unjust and unsustainable urban expansion has to be tackled before it’s
is one of the most valuable commodities as it’s a source for basic
necessities of life: food, clothing and shelter. For that reason, it’s
regarded highly by its human inhabitants. On the downside, land has been a
source of conflict in various communities all over the world, and serves
as an effective tool for citizen control in undemocratic societies. When
it comes to Ethiopia – entrenched in its early Marxist-Leninist ideology
yet not much different from previous military and monarchial rule – the
TPLF-led EPRDF Government conveniently bestowed land ownership rights on
the ‘people’, i.e. government. And currently nowhere is that policy
more prevalently visible than in Mekelle, the regional capital of Tigrai.
land policy infringes on property rights; is a symbol of injustice;
endangers food security and could be a culprit of unsustainable
development and environmental degradation.
the almighty name of investment and development, the Government of Tigrai
(hereafter GOT or government) is depriving property-owners of not only the
land they inherited from their forefathers or obtained it with their
hard-earned money, but also providing them with way below market value
compensation. In some areas of Mekelle and Enderta,
the GOT is providing as low as three birr per sqm (square meter), while
selling it to the highest bidder for as high as thirty thousand birr per
sqm. Sure enough, this is a travesty of justice by any civilized
standard and a stretch of imagination.
surprisingly, land appropriation has become a major source of revenue for
the government to the detriment of socioeconomic ally disadvantaged
farmers and their families.
Food security impact
of the land that is being arbitrarily seized by the GOT is fertile
farmland which has been a source of food for farmers and their families
living on subsistence farming. Yet, instead of empowering farmers to
improve their farming method; invest on river, reservoir as well as land
water irrigation projects thereby increase productivity and food security,
the government’s biased and fixated view of development appears to be
constrained to building and factory construction, which quite a few of
them have yet to be functional.
a good number of farmers living in rural Tigrai are recipients of a meager
15 kilograms of wheat monthly in food-aid from the U.S. under a safety-net
program in return for their mandatory unpaid hard labor. Furthermore, as a
landlocked country, Ethiopia has been a victim of rising world food
prices; lack of port has exposed the country to unfair tariff increase and
disputes which resulted in, for instance, a wheat shipment left to expire
at Djibouti Port as recently reported in the media.
situation is even worse for Tigrai, which has been threatened with food as
a political weapon by hostile regional neighbors who already went as far
as blocking food cereal and livestock passage through their borders. In
such a political climate, a responsible and far-thinking public leader
would do everything at their disposal to improve and modernize
agriculture; enhance farm output and food security. Unfortunately, that
hasn’t been the case in Tigrai in general and in its growing capital
city, Mekelle, and Enderta area in particular.
leaders, party-faithful bureaucrats and politicized urban planners who are
making policy decisions do not appear to consider the impact their rampant
land-grabbing policy is having and will have on communities, families,
parents and their offspring.
only is the government providing a very low amount of money in land
compensation, but also job training is not offered either to those whose
only skills has been farming, and do not know which way to turn once their
family land and livelihood is taken away from them.
this is highly contributing to unemployment, underemployment, alcoholism,
substance abuse and a rise in crime in overpopulated Mekelle and other
cities in the region. Meanwhile, instead of tackling the issue before it
escalates, the government continues to dwell on its shortsighted Band-Aid
solution to critical long-lasting multifaceted problems.
growth & inadequate municipal services
the current Mekelle population is unknown, a sharp increase in the number
of its urban residents is quite visible. Yet, Mekelle is a city with poor
infrastructure; suffers from chronic scarcity of water; has very poor
waste management and sewage system; narrow roads and parking spaces, which
make vehicle and pedestrian movement a challenge.
allowed to continue, this trend would put the city and its residents in a
very precarious position.
currently is a whole lot of information on the environmental impact of
urbanization. Some countries have imposed environmental and pollution
regulations; others have moved their capitals to another city to mitigate
pollution impact on cities with largest populations. So, it’s
inexcusable to think of urban expansion that doesn’t take the adverse
environmental impacts into consideration. But that’s what’s exactly
happening to Mekelle. Factories already built and planned to be built are
concentrated in the regional capital. Cement, textile, metal, plastic,
glass, soft drink, liquor, industrial park, etc. are situated in Mekelle
and its environs.
though beer is an essential commodity or as if there is shortage of beer
variety in the country, there is a plan to build another beer factory (in
addition to Raya Beer, located in Raya, and Tigrai) in Quiha (which, at 10
kms. distance, is now part of Mekelle). What’s worse, the prospective
beer factory is provided land by a river that flows to the ILala River in
Mekelle. Add to that the motor vehicle emission from industrial activities
which are responsible for releasing large amounts of pollutants that can
be harmful to the environment and human health, the regional capital is
destined to be unlivable city due to environmental degradation and adverse
health problems including potentially cancer.
that note, while the value of factories in creating jobs; producing goods
that help reduce imports and saving hard currency; producing export
materials thereby earning hard currency is undeniable, it’s not being
done in a way that minimizes adverse environmental impacts.
sense of entitlement to land
is a twisted sense of entitlement witnessed in urbanites’ – including
social media participants – not just to housing, but also to land
ownership to build their houses on. It doesn’t matter to them where the
land has to come from; who has to be pushed or be made homeless and or
landless for them to be accommodated, city dwellers want their home, and
they want it now! That’s the reason why – when the GOT reportedly
announced the end of the 70 sqm land distribution policy recently – the
social media erupted with dismay and uproar.
the contrary, farmers have no access to that kind of medium to voice their
grievances or someone to speak and stand up for them, thus the government
caved in to continue with its policy of “robbing Paul to pay Peter” by
announcing another round of 70 sqm of land bonanza for thousands more
descendants of farmers are deprived of their livelihood; are financially
unable to even obtain a 70 sq. piece of land at a farmland that used to
belong to their parents, which ended up being seized to make way for
urbanites – who some of them have resided in the city for as low as a
couple of years and others who may have a house in another part of the
region – discontent and resentment against the government and society at
large is to be expected. And this is a recipe for potential political and
source of corruption
corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” goes the old English
saying. And the corruption gets worse when that power has control over
land. Land actually tends to corrupt not only those in a position of power
or in a decision making capacity – politicians, bureaucrats,
professionals involved such as engineers and architects – but also
ordinary people. To that end, paying bribes; a dishonest approach to
owning land by misrepresenting one’s status, falsifying documents,
making shady land deals between new landowners who turned out to be
sellers and third party illegal buyers have become common in the current
lucrative land market.
9. Recommendations for mitigating the adverse impacts of
best solution is for the government to abandon its quasi-communist land
policy; return land to its rightful owner, and let landowners manage their
land in a way they see fit.
an argument was initially dismissed by EPRDF leaders with their publicly
confessed concern that it would compel farmers to sell their land, and
eventually make them become landless and poor. That kind of argument no
longer has a leg to stand on as the government has proven itself to be
like the proverbial sailor who spends his money recklessly. In all
fairness to the sailor, at least he is known for spending money he saved
while living and working at sea for a long period of time, and where he
has no access to spend his money. The GOT, on the other hand, is
dispensing land that doesn’t belong to it by inconsiderately and
unjustifiably making farmers landless and poor.
would be appropriate to concede here that even in capitalist democracies
governments have the rights to utilize land for development by providing
market value compensation to landowners. So, development is not going to
be hindered by privatizing land. Rather, what will come to an end is
government full control of land and unfair practices that have
undeservedly benefited others at the expense of poor farmers.
said, let’s be practical to acknowledge that the EPRDF Government or
what’s left of it is not going to give up on its land policy, which has
become a cash cow, anytime soon. So, in the meantime:
obsession with urban expansion has to be thoroughly examined, and
agriculture focused rural development has to be given serious thought and
land is truly required for factory and housing purposes, every effort has
to be made to do it in a
barren land as supposed to a fertile farmland.
for a very compelling reason, a farmland has to be seized, market value
compensation has to be provided.
and decision makers have to come to the realization that there simply is
no enough land to give away to people piece by piece. So, there is a need
to shift gears to apartment and condominium housing projects.
governmental and private learning institutions have to be spread all over
the region to reduce the push and pull factor (unemployment in several
areas of the region and employment opportunities in the regional capital
a well-known fact that huge land has been given in several Mekelle area
locations to businesses that submitted proposals for various projects over
the years, yet quite a few properties are sitting idly surrounded by
fence. Others have utilized the land for other purposes than what was
proposed and approved for – a warehouse as supposed to a given factory,
that case, a thorough land audit has to be conducted and the ones found to
be in breach of agreement have to be seized. As many of such lands are in
the middle of or not far from the city, they could be utilized to meet the
housing needs (as further factories are not advisable as discussed in the
Failing that, it’s morally and
ethically irresponsible and practically unsustainable to go after
farmlands while previously seized land is sitting idly as a goldmine for
the ‘investor’ to sell in the future, and make a killing by killing
an environmental impact assessment is said to be carried out before
projects are approved, it evidently has not been effective. A new approach
– with a new training to environmental practitioners with professional
accountability for suggestions or decisions they make – has to be
introduced. Investment bureaus have to be led by career politicians,
bureaucrats and professionals with rich knowledge on resource management,
social and environmental impacts.
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