Enjeux du foncier dans l’Ouest éthiopien / Land issues in Western Ethiopia


CFEE Seminar on Contemporary Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa (2014-2015)

2e séance / 2nd session : Question foncière dans les périphéries occidentales de l’Éthiopie / Land management in the Ethiopian Western peripheries, par/by Alice Judell (Université de Sydney) et Mehdi Labzaé (Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne).

Cette session est organisée en partenariat avec l’Université de Mekelle dans le cadre des Public Lecture Series on Society, Communication and Culture of the Department of History and Heritage Management. / This session is organised in cooperation with Mekelle University as part of the program “Public Lecture Series on Society, Communication and Culture of the Department of History and Heritage Management“. 

Mardi 6 janvier 2015 (14h-16h) / Tuesday, January 6th 2015 (2-4 PM). Lieu / Venue : Mekelle University (Addi Haqi Campus), Moot Court, School of Law.

1. Land management in Gambella and the role of the State, par / by Alice Judell, doctorante / PhD candidate, University of Sydney.

The study of the construction of sovereignty in the African context has been mainly focusing on post-colonial approaches to state-building and institutionalisation. Moreover, the literature on land-grabbing has largely argued that the receiving countries were “losing sovereignty” over their territory. This “loss of sovereignty” is expressed in terms of loss of control on land management and national exports of food products. This contribution seeks to complement this literature by looking at sovereignty in one of the only nations of the continent that was never colonised, Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is an organic biological state although it was influenced by external forces such as interactions at the international level at the League of Nations and the United Nations, but also during the Italian occupation of the 1930s, and most importantly through the modernisation and development programs led by Emperor Haile Selassie and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Land management has always been one of the core preoccupations of the Ethiopian state, at the heart of development policies, revolutions and political change. The Ethiopian central state has intended to strengthen its territorial management from the highlands of Abyssinia to its lowland peripheries. Beyond ethnic, religious and cultural differences, the Ethiopian government has endeavoured to homogenise development practices through education, villagisation and resettlement programs of local populations in the peripheries of the state. Land remains the property of the state; it can only be rented, or occupied, but never sold, particularly not to foreign investors.
The large-scale commercialisation of land to international agricultural corporations is present in Ethiopia, particularly in Gambella, but this practice has yet to be linked to this homogenisation trend. By commercialising land to foreign companies, the central government is enhancing its territorial management of the land in the peripheries of the state. This management is the source of both challenges and opportunities. These challenges are mainly linked to the implementation of local development strategies, environmental damage, lack of consultation and support of local agro-pastoralist communities involved, food insecurity and ethnic tensions. On the other hand, the opportunities for agricultural development and the strengthening of the Ethiopian state as a food secure and unified whole are not negligible but the contractual conditions of these large scale land deals have to favour the development of a sustainable agriculture which benefits local communities and the development of the peripheral zones of Ethiopia. The “race to the bottom” argument where international investors would only sign deals that have no strings attached seems outdated and simplistic in the light of recent land investments worldwide. Moreover, recent research on land deals in Ethiopia demonstrates that investors have been overwhelmed by infrastructural issues and do not use all the land allocated. A more realistic and regulated approach to land investment could enable the strengthening of the central state’s hold on territorial management and benefit the local and national economies. Most importantly, without the cooperation and support from local communities these land deals will remain controversial and costly for the central government.

The inclusion of locals, but also of local and regional public servants, in the process, that is implementing land management policies from both a top-down and a bottom-up perspective, is quintessential to a successful outcome. While the general literature on the matter points towards a weakening of sovereign control on territory by African nations to their foreign investors, the Ethiopian example demonstrates that international land deals can foster territorial integrity and unification of the State if all key stakeholders are included in the policy process.

2. Cadastre and land investment in Benishangul-Gumuz and Gambella: opportunities and challenges, par / by Mehdi Labzaé, doctorant / PhD candidate, Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne.

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