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Green Justice or Ethnic Injustice?

Alemayehu G Mariam

gren4Blaming the Victim

Last week, dictator Meles Zenawi hectored his rubberstamp parliament in Ethiopia about the forced expulsion (or as some have described it “ethnic cleansing”) of Amharas from southern Ethiopia and zapped his critics for their irresponsibility in reporting and publicizing it. Zenawi denied any expulsion had taken place, but explained that some squatters (he described them as “sefaris from North Gojam”) had  to be removed from their homesteads in the south purely out of environmental conservation concerns for the area’s forestlands. In a broadside against organizations “that promote the view that our collective identity is Ethiopianity,” Zenawi harangued:

… By coincidence of history, over the past ten years numerous people — some 30,000 sefaris (squatters) from North Gojam – have settled in Benji Maji (BM) zone [in Southern Ethiopia]. In Gura Ferda, there are some 24,000 sefaris. Because the area is forested, not too many people live there. For all intents and purposes, Gura Ferda is little North Gojam complete with squatters’ local administration. That is not a problem: There is land to farm [in BM zone], and there are people who want to farm it. Everybody wins, no one loses. There is only one problem: The squatters did it in a disorganized way. The squatters settled individually and haphazardly and in an environmentally destructive way. The settlement was not based on a sound environmental impact study on the destruction of the forest. The pristine forest in the area must be protected. The squatters want land that can be easily developed and cultivated. They don’t care if it is a forest or not. They cut the forest and used the wood to make charcoal to aid in their settlement. As a result massive environmental destruction has occurred…. Settlers cannot move into the area and destroy the forest for settlement. It is illegal and must stop. Those who try to distort this fact are irresponsible. It is necessary to filter the truth. The rights of all Ethiopians must be protected on equal footing. Those who allege persecution and displacement of Amharas are engaged in irresponsible agitation which is not useful to anyone…

Stated more simply, the “sefaris of North Gojam” are environmental criminals who deserved forcible expulsion; and they should thank they lucky stars they are not prosecuted criminally.

Africa’s C.E.O.  

When it comes to defending the African environment, no person has more expertise or passion than Zenawi who, after all, is the anointed C.E.O. (Chief Environmental Officer) of Africa. In 2009, Zenawi headed a delegation of African negotiators to the Copenhagen Summit (2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen) to morally and financially hold accountable the wayward West for its environmental destruction, climate change, global warming and all the rest. In the run up to the Summit, Zenawi threatened to bring down the Summit if the West did not do right by Africa and cough up $40bs:

We will use our numbers to de-legitimise any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position… If needs be we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent… Africa’s interest and position will not be muffled as has usually been the case… Africa will field a single negotiating team empowered to negotiate on behalf of all member states of the African Union…. The key thing for me is that Africa be compensated for the damage caused by global warming. Many institutions have tried to quantify that and they have come up with different figures. The sort of median figure would be in the range of 40 billion USD a year.

A day into the Summit, Zenawi was ready to cut a deal with “Africa’s rapists” for a cool $10bs. He told his African brethren cold cash is better than talking trash:

I know my proposal today will disappoint those Africans who from the point of view of justice have asked for full compensation for the damage done to our development prospects. My proposal dramatically scales back our expectation with regards to the level of funding in return for more reliable funding and a seat at the table in the management of such funds.

In October 2011, in a speech before the African Economic Conference, Zenawi lectured:

Much of our land has been cleared of tree cover resulting in massive land degradation, soil erosion and vulnerability to both flooding and drought. As a result of the global warming that has already happened we have become more exposed to strange combinations of drought and flooding.  The resource base of our agriculture is very seriously threatened.

In other words, we need to go back to the Western rapists and squeeze some more cash out them.

Zenawi’s Stewardship of the Environment in Ethiopia

Zenawi is manifestly the go-to expert on the impact of climate change and global warming on Africa. But does he have a clue about the environmental destruction, and particularly, the deforestation of Ethiopia? By 2020,  Ethiopia is expected to lose all of its forest resources according to the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute (the foremost agricultural research institute in the country):

Ethiopia’s forest coverage by the turn of the last century was 40%. By 1987, under the military government, it went down to 5.5%. In 2003, it dropped down to 0.2%. The Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute says Ethiopia loses up to 200,000 hectares of forest every year. Between 1990 and 2005, Ethiopia lost 14.0% of its forest cover (2,114,000 hectares) and 3.6% of its forest and woodland habitat. If the trend continues, it is expected that Ethiopia could lose all of its forest resources in 11 years, by the year 2020.

According to a 2004 study, Ethiopia has some 60 million hectares of land covered by woody vegetation of which nearly 7 percent is forestland. Some 63 percent of the forestland is located in Oromiya, followed by   Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples region [SNNP] (19%) and Gambella (9%). It is remarkable that Zenawi decided to draw the line on deforestation in Benji Maji/Gura Ferda in 2012 given the worsening nature of the problem in that region as a result of uncontrolled foreign commercial export agriculture. It is equally remarkable that he chose ethnic removal as a tool of reforestation and land reclamation.

But is Zenawi’s claim of environmental concern and forest protection for the expulsion of the “North Gojam sefaris” supported by evidence? Or is he using an environmental subterfuge to evade controversy and withering criticism?  Over the past five years, Zenawi has “leased” (sold) some of the most fertile land (much of it forestland) in the country to the Saudis, the Shiekdoms, the Indians, the Chinese and Koreans (SSICKs) and anyone else sporting a crisp dollar bill. According to the respected Oakland Institute [OI], beginning in 2008, Zenawi’s regime has

transferred at least 3,619,509 hectares of land to foreign investors although the actual number may be higher… The Ethiopian government insists that for all land deals consultation is being carried out, no farmers are displaced, and the land being granted is “unused.” However, the OI team did not find a single incidence of community consultation… There are no limits on water use, no Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), and no environmental controls. It is alarming that investors are free to use water with no restrictions. Investors informed the OI team of the ease with which they planned to dam a local river and of the virtual lack of control and regulations over environmental issues. Despite assurances that EIAs are performed, no government official could produce a completed EIA, no investor had evidence of a completed one, and no community had ever seen one…. Displacement from farmland is widespread, and the vast majority of locals receive no compensation…. Displaced farmers are forced to find farmland elsewhere, increasing competition and tension with other farmers over access to land and resources.

The bottom line is that the SSICKs who slash and burn pristine forests for large-scale commercial export agriculture are called investors. Ethiopians who clear small plots of land to feed themselves and their families are called “sefaris” (squatters).  The SSICKs are  given 99-year leases to millions of hectares to “develop”.  Ethiopians are forcibly ejected from their ancestral lands and tiny homesteads to make way for the SSICKs. The SSICKs are allowed to grab as much land as they want for pennies; Ethiopians are grabbed and thrown off the land and lose every hard earnerd penny they have invested. The SSICKs are welcomed with open arms at sunrise; Ethiopians are kicked in the rear end and told to get out of town before sundown. The SSICKs have property rights in land; Ethiopians do not have a right to own land. The SSICKs are treated like royalty; Ethiopians are given the shaft. The shame of it all: Ethiopians are “hunted down like animals where they are constantly asked if they support these [SSICK] plantations” according to the Oakland Institute study.

Welcome to SSICKistan.

Are there Environmental Laws the “North Gojam Sefaris” Could Follow?

Zenawi claims that the expulsion was necessary because many of the “North Gojam sefaris” engaged in a pattern and practice of settlement that is disorganized, haphazard and environmentally destructive. But does Zenawi’s regime have policies that would facilitate an orderly, systematic and organized settlement of rural areas or ensure sound forest conservation practices?  For instance, the seminal law on the subject, the “Rural Lands Administration and Use Proclamation No.456/2005”, authorizes free access to rural lands for all who intend to engage in farming activities; but it provides no clear direction on how settlements are to be established or administered. It leaves implementation of the Proclamation entirely to the “regional authorities” who often do not have the expertise or capacity to implement it. To be sure, Proclamation No. 456 is virtually silent on the use, conservation or management of forestlands. In fact, it makes only three passing references to “forestry”, “forest degradation” and “forest land.”

The Revised SNNPRS Determination of Executive Organs’ Powers and Responsibilities Proclamation No. 106/2007 [Southern Nations, Nationalities’ and Peoples’ Regional State], purportedly aims to implement Proclamation No. 456, but the region has no environmental protection agency. The task of implementing Proclamation 456 is apparently given to the region’s Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development which purportedly has oversight authority over conservation of natural resources and wild life, but no specific responsibility to undertake forest conservation or management. Land use restrictions under SNNPRS Rural Land Administration and Use Regulation No 66/2007 does not deal with forestlands at all; it is principally concerned with the use of wetlands and sloping lands. Simply stated, there is no regional law that deals with deforestation or clearing of forests for settlements or farming. What are the “sefaris” to do?

Similarly, the “federal” “Forest Development, Conservation, and Utilization Proclamation No.542/2007” is so vague and general as to be nothing more than a statement of policy orientation. The Proclamation recognizes “government” and “private” forests, but provides no indication on how the forests can be developed or where individuals could apply to get authorizations. Incredibly, the Proclamation catalogues the obligations of private forest developers without enumerating any of their rights. The bulk of the Proclamation is not law but aspirational policy statements about what ought to be done in the future.

Zenawi secondary argument is that the Amhara “sefaris” settled in Benji Maji/Gura Ferda without the required environmental impact assessment (EIA) presumably pursuant to Proclamation No. 299/2002 (“Environmental Impact Assessment Proclamation” [EIAP]). That Proclamation requires an assessment to “identify and evaluate in advance any effect which results from the implementation of a proposed project or public instrument”. As a technical legal matter, the “sefari’s” pattern of homesteading falls outside of the EIAP’s statutory definition of “proposed project” or “public instrument”. In other words, under the present language and definitions in Proclamation No. 299, the “sefaris” would be exempt from performing an environmental impact assessment. Rather, they would be subject to Proclamation No. 456 (Rural Lands Administration and Use ).

But all of the technical legal analysis and arguments aside, the fact of the matter is that a tiny percentage of all private sector projects are subject to the EIAP because of exemption loopholes and political decisions that override the technical merits of such reports. As the OI report has shown “despite assurances that environmental impact assessments [EIAs] are performed, no government official could produce a completed EIA, no investor had evidence of a completed one, and no community had ever seen one….” The regime’s “environmental impact assessment” on Gibe III Dam demonstrates the pro forma nature of such undertakings when it is politically expedient.

Ethnic Cleansing or Forest Conservation?

There is no question that tens of thousands of Amharas have been forcibly removed from Benj Maji/Gura Ferda in southern Ethiopia, and not just from “North Gojam”. Numerous interviews of victims by the Voice of America provide substantial evidence of forced expulsion.  So we must face the unavoidable question: Is the forced expulsion of the “sefaris” a form of ethnic cleansing or the consequence of the unintended effects of routine ecological remediation? The evidence on this question from the two individuals who are in the best position to know is rather curious to say the least. Zenawi says the “North Gojam sefaris” were evicted solely because they were destroying the forest in their haphazard settlement patterns. But in  his written order, Shiferaw Shigute, President of SNNP, does not not mention a single word about deforestation or harm to the environment in the expulsion of the Amhara “sefaris”. Goodness gracious, who to believe?

“Ethnic cleansing” does not have a specific formal legal definition. A 1993 United Nations Commission defined the phrase as, “the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogenous.” A UN Commission of Experts established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 held that the practices associated with ethnic cleansing “constitute crimes against humanity”. Others have defined “ethnic cleansing as the expulsion of an ‘undesirable’ population from a given territory due to religious or ethnic discrimination, political, strategic or ideological considerations, or a combination of these.” Article 7 (d) of the Rome Statute declares that “deportation or forcible transfer of population”, (defined as “forced displacement by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds without grounds permitted under international law”) is a “crime against humanity”. Whether the expulsion of the Amhara “sefaris” is part of a deliberate and systematic policy of “ethnic federalism” in which ethnic purges of a civilian population are undertaken to ensure the ethnic homogeneity of the southern part of the country to the detriment of other Ethiopians of a different ethnic stripe will bear significantly on the question of ethnic cleansing.

Just Compensation for the Amhara “Sefaris”?

Zenawi says the “sefaris” are expelled from their homesteads because they were destroying forestland and as part of a national forest reclamation and environmental protection effort. That being so, they are entitled to just compensation under Proclamation 456, which provides, “Holder of rural land who is evicted for purpose of public use shall be given compensation proportional to the development he, has made on the land and the property acquired, or shall be given substitute land thereon.” The “sefaris” were expelled with only their clothes on their backs and their children in tow. They received no substitute land nor compensation for their land, improvements made thereon, cattle or other personal property. Are they not entitled to just compensation under the law?

Be fair to the people!

Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at: and

Previous commentaries by the author are available at:  and

12 thoughts on “Green Justice or Ethnic Injustice?

  1. Why not enforce a law that punishes people that cut trees after they are found guilty rather than evict people off their properties over a suspicion they might sometime in the future cut trees. According to genocidal dictator Meles Zenawi those 78,000 people who happen to all Amharas by coincidence are suspected of conspiring to cut trees in the future which was never prooven at any court.Just because the government suspected them of cuting trees they played the eviction card and conficicated their life’s work and left them to die. That is what Whisky-Woyanes calls justice.

  2. Prof. Alemayehu:

    Thanks for breaking your articles into smaller parts. This is easier for some of us to follow your thought. I enjoy also the calm manner you state your points, it is something to learn from.

    The Amharic translation of your article is very useful and should be given as much attention as the English. Especially given most Ethiopians, including those who live in non-English European countries, can not readily understand English.

    However I noticed the translations just do not have the same biting strength as the English. I think that is because your article is being translated “word for word, sentence for sentence ” and not “in its spirit.”

    I think it is much better to lose some shine by translating the spirit of your article. It is much better to convey your ideas and thoughts …than being exact in the translation.

    — Thank you very much for your dedication and your obvious care for your fellow men.

  3. The pathological liar and the master manipulator, always comes up with some clever ways to disguise his lies. The tyrant only knows how to lie and believes his lies to be the truth as long as all the lies he tells leads him to more money, it is one of the signs of his mental sickness. The coldblooded tyrant doesn’t care the livelihood of so many people are destroyed, or their lives have been lost. What Meles and the rest of the heartless TPLF members cares and dreams about is the almighty dollar, even at the cost of human lives. The tyrant himself is the one who allowed the foreign land owners in Gambela to cut down all the trees and destroyed the rainforest in Gambela.

  4. Just for the sake of balacning issues with regard to this sad story it is not only fair but also justice for all sides to know and say the fact that land areas, forests and all the resources in a region just like any sovereign country belongs to that region’s administrative government which is under the federal mgovernment and as such can only be legally leased, bought, stettled and worked upon legally. Forest land areas are modern Green Gold and as such must necessarily be regulated in a just and fair manners if we have to avoid recurent conflicts in this era of national and international resource treasure hunting adventures.

    And the termination of the lease or purchase agreement or settlement contracts may be be annuled only by law based on the original law of entitlements. If settlements, leasings and purchasings are already illegal, then termination of the illegal use and expulsion becomes legal by itself.

    This means that even if forest areas, mining areas, desert areas, etc. are not settled it does not mean that it has no owner and can just be taken over without the concent and agreements of the federalm and local governments that own the resources and the local people directly and indirectly surviving on it.

    So, this boils down to having permission and legal firm grounds from different levels of the government and the local population of the region. This can also be very good ground for settlers to defend themselves against ejection by citing the legality of their intitial settlement agreements otherwise what is illigally obtained can simply confisicated. That is why all mass settlements must necessarily have the legal basis and permission protecting both the settlers and the different levels of the resource owners and administrators.

    Mamo replies:

    It must have been one hell of forest, may be bigger than the Amazon, to survive the fire of 22000 people.

    May be so many of the forest destroyers were children so they did not know how to do it properly.

    Do you agree?

  5. Professor Al, You are a true concerned Ethiopian. We all should thank God for having a person like you who defends the poor country and its people, stands for democracy and the rule of law, justice and equality for all. Thank you for deep insight.

    However, the leaders in Ethiopia are not smart enough and instead of thinking for the country they think of themselves, their parties and their bank accounts.

    It is absolutely appropriate for the people of Ethiopia to fight for the unity of all Ethiopians that will hurt the government most because that is what they don’t like to see. Unity, Democracy and justice are the opposites of what they are doing. And the people should pursue the opposites.

    Please don’t forget our brothers and sisters who are suffering in the hands of their prison guards in Kaliti. They are there for the crimes they have not committed. They are our stars that shine in the darkness of injustice. They are like one of us who love freedom and be in their homes with their children and families. Those of you who love to see the freedom of all human beings fight for them, be with their families and share their pains.

    Please remember those little children who were thrown out of their homes for the crimes they have not committed and the politics they don’t understand.

    The TPLF dominated government of Ethiopia runs against the tide of human history by denying human freedom and human dignity to its citizens.

    Freedom is an open window through which we can see humanity and equality of all. We loose the basic concept of humanity if we tolerate the intolerable. It is not right to support and clap hands for Meles who accuses victims of anything whether they are prisoners, writers, settlers, freedom fighters, Amharas or Oromos.

    Call to the people of Tigray. It is my honest belief that there are many from Tigray who stand for human rights and human dignity not only in Ethiopia but also in other parts of the world. You should not accept to be the mass base for the TPLF that does not represent your interests. Freedom is not about space, comfort, economy or politics it is about humanity and human dignity. Speak out for the things you believe in. Be a leader in the struggle for human rights and dignity. It is not about who is in power it is about a common bond called human rights.

    Anonymous replies:

    Shitaye i admire everything about you.
    but if you have a Desi’s like cancer in your body, you asked for it nicely, place get out from my body your killing me. that disease will never hear your call no mater what.the only way that cancer will live your body is by forcibly cutting it out your body. there for Shitaye those people you are calling will not hear your call they are not hire to save you only to destroy. so we have stop Bing nice to the disease.the disease has to be destroy.

    Ethiopia is sick from the disease of WOYANNE..

  6. Shetaye,

    “Call to the people of Tigray.?” Kikikikikiki…

    You may also call upon your Ox if you happen to have one so that the Ox may give birth to twin calves. In fact Tigrians are simply enough happy with what is going on just like the Ox is also more than happy for being nothing but its own self,the true Ox having nothing to do with giving birth. On the other hand I must admite that it is even much more easier to call upon Tigrians for help rather than calling on Jesus Christ for any practical results. Just thought! No disrespect meant though.

  7. #5 Shetaye said,
    “…However, the leaders in Ethiopia are not smart enough and instead of thinking for the country they think of themselves, their parties and their bank accounts.”

    I agree with most you’ve said, but I disagree about the leaders in Ethiopia lacking intelligence or as you said, are not smart, they are smart or alright, they are in fact EVIL DEMENTED CONCEITED GENIUS WITH NO CONSCIENCE, TOTALLY HEARTLESS, COLDBLOODED, SELF-INDULGENT WHO LACK HUMAN DECENCY!

  8. #5 Shetaye said,
    “…However, the leaders in Ethiopia are not smart enough and instead of thinking for the country they think of themselves, their parties and their bank accounts.”

    I agree with most what you’ve said, but I disagree about the leaders in Ethiopia being not smart, they are smart alright! Dictator Meles is a master of manipulator like a slick used car sales man who can fool and influence the outside world leaders. The ferocious Meles and his undisciplined hateful TPLF thugs are just a bunch of SELFISH INHUMANE EVIL DEMENTED CLEVER LOOTERS WITH NO CONSCIENCE, TOTALLY HEARTLESS, COLDBLOODED, SELF-INDULGENT, ATROCIOUS WHO LACK HUMAN DECENCY! These are the kinds of subhumans Ethiopians are dealing with. Meles and company are all more like Idi Amin Dada, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mussolini and the likes of world’s worst leaders who committed despicable act of horror on innocent people.

  9. Mamo,

    You are just the exact photo copy of the tplf because you are specializing in manufacturing and keep manufacturing artificial excuses and fairy tales just to evade reality and problem solving pragmatic approaches. Now you are blaming children for the various injustices taking place in that country. What a shame! Grow up man!

    Mamo replies:

    WoW that was a hell of a technique Tsehaynesh. Which page is it on the TPLF propaganda manual that talks about co-option? I have the manual, you just tell me the page.

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