The Language Of Land Grabbers!

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the newly initiated Eritrean Law Society (ELS) for managing to call into the arena the much needed sector of our politics: “lawyers, professionals and academicians”. The validity of the information, seriousness of the initiative and sincerity of the intentions remains to be seen. My first impression of the statement posted on Awate, however, does look like one of the innovations of the newly formed EPDP (Hafash Wdubat) to outsource the dirty work of promoting the Constitution of Land Grabbers, thus validating the claim (mine included) that they do not mean what they say and they do not say what they mean. I would also like to express my complete support for Selam Kidane, who according to her article was “forced to resign” from some network of civil societies. To be honest, I did not know that we as Eritreans have ever practiced the right to force people to resign and although I was saddened to see Selam hurt by the act, I was very happy that some guys somewhere finally managed to exercise the right for the first time (tsbuq fal). Bravo to the EriForum Canada for the very practical instructions manual of an aspect of civil disobedience they posted on Awate and for pushing the transformation from “Talk” to “Walk”. 


Having said that, let us take a few minutes for some disciplinary action against a few bad boys and spoilers.  


There are times when, although you have been as crazy as Satan in this life, you could still go to heaven for doing one winy-mini bit of charity such as helping an old woman cross the street. That was what ALMOST happened to CDRiE this January. Thanks to the usual bunch of insistent intellectuals who keep repackaging the same stinky fish over and over, however, CDRiE was kicked out just from the doorsteps of redemption: again for politicking with key imperatives of our existence as a nation. No matter what the outcome was however, the London initiative should be highly applauded as the beginning of serious intra-Tigrigna debates on core national issues.  


According to our beloved Michael Abraha the following is what 150 “Eritreans” came up with in a “cold, dismal London weather”: 


“Dr. Yebio Woldemariam, who flew in from New York for the London gathering, extensively and deeply dealt with the issue of land rights. Dr. Yebio condemned the recent state sponsored migration of people from the highlands to the lowlands of Eritrea as reckless. He says “imposing the will of the state, a state that is immature and still in the process of evolution, on pastoral for that matter agrarian society is to invite trouble of great proportion.” The way out of the present dilemma, says Dr. Yebio, is through a well thought national development policy that will take into account the wishes and desires of the stakeholders.”” (Emphasis mine) 


From the point of view of fairness, I should wait to see if Dr. Yebio has something else to tell or some more stuff to add to this very shy and reserved admission of the voluntary nature of the moving Land Grabbers for two reasons: (1) he deserves credit for being the first to describe the Land Grabbers as “migration” placing them at least as passive collaborators in the crime, which is way better that the EPDP’s stubborn insistence on “poor innocent victims of heartless gifa by a one-man dictator” (paraphrased); (2) I do not trust the reporting by Michael Abraha, notorious for putting words into people’s mouths in fake interviews to make a case for the EPDP-CDRiE group. Two weeks after the posting, however, no objections have been raised as to the sincerity of the reporting apart from Khaled B Beshir’s for a different reason which I believe is enough justification to declare the report as predominantly true. 


The question that Dr. Yebio Woldemariam should have answered for his analysis to make sense is: why does that particular government sponsor those particular “migrants” while at the same time refusing to cooperate in repatriating those particular refugees and owners of the places where the “migration” is taking place? The answer of “because the “state that is immature and still in the process of evolution”” is itself immature and in need of some evolution. To trivialize the catastrophe that Eritrean Lowlanders are facing today into the natural consequence of “immaturity” and gaps in the “evolution” process of an already 19 year old government is, I believe, irresponsible and insensitive to say the least. No offense Dr. Yebio but how does trying to convince Lowlanders by arguing that those determined ethnic supremacists that are invading their land and depriving them of their future homeland are nothing but collateral damage of natural state evolution serve ethnic Tigrignas in particular and the Eritrean cause at large? What evolution is the good Doctor talking about? Is it the evolution of Lowlanders from optimistic citizens towards eternal refugees or is it the evolution of the government backing the Land Grabbers to turn the nation into a lawless jungle?  


Take a deep breath! To help refine CDRiE’s hasewsew to avoid calling the sneaky “migrants” Land Grabbers and thieves I have chosen to compliment Dr. Yebio’s definition with the EPDP’s characterization of the situation as “illegal resettlement and eviction policies” (“The Beginning of the Journey with the New Party”, NHarnet, January 15, 2010).  


Let’s join the descriptions in both statements (Dr. Yebio’s and EPDP’s) and derive the implied characteristics of the people we are debating (from their own statements) to give a complete picture of the situation (again in their own words). 


1.      The project is a “state sponsored migration of people” 


2.      Their actions do not “take into account the wishes and desires of the stakeholders” 


3.      They are cooperating with illegal resettlement and eviction policies 


4.      They are moving on “land seized from the people”


I challenge you to find a name other than thieves and Land Grabbers for those involved. 


To help you make the decision here are some definitions from Webster’s Dictionary Online (in quotes) and my clarifications (outside quotation marks): 


1.      To migrate means “to move into or come to live in a region or community especially as part of a large-scale and continuing movement of population”. Irrespective of the underlying motivations, migration is essentially a voluntary movement of people.


2.      Land Grab means “a usually swift acquisition of property (land) often by fraud or force”.  


3.      Thief means “one that steals especially stealthily or secretly”. 


When you figure it out, you may want to ask Dr. Yebio and the EPDP: “Why do you guys prefer to use a thousand words to describe a “spade” when you can just call it a “spade”?”  


Their justifications for inklil are by no means the most annoying and outrageous part of the characterizations by the EPDP, Dr. Yebio and other CDRiE intellectuals (the subcontractors). The part that makes many of us sick and disgusted to read what they have to say is THE REASON why they think the Land Grabbing is an ill advised bad idea. According to them the project is bad because it will “invite trouble of great proportion” (Dr. Yebio) or isharmful to social harmony, peaceful co-existence, and the future prosperity of our people” (EPDP). Considerations of God given entitlements, fairness, justice or of just doing the right thing have obviously never crossed their minds and it never occurred to them that those who are implicitly being described as “potential trouble makers” or as those who might be tempted to disrupt “peaceful co-existence” due to their objections against the Land Grabbers are also Eritrean citizens and human beings with dreams of coming back to what they once used to call home. The scary part of the whole fiasco is that, these (PFDJ-EPDP-CDRiE) people actually know that they are already raising eyebrows among ethnic Tigrignas just by saying “we shouldn’t steal now because everybody is watching and we will go to jail” and are surprised that we do not consider them as heroes for the charity of postponing our nightmare. If you are waiting to hear someone say “we shouldn’t steal for a simple reason: IT IS WRONG TO DO SO”, I guarantee you have a long way to go.  


People may tell you that these guys deserve praise for at least condemning the “illegal settlements”. But are they really?  


Let us see: 


The EPDP said: “The Conference further reaffirmed that the Eritrean people are the rightful owners of land in the country and that all land seized from the people shall be returned to its rightful owners through legal means in democratic post-PFDJ Eritrea”.  Of course “the Eritrean people are the rightful owners of the land” and that exactly is what is happening under the PFDJ! Did we say those Land Grabbers were aliens from Jupiter? They are part of the Eritrean people and according to the EPDP must also be “the rightful owners of the land”. The question we are asking is “which land belongs to which Eritrean people?” The reason is because some Eritrean people are being robbed and excluded by some Eritrean people. What is the difference between the PFDJ’s “land belongs to the state” that justified the ongoing Land Grabbing and the EPDP’s “land belongs to the people” which nullifies the concept of ancestral land as well as condones the current and lays foundations for future Land Grabbing in the Lowlands? For the sake of argument, it also leaves the door open for land grabbing in the Highlands. But what is the probability of a group of Lowlanders being tempted to exercise Land Grabbing in the cliffs of IgriMekhel for instance where, apart from the gift of nature, the owners would skin you alive for even entertaining such a smart move? What interest does the EPDP have in deliberately confusing Lowlander’s legitimate right to defend their ancestral land and their national pride against invading Land Grabbers, with the government’s legitimate right to seize a piece of land to construct a school or a clinic for the local community? They may think they can evade the debate on the issue by playing games with words but they shouldn’t if they are serious about giving us a reason to differentiate them from their ethnic clones in Asmara.  


Dr. Yebio said: “The way out … is through a well thought national development policy that will take into account the wishes and desires of the stakeholders”.   


It might be interesting to hear from the honorable Doctor as to why he thinks the PFDJ’s move is not “a well thought national development policy” since, given the circumstances, it is the only bet they have to guarantee “food security” and what makes him believe that he can design a better “development strategy” since he implicitly takes the Land Grabbers themselves to be “stakeholders” in a stolen homeland and the key assumption that their needs (as well) must be accommodated is identical to that of the PFDJ. The truth that the snobbish intellectuals of CDRiE (the EPDP’s Hafash Wudubat) might not have paid attention to is that the PFDJ actually has better expertise and infrastructure in the area of “stakeholders”. Here is what the government said and we will wait to compare and judge (which is more “well thought” development than the other) as soon as Dr. Yebio makes his bet. Eritrea Profile (December 26, 2009) described the summary of some meeting that the Administrator of Gash-Barka region, Mr. Kahsai Gebrehiwet had with the “INHABITANTS” and this is what he explained to his audience:  


“Close collaboration of the people and administrative bodies is imperative for putting land plots under cultivation … He indicated that the necessary study has been undertaken and is already in the process of implementation with a view to making investment [“One Adgi Investors” to quote Semere Tesfai] in the region … He went on to say that the changes being introduced in handling farmland are based on the study conducted by experts and professionals, and that all the measures that need to be taken rest on legal grounds. 


Neither Dr. Yebio nor Kahsai Gebrehiwet’s experts had any questions about the legitimacy of speaking about “development policies and legal grounds” behind people’s backs at a time when hundreds of thousands of refugees are stranded in limbo. In case they might be trying to help and they didn’t know however the only intellectual input Lowlanders are interested in today are in the technicalities of how to wash their ancestral land clean from the footsteps of intruding thieves and Land Grabbers. The only time Lowlanders will ever have the appetite to think about “development policies and legal grounds” is when every Land Grabber and Exclusionist is chased out of their proximity, every refugee is repatriated to his/her ancestral land, and every Eritrean is empowered enough to negotiate the terms of their mutual coexistence on equal footing.     


The following clarification will help those who are not proficient enough in the language of thieves and Land Grabbers and it is from an expert (probably one of those Kahsai Gebrehiwet was referring to) who knows it all (not surprisingly a Lowlander): Dr. Zeremariam Fre, the Executive Director of Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA). For those who are not familiar with the organization, PENHA is one of those entities that have for years selflessly supplied the PFDJ (and other infamous regimes in the region) with expertise in how to “deal with” pastoralists. Their achievements (with others) can be seen in the millions that have turned homeless and voiceless in parts of the Horn of Africa. PENHA is among the couple of NGOs that are still welcome to operate freely inside Eritrea as well as to oversee and rubberstamp the PFDJ’s projects of Land Grabbers by conspiring to mislead the public into believing that they need not worry about the fate of pastoralists in Eritrea.  


This is by no means to underestimate the amazing contributions of PENHA and its collaborators in “Protecting grazing land for pastoralists in Western Eritrea” (to use the exact words in their website). Here is the “heroic” achievement of Dr. Zeremariam’s PENHA shamelessly posted for the public to see: 


Resulting from the continuous lobbying efforts exerted by NUEYS (National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students), PENHA and the pastoralist forums and committees, the local administration in the Goluj subzone granted pastoralists a 450 sq. km grazing reservation area as a measure of good will. Sign posts were immediately erected by NUEYS [see photo on PENHA website]. This is a great achievement as the shortage of grazing areas and the clear designation of these areas remains a serious concern for pastoralists in the region.” 


My question to the second honorable Doctors: is this a language of Land Grabbers or a prank of Money Grabbers? The following is Dr. Zeremariam’s own example (from BBC Report of November 8, 2009) of what “land grabbing and outsourcing put in mild language” usually looks like in  a presentation he delivered on November 13, 2009 (at the invitation of UNU-IAS) ironically entitled “The New Phenomenon of Land Grabbing in Africa and its Impact on Livelihoods and Ecosystems“. His choice of the worst example (of Land Grabbers) is no other than Saudi Arabia and the quotation is: “Saudi authorities introduced a new legislation to conserve water by not growing crops … which consume too much water but instead (to) grow crops elsewhere and import them.”  


Of course, who else would be more qualified to support and cheer pastoralists to stand against such outrageous designs other than PENHA and here is Dr. Zeremariam’s choice of the exemplary response by the next of kin to some of our own pastoralists: ““Our land is our honour and our forests are our jewels so how can you let anyone take this away from you? Nowadays, there too many hyenas wanting to snatch it away from us but we will fight for our land as we have always done” pastoral people from East Sudan 2009”. And our second question to Dr. Fre: are those that PENHA thankfully guaranteed a “reservation area as a measure of good will” (from invading Land Grabbers) in their own homeland also entitled to respond to the PFDJ, the same way Eastern Sudanese pastoralists responded to probably the Saudis?  


I don’t know Dr. Yebio and I can’t tell if he is bilingual but I can bet anything that he is fluent in THE LANGUAGE which is gradually becoming the National Language underlying Tigrigna. Does the promise to solve the plight of Eritreans threatened with systematic exclusion and cleansing “through a well thought national development policy that will take into account the wishes and desires of the stakeholders” mean anything to you? I am sure it does but I don’t want to say it because I respect that guy who took the long flight from New York to London to be with his brothers and to add his voice to this important debate (on the wrong side) and because the door for redemption is always open. 


“Do we believe that the Eritrea they visualize following the removal of PFDJ is one that will be at peace with itself, with others, and one that is democratic and just?” asks Saleh Younis in his latest as usual masterful article and faultless arguments. This he says is the “WHAT” of Eritrean politics today. The answer, I believe, lies in what we do not want to admit: that LAND is the MOTHER of ALL RIGHTS. Deal with it and the rest of our promise will follow – evade it and the curse of our destiny will flow! Take your pick!


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