China, the African Union, and Oromo Politics
In preparation for my trip to Ethiopia this June (yes, I’m going!!!), I began to do a little research about things I want to do and see there. Two of the places I want to check out are the African Union and the hotel where Shaft stayed in the 1973 movie Shaft in Africa, both in the capital city of Addis Ababa. And, of course, I also want to visit the Oromo culture museum in the city of Nekemte, the ancient Oromo Palace of Abba Jifar in the city of Jimma, the Bale Forest, and many other places.
If you read my blog regularly, you already know how much I blog about Oromo issues and how much I blog about globalization. Curiously, while trying to figure out where the African Union meets in Ethiopia, I learned that the Chinese government just announced plans this past January to build a brand new conference center for the AU. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise since China has been very actively involved in African development for the past decade including the building of a new highway called “The Ring” around Ethiopia’s capital city. One of the streets there is now named “Ethio-China Ave” in celebration of the new economic relationship between the two countries.
The Ethiopian government claims that recent foreign investment from China, India, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates will increase productivity and bring development to Ethiopia. But others claim this is simply a “land grab” and a form of neocolonialism. They suggest that the corrupt and oppressive regime of Meles Zenawi may be promising economic development, but in reality he and his cohorts are simply stealing the country from its people and selling it off. Thousands of people are being effectively forced off their land so they either have to work for the multinational corporations who bought the land or move to the cities. Environmental and human rights regulations are not fully enforced, resulting in environmentally unsustainable deforestation, massive amounts of pollution, and the exploitation of labor.
A couple days ago, an Oromo woman named Siyade, who lives in the United States, posted this YouTube video about the issue of foreign investment in Ethiopian land, addressing next week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Much of the content for her video comes from a PBS story “Ethiopia’s Abundant Farming Investments Leave Many Still Hungry” produced about a week ago by Fred de Sam Lazaro of the Undertold Stories Project at St. John’s University in Minnesota. But Siyade explores the issue further and adds this important question: “What measures will be taken to make sure that the indigenous farmers and ordinary citizens of Ethiopia and other parts of Africa will see any profit from these lofty and shameless multinational corporate deals?”
Whether or not this question gets asked at the Davos Debates may be up to you, my dear reader. You can vote for this question to be raised by clicking [here] and voting on the video posted by “Evoke Agent” — but you must vote before May 5th.
Two concluding theoretical points. First, we ought to question whether democratic politics traditionally conceived by European philosophers is even possible in Africa when foreign direct investment is building the very buildings (i.e., the African Union) where so-called political representation and discussion is supposed to take place. One can not simply blame corrupt leaders such as Meles when developing nations are so obviously enmeshed in transnational economies and power politics of a global scale. (By the way, I’ve blogged previously [here] about the strangeness of the African Union because of transnational culture.) Second, I also question the exigency of this moment. Why is everyone suddently feigning concern about foreign investment in Ethiopia now that that investment is coming from countries such as Saudi Arabia and China? After all, everyone knows that Europe and the United States have been doing the same thing for over a century. Are the new neocolonial investors any less ethical than the old colonial and neocolonial investors?
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