2012: Thousands Face Displacement Due to Middle Eastern Land Grab

ethiopia-land-grab-middle-east Back in early 2012, Human Rights Watch warned that tens of thousands of Ethiopians were being made destitute so their land could be leased to foreign investors such as Gulf Arab states

Following last week’s news that rich Middle Eastern royals were threatening Maasai land, I look back at land grab stories which have involved the Middle East this year – from Ethiopia, Tanzania and the Congo. The worst case to catch my eye is the forced displacement of Ethiopians.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch which came out in January 2012, the Ethiopian government is forcing tens of thousands of people off their land so it can lease it to foreign investors, leaving former landowners destitute and in some cases starving. The US human rights group states that there plans to lease 2.1 million hectares of land – mainly to countries such as China and Gulf Arab States.

1. Ethiopia

The HRW report Ethiopia: Forced Relocations Bring Hunger, Hardship, remarked that 1.5 million Ethiopians would eventually be forced from their land due to land grabs. The country has already leased 3 million hectares to foreign investors which is almost the size of Belgium and hopes to lease another 2.1 million hectares.

The Observer reported that the Government leased some 10,000ha to the Ethiopian born Saudi Arabian oil multi millionaire, Sheik Al Moudi (In 2011, Fortune magazine put his wealth at more than $12bn) to grow rice for his Saudi Star Company. Sheik Al Moudi plans to export over a million tonnes of rice a year to Saudi Arabia. :: The Independent (UK)

2. Congo

In May, we reported that an Islamic bank in Jordan, Sanabel, has bought up over a quarter of a Congo forest for ‘sustainable projects’. According to news reports, Sanabel which is Jordan’s first Islamic investment bank is considering a number of “Sharia’ compliant forestry activities” for the land it has purchased. These range from afforestation and reforestation projects, and protecting the land from deforestation and sustainable agro-forestry projects.

3. Tanzania

As we’ve already reported, Middle Eastern royals are being accused of aiding a massive sell-off of the Serengeti. And in a new twist to the land-grab meme, this land sell-off is not to secure access to precious food supplies but, rather, to indulge in the hunting whims of the Middle East’s elite.The campaigning group Avaaz has launched a online petition to ask Tanzania’s President Kikwete to reject the hunting corporation’s big deal and stop the sell-off of the Serengeti. So far, 871,942 people have signed the petition.

4. The world?

According to the latest report by the Worldwatch Institute, the “oil-rich but arid Gulf states made up the final group of major land investors.” Although they are not buying very much compared to the emerging economies (and their growing populations) of Brazil, India and China who together make up 25% of all land purchases, they are still significant buyers for their size. There is also a strong pattern of South-South purchasing or regionalised buying. For example, in the Middle East countries such as Saudi and the UAE have been buying land in Sudan but also more locally in Algeria and Morocco.

:: Image of Ethiopian children via Galyna Andrushko/Shuttstock.com

For more on land grab by Middle Eastern nations see:

Middle Eastern Royalty Threaten 48,000 Maasai in Hunting Deal

Saudi Star Among Firms Behind Thousands of Forced Relocations in Ethiopia

Jordanian Bank Buys One Quarter of a Congo Forest

African Land Grab Continues – Middle East is Major Buyer

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