Ethiopia: Govt signs land lease contracts for Saudi Billionaire, Other Investors

Ethiopian officials have withdrawn leases in Addis Ababa that were held by dozens of investors, including the Ethiopian-born Saudi billionaire Mohammed Hussein al-Amoudi.

In total, 412.6 hectares of land were returned to the Addis Ababa Land Bank and Transfer Office, head of the Tesfaye Tilahun office this week to the VOA Horn of Africa service.

The investors had not acted on the basis of their promise to create jobs for young people and to grow the city by more than 4 million, he said.

"The only thing they did was make a fence of thousands of square meters of land and have left it for years. That's all they did, "he said.

Ninety-five individuals and companies lost their licenses, Tesfaye said.

The recovered land comprises 55 hectares that were associated with MIDROC Ethiopia, a private company belonging to al-Amoudi.

MIDROC Ethiopia hired around 33,000 square feet of land in the heart of the capital in 2005 and agreed to build a center there.

"The company has just laid a fence around that massive [tract], expelling the local population. Instead of building the city, they gave the city a bad image, making it a waste collection site, "Tesfaye said.

VOA's efforts to reach MIDROC Ethiopia representatives for a response to the government's actions were unsuccessful.

MIDROC has often had a rough relationship with residents of Addis Ababa, who have accused the company of polluting the environment and refusing employment for the local population.

The public frustration grew a few years ago, especially in the Oromia region, where the local population protested against the company.

Land problems also caused Oromia's protests. Many residents oppose an expansion of the city limits of Addis Ababa, citing the fear that the government would expel farmers from their land.

"Addis Abeba must first grow from the inside before they illegally expel the neighboring farmers from their possessions," said Tesfaye.

In Ethiopia, the federal government has the ultimate say over who owns the land and how it is used.

Nineteen Ethiopian government agencies and 18 companies affiliated with African diplomats or governments have also withdrawn their licenses this week.

Tesfaye said the entities had promised to build industry, hotels, a media center and other complexes in different parts of the busiest part of the city.

Addis Ababa city officials are planning to control other land holdings in the city. "This is the beginning," he said.

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