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Commentary: Research on Land Ownership and Land Use Policy in Ethiopia – by Tsegaye Tegenu, PhD

December 24, 2016

I read an article written by Professor Teshome Abebe on the policy implication of the land issue research in Ethiopia. The following assertion forced me to write this commentary: “In my previous articles and speeches, I had stated that neither Ethiopian scholars nor political parties had provided a clear, concise, and meaningful solution to the problems of land allocation within the Ethiopian context.” This bold statement is misleading, if it is meant to be taken seriously. I think readers deserve comments for the sake of balanced judgment and awareness. If there is any issue which the Ethiopian scholars have rigorously researched and long-debated suggestion it is the land issue (see selected references below). It is one thing not to understand their suggested solution and ask for further clarification. It becomes completely a different matter to cross the line, underestimate others ability or blame them for the lack of one’s own understanding or failure to get access to their research results.
Needless to mention that in the academic world a claim about such proportion and critic requires conducting two interrelated scientific steps and assignments. First the author has to provide a review of the land tenure and policy research on Ethiopia (reading at least 5000 pages). The review is mainly expected to provide a summary of views and an explanation why the author’s perspective is different from others and significance statement of his approach. The second step, following the first, is to sum up own empirical findings based on case studies. Short of these steps, it is not fair to belittle others efforts that too based on some abstract concepts and old case study (Master’s thesis on land reform conducted decades ago). Clearly, the author is not aware of the existence of massive literature on land tenure issues and policies in Ethiopia. I am proud to say that there are enumerable researchers, policy practitioners and government institutions in Ethiopia which have conducted detailed case studies using both qualitative and quantitative methods. Most of them have spent their entire productive life investigating the issue. Finding and summarizing their results requires much effort and time. The findings are not easily available because of their depth, complexity, time and space variations.
This does not mean that the land ownership and policy issue is not for discussion. In fact it is one of the burning issues which needs urgent solution as pointed out by the author. The question is what type of solution and when to implement it. Academic researchers (economists, sociologists, lawyers, agricultural scientists, etc.) and practitioners (working in various government institutions in Ethiopia and donners) have proposed different and in some cases overlapping solutions depending on their field of interest, choice of case studies and methods of performance assessment. One important conclusion of that has emerged from the research findings and discussion is that land ownership and land policy is not an end by itself. Most of them suggested forms of ownership and context specific land use policies based on the perspective of tenure security, poverty alleviation objectives and sustainable development in the country.
My perspective and approach to land ownership and land use policy is different. In my case I see land ownership and use for the purpose of economic structural transformation and financing of industrialization in Ethiopia. From my perspective, I found it debatable whether land has to be owned and managed either by the state (Chines model) and/or by the private sector (Taiwan model). Has the Ethiopian state the attribute to accumulate wealth and distribute resources based on rules, laws and merits? Can the state use Chinese production brigade model to finance industrialization in the country? In the case of the domestic private sector, further discussion is needed on entrepreneurship quality and competitive discipline of the sector. I have in mind the Confucian entrepreneurs’ values of Taiwan’s private sector and the zero-sum traditional culture of the rist-gult system of Ethiopia (mind set of a winner and loser). Depending on the context, Professor Dessalegn Rahmato propsed land ownership and management by farmers’ cooperatives. From my interest on economic structural transformation, I find this suggestion problematic. Do farmers’ cooperatives have capacity to participate and compete in value chains taking into account of the problems of quality control, delivery on time and correct quantity (a good example is the problem faced by Ethiopia’s honey export to Japan).
Whatever the forms of ownership, (state, private or farmers cooperatives), there is one common implementation system applicable to all forms of contractual and economic relationships in the country. According to my understanding land ownership and land use policies do not function as designed in the absence of a meritocracy bureaucracy (departments staffed with non-elected officials with merits) and a legal system which defines rules of securing property rights and obligations of the public and private sectors. To use McNamee and Miller description, “you get out of the system what you put into it”. My observation is that land ownership/use policies do not evolve together with a legal system supposed to promote efficiency, investment and entrepreneurship. Past experience shows that before embarking on land reform policies, it is at first necessary to establish a legal system that provides the rule of law and a political system which is transparent and accountable.
Selected books and articles on land tenure and land policy in Ethiopia (alphabetical order)
Addis Ababa City Administration 2004, Land Delivery Service Manual, No. 12/2004 E.C.
Ambaye, D.W. (2015), Land Rights and Expropriation in Ethiopia. Springer International Publishing Switzerland
Behailu Gebremanuel, D., (2015)Transfer of Land Rights in Ethiopia. Towards a Sustainable Policy Framework. Eleven international publishing.
Bekure, S., Abegaz, G., Frej, L., and Abebe, S. eds. (2006), Standardization of Rural Land Registration and Cadastral Surveying Methodologies Experiences in Ethiopia Proceedings of a National Conference. Addis Ababa.
Bereket, k. (2002), Land Tenure and the Common pool in Rural Ethiopia. A Study bases in Fifteen Sites. Blackwell Publisher.
Berhanu, A. and Fayera, A. (2005), Land Registration in Amhara Region, Ethiopia. (SOS Sahel, AA. Ethiopia.
Cohen, J. M. 1977. Rural and Urban Land Reform in Ethiopia. Afri. L. Stud., 14,
Committee established for the Fourth Anniversary of the Revolution (1978). Urban Land and Extra House: From Yesterday to Today (Amharic). Addis Ababa.
Crewett, W. Bogale, A., Korf, B., (2008), Land tenure in Ethiopia Continuity and change, shifting rulers, and the quest for state control. CAPRI working paper.
Crummey, D. 2000. Land and Society in the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia: From the Thirteenth to the Twentieth Century, USA, University of illinois Press.
Daniel-Weldegebriel-Ambaye 2009. Land Valuation for Expropriation in Ethiopia: Valuation Methods and Adequacy of Compensation 7th FIG Regional Conference. Hanoi, Vietnam, 19–22 October 2009 FIG (
Deininger, K., Ayalew, D. & Alemu, T. 2009. Impacts of Land Certification on Tenure Security, Investment, and Land Markets: Evidence from Ethiopia. Environment for Development, Discussion Paper Series, EfD DP 09-11 [Online]. Available:
Deininger, K., Daniel-Ayalew, Holden, S. & Zevenbergen, J. 2007. Rural Land Certification in Ethiopia: Process, Initial Impact, and Implications for Other African Countries. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4218. World Bank.
Dessalegn-Rahmato (1993). Agrarian Change and Agrarian Crisis: State and Peasantry in Post-Revolution Ethiopia. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 63.
Dessalegn-Rahmato (2006). From Hetrogeneity to Homogeneity: Agrarian Class Structure in Ethiopia since the 1950s. In: Dessalegn-Rahmato & Taye-Assefa (eds.) Land and the Challenge of Sustainable Development in Ethiopia. Addis Ababa: Forum for Social Studies.
Dessalegn-Rahmato (2009). Land and Agrarian Unrest in Wollo: From the Imperial Regime to the Derg. In: Dessalegn-Rahmato (ed.) The Peasant and the State: Studies in Agrarian Change in Ethiopia 1950s–2000s (collection of articles by same author). Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa university Press.
Dessalegn-Rahmato (2009). Land Registration and Tenure Security: A Critical Assessment. In: Dessalegn-Rahmato (ed.) The Peasant and the State: Studies in Agrarian Change in Ethiopia 1950s–2000s. Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa Univrsity Press.
Dessalegn-Rahmato (2009). An Assessment on the Ethiopian Agricultural Policy. In: Taye-Assefa (ed.) Digest of Ethiopian National Policies, Strategies and Programmes (Amharic). Addis Ababa: Forum for Social Studies and The European Union.
Dessalegn-Rahmato (2011). Land to Investors: Large-Scale Land Transfer in Ethiopia. FSS Policy Debate Series. Addis Ababa: Forum for Social Studies.
Dunning, H. C. 1970. Land Reform in Ethiopia: A Case Study in Non-Development. UCLA L. Rev, 18,
EEA/EEPRI 2002. A Research Report on Land Tenure and Agricultural Development in Ethiopia. Addis Ababa: Ethiopian Economic Association/Ethiopian Economic Policy Research Institute.
FAO 2002. Land Tenure and Rural Development, Rome, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
FDRE Rural Land Administration and Land Use Proclamation, Proclamation No. 456/2005. Negarit Gazeta. Year 11, No. 44.
Feyera-Abdissa & Terefe-Degefa 2011. Urbanization and Changing Livelihoods: The Case of Farmers’ Displacement in the Expansion of Addis Ababa. In: Teller, C. & Hailemariam, A. (eds.) The Demographic Transition and Development in Africa: The Unique Case of Ethiopia. London: Springer.
Hoben, A. 1973. Land Tenure Among the Amhara of Ethiopia: The Dynamics of Cognatic Descent Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Horne, F. 2011. Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa: Country Report Ethiopia. Oakland, USA: The Oakland Institute.
Huntingford, G. W. B. 1965. The Land Charters of Northern Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Institute of Ethiopian Studies and the Faculty of Law, Haile Sellassie I University.
Kabtamu-Niguse. 2012. Land Tenure and Tenure Security Among Somali Pastoralists: Within the Context of Dual Tenure System. LL.M thesis, Bahir Dar University, School of Law.
Mahteme-Selassie, W. M. 1957. The Land System of Ethiopia. Ethiopia Observer, 1.;
Mahteme-Sellassie, W. M. 1970. Zekre Neger, Addis Ababa
Mekasha-Abera 2012. Ye Eethiopia Meseretawi ye Lease Hig Hasabochna Yemiasketlachew Chigroch (Fundamentals of the Ethiopian Lease Law and its Problems), Addis Ababa, Far East Trading.
Mesganaw-Kifelew 2009. The Current Urban Land Tenure System in Ethiopia. In: Muradu-Abdo (ed.) Land Law and Policy in Ethiopia Since 1991: Continuities and Changes. Addis Ababa: Ethiopian Business Law Series, Faculty of Law, Addis Ababa University.
Ministry-of-Information 1968. Yemeret Yizota be Hibretesebawit Ethiopia (Land Possession in the Republic of Ethiopia), Addis Ababa.
MOIPAD 2001. Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Rural Development Policies, Strategies and Instruments (Amharic). Addis Ababa: Ministry of Information, Press and Audiovisual Department.
Molla-Mengistu 2009. The Ethiopian Urban Landholding System: An Assessment of the Governing Legal Regime. In: Muradu-Abdo (ed.) Land Law and Policy in Ethiopia since 1991: Continuities and Changes. Addis Ababa: Law Faculty, Addis Ababa University.
Oromia Rural Land Use and Administration, Proclamation 130/2007.
Palm, L. 2010. Quick and Cheap Mass Land Registration and computerisation in Ethiopia. Facing the Challenges—Building the Capacity. Sydney, Australia: FIG Congress.
Pankhurst, R. 1966. State and Land in Ethiopian History, Addis Ababa, The Institute of Ethiopian Studies and the Faculty of Law, Haile Sellasie I University.
Pausewang, S. 1982. Peasants, Land and Society: a Social History of Land Reform in Ethiopia, Munchen, Weltforum-Varlag
Proclamation No. 136/2007. Tigray Negarit Gazeta. Year 16 No. 1.
Samuel-Gebreselassie 2006. Land, Land Policy and Smallholder Agriculture in Ethiopia: Options and Scenarios. Future Agricultures Consortium meeting. the Institute of Development Studies,
Shiferaw-Bekele 1995. The Evolution of Land Tenure in the Imperial Era. In: Shiferaw, B. (ed.) An Economic History of Ethiopia: The Imperial Era 1941–1974. Dakar: CODESRIA
Tesfaye-Olika 2006. Ethiopia: Politics of Land Tenure Policies Under the Three Regimes, a Carrot and Stick Rulling Strategy in Ethiopian Politics. In: Tesfaye-Olika (ed.) Ethiopia: Politics, Policy Making and Rural Development. Addis Ababa: Department of Political & International Relations, Addis Ababa University
The Revised Amhara National Regional State Rural Land Administration and Use Proclamation, Proclamation No. 133/2006. Zikre Hig. Year 11, No. 18.
The Revised Tigray National Regional State Rural Land Administration and Use Proclamation,
The Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State Rural Land Administration and Utilization Proclamation, Proclamation 110/2007. Debub Negarit Gazeta.
Urban Lands Lease Holding Proclamation, Proclamation No. 80/1993. Negarit Gazeta. Year 53, No. 40.
USAID (2004), Ethiopia Land Policy and Administration Assessment. Final Report with Appendices.
Yeraswork-Admassie 2000. Twenty Years to Nowhere: Property Rights, Land Management and Conservation in Ethiopia Asmara, The Red Sea Press, Inc.

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