In September 2011 The Future in Our Hands wrote about how the Ethiopian authorities’ agricultural programme is being used in a political power play. Families that do not support the regime are punished by being refused access to mineral fertiliser. Yara is one of the leading suppliers of mineral fertiliser to Ethiopia and has several times during the past years won large contracts with the Ethiopian state.
In June 2011, in collaboration with the Indian company Safetec, the Norwegian fertiliser company Yara applied to Ethiopian authorities for a license to open a factory for extraction of the valuable mineral potash in the Afar region. The price of the factory is estimated at up to a billion dollars on the license application, according to Ethiopian media. Yara and Safetec have formed a new company named Ethio Potash, which is behind the license application.
“This is a project for extraction of minerals that are extremely important elements in fertilisers,” Asle Skredderberget, spokesperson for Yara, stated.
According to Yara, at present the project is only up for evaluation, and no decision will be taken before an ongoing pilot study has been concluded.
“We must ensure access to the raw materials for the production, and Ethiopia is one of the locations where we are able to obtain them,” Skredderberget explained.
He declared that it will require heavy investment. “We don’t make many such mining investments. What we go in for must be something we can be certain of,” Skredderberget stated.
“How does Yara assess the political situation and the criticism of Ethiopian authorities now that you are considering a large new investment?”, The Future in Our Hands asked.
“In the pilot study we evaluate whether this is a project in which we can have our way. We shall consider all aspects – among other things, how much potash there is, the economy, the environment, transportation, and the population. The new information must also be included in the evaluation,” Skredderberget said, referring to The Future in Our Hands’ questions about political misuse of fertiliser.
Researcher familiar with claimsThe assertion that families or villages that have voted for the opposition are refused state aid such as seeds or fertiliser is something Ethiopia researcher Kjetil Tronvoll recognises from his own research. “I recognise the information from BBC and Human Rights Watch from my own interviews with the population in developing countries,” Kjetil Tronvoll stated. He has carried out research on Ethiopia for a number of years and today works for the International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI), Oslo.
The party in power in Ethiopia, EPDRF, has been re-elected at every election since 1991. At the national election in 2005 the opposition party made great progress but nonetheless lost the election. Suspicions and allegations about election fraud caused the large-scale demonstrations after the election to be brutally struck down.
The opposition’s progress was perceived as a threat by the party in power. During the years leading up to the 2010 elections the government used state institutions to ensure control of the voters. This happened as, among other things, local authorities in the countryside refused to give seeds and fertiliser to families who voted “incorrectly”.
“Families are struck by sanctions by the authorities. Both threats before elections and sanctions after elections have occurred. People who have gone to the village administration, which is government-controlled, are told that they have to see the opposition candidate to receive aid. “He is your man, because they don’t vote right since you voted for him; you won’t get anything from us,” they are told when they need help.
“Is mineral fertiliser a political instrument of power?”
“Yes, definitely. Mineral fertiliser is an especially important instrument of power in a country where 80% are subsistence farmers. They are totally dependent on the crop from a small patch of land and possibly a small profit from sale at the market.”
Tronvoll explained that all land in Ethiopia is owned by the state, and the state administration manages the land rights in the country districts. This gives the state and the government great power over villages and families in the countryside.
The government’s political pressure has been further documented in the Human Rights Watch reports “One Hundred Ways of Putting Pressure” and “Development without Freedom – How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia”, both from 2010.
The Embassy: “Not systematic misuse”The Norwegian embassy in Ethiopia will not vouch for the allegations about the government’s misuse of political power.
“These allegations [from Human Rights Watch] have been the object of investigation by donor countries and international organisations established in Ethiopia, which have concluded that systematic or extensive misuse of the aid does not exist,” Tormod Nuland at the Norwegian embassy in Addis Ababa stated in an e-mail.
The embassy thus refuted allegations by the opposition, human rights groups and researchers which have been repeated several times during the past years.
“From Norway’s point of view, we consider the allegations of infringements and breaches of human rights presented in BBC’s report as serious. It is important that these allegations be examined and followed up. From Norway’s side, we regularly discuss human rights and democracy questions with Ethiopian authorities”, Nuland reported.