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International aid for Ethiopian land rights reform

Following the recent unrest in Ethiopia, in which among others Dutch flower companies were attacked, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders, and Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, of the Netherlands, have expressed their wish to help the authorities in Ethiopia carry out the necessary reforms.

"The causes for unrest and violence against foreign companies in Ethiopia in December 2015 and the summer of 2016 in Oromia and Amhara go farther than just land rights," the ministers write in a letter to Dutch parliament. "Many inhabitants of Oromia and Amhara feel politically and economically left behind. The general perception is that the government in the ethnic-federal state model is dominated by the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF)."

"While the recent economic growth is impressive, not everyone benefited. There are strong regional differences, and the gap between cities and rural areas increases." Citing high unemployment among youth, the ministers point out that "parts of the Amhara and Oromo, traditionally far from allies, seem to find each other in their resistance to the authorities."

During the recent unrest, foreign companies were sometimes associated with the government by rioters. Companies were attacked or even destroyed completely. "After declaring a state of emergency in October 2016, companies were given protection, and draconic measures were taken to stop the resistance."

The Dutch cabinet has opted for constructive and critical dialogue with Ethiopia, both bilaterally and multilaterally. The Netherlands points to the need to reform quickly toward more inclusive governance, with respect for human rights being key.

Together with the EU, the Netherlands urges a dialogue with the government of Ethiopia, to gain more insight into the plans of a peaceful transition toward sustainable political stability in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government has indicated to be more open and to intensify cooperation with partners, according to the ministerial letter.

Land rights
"There's a lot to be said about the way Ethiopia offered compensation to farmers who had previously been granted land use rights by the government and then had to move due to large agriculture investments, urban expansion or infrastructural projects. Farmers didn't always get fair compensation," the ministers continue. "Sometimes farmers were promised they could work at the new company, often a flower or vegetable firm. But bureaucracy or a wait-and-see attitude from foreign investors could mean the start of the new company was delayed, or the company turned out to have different plans when hiring employees."

In recent years, reforms were incorporated in several regions regarding compensation rules. "Ethiopian authorities are currently very reluctant to dispossess land owned by local farmers. The federal government now aims to only give land to foreign investors that's used by the government, such as state-owned farms and military terrains."

International community
Countries and organizations currently active in Ethiopia regarding land use and land rights include the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway, IFAD, and FAO. They united in the so-called G7 group, which the Ethiopian government also participates in. The Netherlands joined this group at the end of 2016.

The World Bank, together with the government and other interested parties, drafted a Land Governance Assessment Framework (LGAF) for Ethiopia, analyzing and assessing the various aspects of land management. Based on this analysis, recommendations were made - the Ethiopian government now needs to indicate where its priorities are for improvements.

Dutch contribution
The Dutch short- and mid-term aid will focus on 2 schemes:

(1) Sustainable redesign of a 1500-hectare agriculture company near Hawassa with private investors
The Ethiopian government asked the Netherlands to aid in a pilot re-designation process of a 1500 hectare agricultural state company near Hawassa. In view of the location of this old state farm, creating a horticulture cluster with 20-25 companies would seem sensible.

The Netherlands will contribute to drafting standards to which reuse of the old state farm should adhere in terms of land rights, employment for the locals, and impact on social and environmental aspects. The Netherlands will also conduct a process to, together with the population, come to a plan for land use in the mid-term.

(2) Participative planning of land use around small and mid-sized investments
In recent years, the Netherlands has gained a lot of experience with development projects and public-private partnerships in Ethiopia. In line with the recommendations from the Land Governance Assessment Framework, the population is structurally involved with land use planning. The Netherlands aims for the Ethiopian national policies to contributed in a more focused manner to more inclusive economical development.

In the coming months, the Dutch embassy in Addis Abeba, together with the government of Ethiopia and other parties involved, will develop a concrete program for both schemes, and provide support with the execution thereof.
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