Land Grab in Africa: Structural Violence of Globalization in Oromia-Ethiopia

Why is ‘land grab’ both a structural and personal violence? Think of what you can buy with 40 cents if you walk into a grocery store in the U.S., or Europe? Will you be able to buy a piece of candy with 40 cents? Probably not! But if you go to Africa, you can buy an acre of land for money as small as 40 cents for a 99 years stretch of time into the future in countries like Ethiopia from dictators. This can be framed as ‘the structural violence of globalization superimposed on local ethnic-racism’ against indigenous peoples such as the Oromo in Ethiopia.
What is ‘land grab’?
‘Land grab’ refers to land acquisitions done in one or more of the following ways:
  •  Violate human rights/women’s rights;
  • Flout the principle of free, prior, and informed consent of the affected land users, particularly indigenous peoples;
  • Ignore the impacts on social, economic, and gender relations, and on the environment;
  • Avoid transparent contracts with clear and binding commitments on employment and benefit sharing;
  •  Shun democratic planning, independent oversight, and meaningful participation –Oxfam (2011:2).
On state-sanctioned violence
Violence is of two types (Galtung, 1969): one in which the power that be deploy soldiers and police and kill people directly—termed ‘direct violence’ and another in which you create a system of perpetual unequal relationship between power-wielding minorities and the vast majority of peoples—termed ‘structural violence’. It is structural because states and corporations follow it at faceless policy level.
In both cases, the main aim of violence is to “create the difference between the potential and actual, between what could have been and what is,” (Galtung, 1969: 3). In other words, a neo-liberal phenomenon that came to be termed by the victims of it as ‘land grab’ is a structural violence because it prevents humans families from meeting their basic human needs of eating and surviving because their land is taken away for 40 cents.
The corporations grabbing land and governments of Africa refer to land grab in a more humanized terminology; they inaccurately call it “land investment deals.” They claim the goal of such deals is to increase food production and to make involved poor nations food secure. However, as none of the food produced is consumed domestically in Oromia and Ethiopia, for instance, it turns out that this goal is just a rhetorical justification for crimes against humanity perpetrated by states headed by tyrannical leaders. Land grab is an area of emerging conflicts between governments and corporations on the one side and the world’s poor on the other side. The victims characterize this phenomenon in a number of ways: ‘neo-colonialism’, ‘modern day slavery’, ‘ethnic-cleansing’, ‘the second scramble for Africa’, all indicating their outrage and accurate characterization of land garbs.
How did it happen and what are the consequences?
Following the global economic crises that began in 2008, tens of agro-corporations, and foreign governments mostly from India, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, and China have grabbed over 227 million hectares of land in poor countries worldwide (Oxfam, 2011). This size amounts to the size of Western Europe or the total amount of land devoted to corn and wheat farming in the United States.
In Ethiopia’s marginalized regional states such as Oromia, Gambella, Afar, Southern Nations and Nationalities, land grab is predominantly a practice of ethnic-based discriminatory policies (apartheid) by ruling elites. A simple proof for this claim is that while large tracts of land are leased or sold out in those marginalized regions, PM Meles Zenawi’s ethnocratic regime has leased or sold little or no land in his own ethnic region of Tigray.
In southern Ethiopian regional states, over  four million are in need of emergency food aid, while rice and corn produced on lands they were evicted from is shipped overseas to feed India or Saudi Arabia. Again, as simple proof of the regime’s apartheid policies, the northern regions (where the leaders are from) are not starved to death because of their ethnic identity as opposed to regions in the south. It was northern Ethiopia that was traditionally associated with famine, including that of 1984. But after Zenawi’s Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front assumed exclusive political and military power  in Ethiopia in 1991, the zones of famine shifted  southwards. Unfortunately, the U.S. and the world have turned a blind eye to this tragedy for so long.
The massive evictions of people from their lands, homesteads, and the burning of forest and grasslands to make way for potential farmlands constitute direct attacks/violence on unarmed civilians. Babies die in millions from preventable malnutrition and diseases. This prevents them from developing into what they should be— becoming healthy adults, students, entrepreneurs and good citizens etc.
The structural violence consequences of land grab include increased rate of food insecurity, aid dependency, lethal impact on the environment and wild and domestic lives, unregulated zombie-style enforcement of land grab subject to the whims of individual dictators and their entourages (Oakland Institute, 2011).

Global structural problems need global grassroots responses to stop or eliminate injustices and inequalities. No billions of dollars delivered directly to the doors of despots will solve the problems of food insecurity. In fact, it exacerbates the existing food crisis because it is a conventional knowledge that some of the regimes will use it to buy arms in order to suppress political and economic opposition to stay in power as long as they can. Problems of corporate greed and globalization are experienced by people everywhere, including those in developed nations. Africans are in this together with others. The effort of Africans must be to find ways of harnessing “the webs that bind us…” (Heineman-Piper, 2011).


Biyyaa, Qeerransoo. “Environmental Peril in Oromia, Ethiopia.” American Chronicle, May 6, 2009. October 2011)., “Land Grab.” October 2011)

Galtung, Johan. “Violence, Peace,and Peace Research.”  Journal of Peace Research 1969 (6): 167

Heineman-Piepr, Jessica. “Structural Violence of Globalization: An Urgent Call for Preventive Intervention.”  Paper Presented at the 2011 Academy of Management Annual Meeting.

Laishley, Roy. “Is Africa’s Land Up for Grabs?”  UNAfrica Renewal, October 2009. October 2011).

Oxfam. “Land and Power: The Growing ScandalSurrounding the New Wave of Investments in Land.”  Oxfam,2011. October 2011).

Terry, Allen J. “Global Land Grab.”In These Times, August 22, 2011. October 2011).

The Oakland Institute. “UnderstandingLand Investment Deals in Africa: Country Report: Ethiopia.”  Oakland CA: Oakland Institute, 2011. October 2011).

Vidal, John and Claire Provost. “ USUniversities in Africa ‘land grab,” theguardian,June 8, 2011. October 2011)

2 thoughts on “Land Grab in Africa: Structural Violence of Globalization in Oromia-Ethiopia

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