 2015; William Davison
The second type is leasing through auction, which has become a
major source of regional revenue. Tigray TV said recently that there are
200 investors who have taken land for investment with combined capital of
16 billion birr.
Most of the land seized is fertile. Instead of empowering farmers
to invest and boost yields, thereby assisting productivity and food
security, government policy is short-termist. Meanwhile, a large number of
Tigrayan farmers are recipients of a meager 15 kilograms of wheat a month
in food aid under a safety-net program in return for labor.
In such a climate, responsible leaders would do everything at their
disposal to modernize agriculture and enhance output. Unfortunately, that
hasnt been the case in Tigray and around its growing cities, Mekelle,
Adigrat, Shire Endaslassie, Maichew and Humera.
grabbing is causing unemployment, substance abuse, and a rise in crime in
overpopulated cities. Sadly, most Tigrayan elites, media channels and
officials are so one-eyed that they support the policy despite the agony
of farmers and urban dwellers.
Abiy Ahmed has tried to weaken TPLF, including by arresting
officials and going after Getachew Assefa. It has not been successful. But
the grassroots movement in Raya, Tenbien and Adigrat is becoming a serious
threat to the party, and may eventually threaten its power. Now is
therefore the time for the TPLF to respond as a responsible government,
rather than as an occupying force.
Main photo: Nebiyu Sihul Mikael in detention; social media
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