Saudi Star Among Firms Behind Thousands of Forced Relocations in Ethiopia

land grabs, saudi star, ethiopia, agriculture, unsustainable agriculture, water scarcityThis image taken in the western Gambella region of Ethiopia shows irrigation canals being dug by the agricultural firm owned by Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire Mohammed Al Amoudi.

Last week BBC News reported that 70,000 indigenous people have been forced to relocate in the western Gambella region of Ethiopia to new villages that lack adequate resources for their survival. The land has been signed over to foreign investors, including Saudi Star Agriculture Development Plc, a company owned by Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire Mohammed Al Amoudi.

Felix Horne of the Oakland Institute recently authored Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa – a succinct analysis of the perils of land grabs in EthiopiaHe told Green Prophet that Saudi Star has begun rice cultivation on 10,000ha of land in Gambella and a 10,000ha irrigation project along the already-compromised Alwero River. Only grain that does not meet export requirements will be sold locally.

land grabs, saudi star, ethiopia, agriculture, unsustainable agriculture, water scarcity

Nothing is Voluntary

The BBC reports, “The government in Addis Ababa has said in the past that all the moves are voluntary, the new villages will have adequate infrastructure and everyone who moves will be given assistance to help their transition to a new livelihood.”

Land grabs have also been defended under the pretext that arable land is “unused,” that Environmental Impact Assessments would be required, and that local communities would benefit from foreign investment.

But the Oakland Institute and Human Rights Watch warn that what is actually happening is very different than government claims. To date, no mechanism to improve food security for Ethiopians has been implemented, contracts between investors and the Ethiopian government provide incentives to export food instead of feeding locals, and not a single government official or investor has been able to provide an Environmental Impact Assessment.

Violent reprisals

“Several small villages (including Oriedhe and Oridge) within the Saudi Star lease area have been relocated across the Alwero river to Pokedi as part of the villagization program currently underway in Gambella,” OI reports, adding that “Villagers often used the now-cleared forest in the Saudi lease area during times of food insecurity for gathering food, fuelwood, and medicines.”

American resident Magn Nyang told the BBC that his mother was forcibly re-settled from a village close to Gambella town to a camp. “When the investors came in they took over the land and they [the villagers] were kicked out,” he said.

The army beat another man with sticks and the butt of a rifle when he refused to leave. He later died, and his family blames the violent beating he received.

Although Saudi Star has admitted that the Alwero River can only provide irrigation for 1,800 ha of rice, 30 kilometers of irrigation channels are currently being built and villagers worry about how they will feed their children.

Humans and animals are losing their land

The company is also infringing on land perceived to be a part of the Gambella National Park. The Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA), according to OI, estimates that 438,000 ha of land have been leased to various investors in the vicinity of the park, all without Environmental Impact Assessments.

The park is home to “69 mammal species, including 58 large mammals. The park also contains valuable wetland habitat, hundreds of bird species, and 92 fish species, representing 69 percent of all fish species in Ethiopia,” OI reports.

Saudi Star’s owner Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Ali Al Amoudi is listed by Forbes as the 63rd wealthiest person on earth. He is also the richest person in Ethiopia, where at least 39% of the population lives below the poverty line, and the second richest Saudi citizen in the world.

Only rice that does not grow longer than 7mm will be sold locally, while the rest will be exported – with Saudi Arabia expected to be a huge benefactor, according to Bloomberg News. Eventually, Saudi Star hopes to lease up to 500,000 ha of Ethiopian land.

Land grabs in Ethiopia are well underway, and given lack of genuine government oversight comprise nothing less than a humanitarian disaster.

images via Felix Horne

More on Ethiopia and Land Grabs:

Global Land Grabs: Benefits, Emerging Dangers, and Growing Anxieties

Egypt to Grab Sudanese Land to Meet its Wheat Needs

Ethiopia’s New Solar-Powered Cell Phone Charging and Water Service

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14 thoughts on “Saudi Star Among Firms Behind Thousands of Forced Relocations in Ethiopia”

  1. WOrku says:

    Dear all,I am very delighted to see your concern about the region.Let me drop some facts about Gambela. It has 3.6mln ha of arable land together with a huge potential for irrigation. Look we have Baro there.The land is so fertile.with all these the region could not ensure food security.
    This is in fact has deep rooted reasons. But this is the time to develop the region. This is the time to teach them. this is the time to care their health…and please go and see the situation and the response of the community there about the communal program and the investment.Then you will judge. and if you are really concerned please send some pens pencils and exercise books.If you are conserned plz go and join the community tjo teach them. But especially Ethiopians plz done line up with westerners Ideology. It there are problems let’s solve it together. I am one of the eye witness of the programs. I have seen a light of development.

  2. Belay Z. says:

    My dear writer;
    Thanks you for ur concern to Ethiopian people. We’ll consider all ur advice: No Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, No Mechanized Agriculture, No foreign investment, No oil…. Enough is enough. History has taught us very well the Egyptian favor making to Ethiopian. Hoping that all other young Egyptians are not like u we remain…..

  3. omot obang says:

    Please,don’t call daylight robbery is development and prosperity.If it is what you said nobody would be suffering.Colonial power decides what it wants whether the local people like or not.That is the fact is not a mindset,DA.

  4. DA says:

    Dear, You are just playing along the lines of peoples emotions. People get relocated and moed at an expence of prosperity and development. This happens not only in Gambella but all over the country, including in Addis to make ways for roads etc. Is it going to be volunutary- NO! doesn’t need to be, its human nature to resist change. As long as they get compenseted for their land, we can not wish for anyone to leave in darkness for iternity. I suggest you go back and check the history of how the west developed! I bet it was bloodier. Please keep the colonial mindset of keeping Africa in the dark in the west!

  5. omot obang says:

    If you have never been in some body shoes ,it easy to say whatever come in your mind.The ones who feel what happens in Gambella are the Gamellans and those who have no intrest in Gambella resources. The displacement which is going on today had been done by Durg regime when the highlander were settled in Anuak land. So,this is a continuation of unfinish business-to kick out Anuaks of their land. Government comes and government goes,but Ethiopia as a state never changes its colonialism policies in Gambella. M/Hilemariam settled the highlanders in Anuak Land in the 1980s ,and Malis Zanawe is selling Gamella now. HOw sad it is for Helen Haile to invite people to watch other people miseries!

  6. Fr. Antonio P. Castelli says:

    Dear All,

    (A)One has to clear its conscious – There was/is no forced off their land. In places where big agricultural projects are planned are either virgin places or no man lands where pastoralits (mentioned above by one writer) come and go .
    (B) One has also need to ask seriously what the motive of these so called “environmentalist” is really is By the way in my humble opinion “Green Prophet”was supposed to advocate for “green planet” why do they interfere in other internal domains of third world countries specially of Africa .
    Fr. Antonio P Castelli

  7. Obviously none of you have been forced off your land.

  8. Helen Haile says:


    1. Come and see what Ethiopia now looking as compared few years back . Thanks to the BRICS and other friendly countries technology transfers are taking place!
    2. The tract of land leased for investors are few and there are a lot a lot virgin and un-utilized lands.
    3. Ethiopia will be earning from tax , added up value returns , and with the proceed will be financing lots of projects – you and you fellow vainly try to ridicule .
    4. Ethiopians in the eastern low lands do eat rice which was of course imported.
    5. For get the so called report by the Oakland Institute. We have our own institutions and researchers .
    6. What any real positive inputs have Okaland or the west made to the peoples of Ethiopia instead of propagating .

    God Bless Ethiopia ! And is Show time for development – Come and watch. You are invited !!!

  9. kaddis says:

    Dear Writer and few echoing this land grab crap –
    Are you saying the status quo is acceptable or what? Where were you when Gambella was used for a refugee camp for south sudan for 4 decades with all negative social and enviromental impacts. Where were you when Gambella was used as a rebel camp for south sudan for 30 years causing rape, violence, illegal weapon trade and so on ? You were silent then but you cry now when Gambella is producing rice – that is not origninal to say the least. Personaly – I understand if the west cries hard saying ‘land grab’ to protect their food market in Saudi and Egypt. I feel sorry for those Ethiopians who cries along without asking.

  10. Gundiid says:

    Dear Helen,
    Thank you for the details. The TPLF led regime in Ethiopia does only care about their region Tigray and nothing else. If they are honest they would sell Tigray land to Al-Amoudi and cos. Instead they are abusing the lands of the oppressed people such as Ogaden, Gambella, Afar etc.

  11. Fekadu Tadesse says:

    I am an Agricultural student from Haramaya university with excellent CGPA looking for job, but me and my friend didn’t get still, so rather than employ the Indian, it is better to employ us and create knowledge transfer and also save foreign pleas Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi try us, we get the energy to upgrade our agricultural sector.God bless Ethiopia.

  12. Oliver says:

    Helen, Tafline,

    I guess no one questions the need to produce sufficient food for people whether they live in or outside Ethiopia. The only thing I am questioning is that we have all the technologies at hand to produce sufficient food quantity closer to where it is consumed. We can for instance use solar powered desalination/farms to produce food in the middle of the dessert without transporting it around the world. Unfortunately we still thing we need to implement last century and unsustainable irrigation and farming technology to achieve food security. There are better, more efficient and even commercially more attractive technologies at hand to be implemented for the benefit of all parties.

  13. Helen, the government has made promises about technology transfers but none are taking place and almost all the rice being grown will feed Saudis, not Ethiopians. Do Ethiopians even eat rice? I urge you to read the report by the Oakland Institute. Instead of listening to government propaganda, wouldn’t it be better to look at the facts?

  14. Helen Haile says:

    Tafline Laylin,

    As always no one is surprised of the negative attitude of “Green Prophet” web site as well as of similar groups like ” International Rivers” who always echoing nonsense article because your earn leaving this way. Truth are :

    1. Ethiopia need technology transfer for modern agricultural innovation and requires overseas investors and has enough virgin undeveloped lands. The population of Ethiopia is now 2nd most populous in Africa and time for seeing and admiring nature in its virginity is over . Like Europe and other continents we have to care for our citizens – and are no longer interested to keep our lands virgin for the purpose of recreation places for Europeans.

    2. Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi is an Ethiopian by blood and that why he is keen to develop his home country.
    3. Ethiopia is now in right path and struggling to escape from poverty . Settling pastorialists to live decent life is commendable.
    4. We Ethiopians can manage our own affairs ourselves. Read Our history of thousand years .

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