ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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India's Agri-Imperialism

Indian agribusiness is set to reap super-profits from its large-scale acquisitions of farmland in Ethiopia.

Meles Zenawi was the favourite of western imperialists in the Horn of Africa, the apple of every US president’s eye. They backed him to the hilt even in the 1980s when, in the Marxist-Leninist idiom, he claimed to represent the forces of “revolutionary democracy”. The reason, of course, was that the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) that he headed from the mid-1980s onwards in the civil war were fighting to overthrow the Soviet-backed Mengistu-led government of the then People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Heavily backed by US imperialism, the TPLF and the EPRDF won the war, and Meles Zenawi took power in 1991. He remained at the helm for the next 21 years until his death last month on 20 August. Now that he is gone, not only Washington, but also New Delhi and some Indian business groups which have leased large tracts of land in the country, must be hoping that the political transition in Ethiopia is navigated in a manner that maintains their business advantage.

The political transition post-Zenawi is certainly not going to be smooth. Zenawi not only held tight control of the military and what was virtually a single-party state (the multiparty system did get off the ground when some opposition party candidates won a few seats in the 2005 elections), but also had a direct stake in the economy through the “endowment companies”, the largest and most influential of which is EFFORT, the conglomerate owned by the TPLF. And, most importantly, Zenawi had a big hand in the large-scale land acquisition by foreign investors, which is rapidly shifting the agrarian structure from smallholder to large-scale farming.

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