The Political Economy of Commercial Agricultural Land in Ethiopia

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Siyum A. Mamo
Abiot D. Habte

Abstract

This paper provides a critical examination of the political economy of commercial agricultural land in Ethiopia, taking a case from the peripheral State of Gambella where the Anyuaa and the Nuer ethnic groups interact. Since 2002, the government of Ethiopia has pursued a controversial investment approach that promotes large-scale investment dominated by FDI while officially denouncing the current wave of the neoliberal economic discourse. Such investment ventures in the State of Gambella have put significant agricultural lands under a long-term lease to foreign developers. The central argument of this study lies in the point that, in a political economy avenue where practices contradict official state ideology, mechanized agricultural developments face failure beyond adverse social and ecological crises. Under the guise of the political economy of development where the state takes in hand the responsibility for playing a leadership role, private developers cannot easily find a space for leverage for making productive investments. Rather, such ventures as the case of Gambella tend to institute land alienation of the rural indigenous poor who are already marginalized because of their double-peripheral positions – a manifestation of South in the South. The consequence of both inter-group relations and the environment is catastrophic. The paper concludes that the influence of (trans)national companies on indigenous communities living especially in fragile environments continues to be disconcerting whereas the conflation of the neoliberal inspiration in the peripheral regions appears to be disguising while leaving the local environment and inter-group relations at stake. Thus, the Ethiopian government should recognize the contradiction between its official ideology and the investment practices in agricultural lands overtaken by (trans)national developers.

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Author Biographies

Siyum A. Mamo, Jimma University

Siyum Adugna Mamo is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Governance and Development Studies (GaDS), Jimma University, Ethiopia. He is currently serving as a Dean of the College of Law and Governance, Jimma University. He has research interest and engagement in the areas of land politics, resource conflict, conflict and peace, social and ecological justice, and environmental governance.

Abiot D. Habte, Jimma University

Abiot Desta Habte is a Lecturer at the Department of Governance and Development Studies (GaDS), College of Law and Governance, Jimma University, Ethiopia. He is currently serving as the Head of Department of Governance and Development Studies, College of Law and Governance, Jimma University. He has research interest and engagement in the areas of public policy, institutions, the political economy of the developmental state, environment and development, natural resource management and ecotourism, forced migration, conflict management and resolution, globalization, technology, and higher education governance and knowledge management, among others.