Ethiopian sugar development: Allegations versus the Reality
By Muluken Tariku
In the last two decades the government of Ethiopia has been striving to alleviate the poverty stricken of its people by creating conducive environment for sustainable development. Until recently Ethiopian political economic configuration had been agrarian that the majority of its people are settled farmers, nomadic pastoralist and semi-pastoralist.
Considering the socio-demographic setup of its people, Ethiopian government has designed several economic policies centering agriculture to bring agrarian transformation. In doing so the main focal point of the policies and strategies is maintaining surplus production through restructuring the old rudimentary production relation.
To this end, Ethiopia has given due attention to the sugar development since the last five years, says Abay Tsehaye, General Manager of Ethiopian Sugar Corporation. He stated that the country`s huge potential in the sector serves as one of the economic back bone, and ,of course, facilitates agrarian transformation. Abay said that in the GTP period ten sugar factories are to be built. He added that in the last two years alone, several preparations have been done.
In spite of the extensive laborious works of the corporation in the last five years, few groups from home along with external forces are disseminating non factual information about the development. These forces have been accusing the government of Ethiopia of causing huge destruction to the indigenous society, its cultural and religious heritages.
Explaining the nature of the forces, Abay Tsehaye said that,” some extremists in the pretext of humanitarian and environmental protection are fabricating the news of mass displacement. These forces need the pastoralist community remain the same for their income generation through anthropological researches.” Abay stated the stand of the government as,”We don`t allow that to happen. The government doesn’t allow its people to serve as research material.” Thus, the sugar development projects in the pastoralist areas have dual purposes-economic and demographic. Demographically, Abay said that, the lives of the pastoralist community changes as they are engaged in to settled agriculture.
In order to secure their political goals, some groups like the Human Rights Watch politicize every thing – the religion, culture, development, foreign aid, loan and any mega project in the country. They are known for waging propaganda wars against their own country`s development.
These groups in the pretext of humanitarianism and environmental protection have been disseminating fabricated news. They over state that huge displacement of the farming and pastoralist communities occurred in south Omo and lower Awash regions. Even worse than their fabrications about mass displacement, they accuse of the government of imprisoning, torturing, and killing residents in the construction sites.
The reality however is different. Before starting the projects, the government had discussed with the residents of the sites. The elders and clan leaders are well informed about the potential prospects of the projects there.
The projects, more particularly, are intended to change the lives of the of the semi-pastoralist communities in south Omo and Afar. The residents take part in the construction work and even more, they will get employment opportunity after the factory is erected. More over, the pastoralist communities will benefit from the irrigational development there with.
The forces contend that the sugar development projects have no relevance to the residents. They added that the government is purposely destructing the lives of the indigenous people. Further more, they exclaimed that the pastoralist communities are suffering from human right violation.
The groups that pretend to be human right activist like the HRW have no interest to observe what is going on in the natural setting of the construction. They don`t want to see that lives of the pastoralist community changed. They need the people remain nomad only to serve as their anthropological research tool. They need them as a fund raising material as well.
When the Ethiopian government planned these mega projects, Abay said, the objective was transforming the pastoralist community to the level where they can enjoy the fruits of the development of the country. Together with the sugar development projects several community-centered multi-million birr infrastructural developments for the community are also being carried on.
The government has given priority for transforming the lives of the pastoralist community. To this end, after securing the consent of the residents, huge resettlement and village construction program is being carried on. In the program a number of resident house, schools, health centers, veterinary clinics, and electricity and telecom services are included.
Unlike the allegations of controversial and gigantic resettlement and mass expropriation, the government is spending huge amount of money in the settlement program. The program emanated from the fact that the government wants the lives of its pastoralist community better than just a tourist attraction and research subject. More over, the government strongly believes that the pastoralist communities need to have access to education, health and clean water to the best interest of their children and the women.
In addition to the infrastructure, the localities will benefit from the employment opportunity of the project. The government has preconceived the job opportunity to foster the social transformation of the pastoralist community in to the semi-industrial community. The project will also provide the society on irrigational land. For this the government has prepared irrigable land for the resettled community.
It is with out this understanding that the forces wage propaganda against the country. They tend to politicize every corner of the lives of the people at large. Some times they have been seen politicizing the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. They tend to use the church as a material for their ill-conceived political objective. They accuse the government of causing destruction in the Holly Orthodox monastery in Waldiba. Their intension, according to Abay Tsehaye, is to create hostile relation between the government and the church.
In doing so, the forces have wrongly explained the impact of the sugar development on the monastery that it causes a lot of destruction. They stated that the government has openly waged war against Christianity. The allegations on destruction of grave yard, the stolen and destroyed properties of the convent, the intimidation and coercion of the monks by the governmental forces were all fabrications.
The forces tend to externalize the non-existent problems by widening the scope of their fable story. Some religious fundamentalist and parasitic politicians try to give the development a false allegation as if it is an action of defiling the religion.
All these allegations have emanated from misunderstanding and misjudging the significance of the projects. The government has in advance discussed with the residents in the areas of the projects with the monks of the Waldiba Monastery. During the discussion, nice understanding regarding the community members has been reached, said Abay.
Government is equally concerned to the cultural and religious heritages of its people. To this end careful studies have been conducted before starting construction and it is confirmed that no damage occurs to the religious heritages of the monastery nor the silence of the holy place is defiled, said Abay.
The unrealistic allegations disseminated by organs like HRW and others under the notion of environmental and human right activism are fabrication. The frequent accusation of mass arrest and human right violation and mass expropriation are all baseless. More over, no one is arrested for being the follower of any religion or for a dispute that happened in the sites, for there were no disputes.
While undertaking the development near the monastery of Waldiba, the government has made all the necessary preconditions. Based on the consent of the monastery, some cemeteries have been relocated. However the relocation has been regarded as a huge destruction against Christianity by some forces.
It is clear that the government respects the religious and cultural heritages of the people. Especially in the Walldiba case, the government has previously arranged security system by which all the properties of the monastery are safe. More over, as a number of construction workers roam around the site, preparations have been made so as to keep the silence of the holy place from being disturbed by the construction.
Ever since the projects started, several media and organizations with the banner of human right activism, have accused the government of Ethiopia of human right violation, forced expropriation and wide destructions on the lives of the indigenous people around the sites. The allegations, however, blame the projects for nothing that has been caused.
The blames come from few political extremists and anti-developmental forces from home and abroad. These forces tend to create tension between the government and the people by widening and politicizing their fabrications, said Abay Tsehaye.
The sugar development, no matter what these forces tend to give it false picture, is primarily planned to benefit the people around the sites, said Abay Tsehaye. He adds that the activities of the corporation are premeditated so as to change the lives of the people of the country somehow. The destruction that few forces disseminate wouldn’t affect the projects, said Abay.
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