Bye, Bye Karuturistan, Ethiopia!

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unnamedAlemayehu  G Mariam

RIP: A post-mortem on Karuturistan, Ethiopia

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.)

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