By Prof. Al Mariam
Author’s Note: Last week, the infamous landgrabber in Ethiopia, Sai Karuturi, wrote a letter informing the black apartheid T-TPLF (Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front) prime minister that he has had enough and wants out. Karuturi “accused the (T-TPLF) state of nationalizing its farming investments” and demanded “adequate and appropriate redress.” Karuturi also condemned the T-TPLF regime for its decision to “unilaterally and illegally cancel our investment and trade license”. Karuturi threw in the towel and declared, “We stand tired and defeated and wish to exit Ethiopia.”
Exit out of Ethiopia shirtless, pant-less and underwear-less. That is what happens to anyone who has business dealings with the T-TPLF Cleaners.
Karuturi believed he had made the “deal of the century” when the T-TPLF handed him a “1,000 sq. km” slice of Ethiopia to “develop”. What Karuturi did not realize was “all that glitters is not gold.” When Karuturi set off on his quixotic mission in 2011 to “invent and discover commercial farming in Ethiopia”, he had no idea he was walking into a T-TPLF investment trap.
In September 2017, Karuturi realized he had been ripped off royally by the T-TPLF and is crying his eyes out to get at least his equipment out of the country.
Is it possible to yank carrion out of the mouths of hyenas?
In March 2011, I knew how the T-TPLF-Karuturi deal was going to end. Right down to the last detail.
In September 2017, that deal ended not with a bang, but with Karuturi whimpering and crying his eyes out after the T-TPLF vultures had picked his financial bones clean.
In this commentary, I present that portion of my 2011 commentary foretelling the end of the “T-TPLF-Karuturi Land Giveaway, Land Grab Movie.”
I also re-emphasize the teachable moments from the Karuturi saga to all who wish to invest with the T-TPLF.
I told you so, Karuturi! Remember my words, “Beware of Those Bearing Free Gifts”?
… I will never forget the giddy, bearded-face of Karuturi Project Manager in Gambella, Karmjeet Sekhon, in the Guardian video giggling ecstatically and telling John Vidal about the free land his company got: “We never saw the land. They gave it to us and we took it. Seriously, we did. We did not even see the land. They offered it. That’s all.”
Sorry, Karuturi and Mr. Sekhon, “that is not all.” You ain’t seen nothing yet!
Of course, Karuturi is free to indulge in the proverbial fantasy about a free lunch, free money and free land. Just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, there is no such thing as free land. After Karuturi spends millions to clear the forest, bring in expensive agricultural equipment, build infrastructure and get the farms humming, it will find out “that’s not all”. Mr. Sekhon will wake up one fine Gambella morning and find out that the free land his company got without asking ain’t free after all.
Karuturi will find out that it has failed to get this or that permit, or is in violation of this or that part of the 50-year lease. It did not build this school or that clinic, and the ones it built are not big enough or good enough. It will find out that it did not build this road or that town center the right way, and the ones it built are inadequate and more need to be built. Karuturi will suddenly find out that foreign investment law that gave them millions of hectares of free land has been reinterpreted to mean whatever the free land-givers want it to mean, just like the urban land law was interpreted to mean that developers could be “locked up” for trying to transfer their leaseholds for profit or pay “hefty fines” to avoid jail time.
In the end, Mr. Sekhon’s words will come back to haunt him and his company: “The hand that gaveth the free land is the hand that taketh away the fine, well-developed farmland!”
Karuturi and the rest of the “investors” have no idea how cunning, shrewd, tricky, wily and crafty the free land-givers are; and they do not learn from self-evident facts. Those who are handing out free land understand the power of greed in the hearts and minds of the greedy. Mr. Sekhon was as giddy and merry as a five-year old child who was just got handed a bagful of candy. All of the investors salivate at the idea of grabbing millions of hectares of free land. Their greed blinds them to a self-evident truth: It is impossible to get a whole lot of something (1,000 sq. miles of virgin, fertile land) for a whole lot of nothing ($245 a week for 50 years, plus generous tax breaks).
In the end, all of the investors will lose. In the end, the free land-givers will have it all. Over the decades, we have seen free-land-for-nothing type of scams from Angola to Zimbabwe. On March 27, 2011, Robert Mugabe told foreign investors straight-up that he is going to muscle in on their mining operations in Zimbabwe: ‘We are taking over. Listen Britain and America: this is our country. If you have companies which would want to work in our mining sector, they are welcome to come and join us, but we must have our people as the major shareholders. Those whites who want to be with us, those outsiders who want to work with us fine, they come in as partners, we are the senior partner, no more the junior partner.’
Like Mugabe, Ethiopia’s free land-givers will watch the international investors pour their money, hearts and skills into the lands. They will study every move the investors make, and then make their own move. Soon enough, Karuturi and Mr. Sekhon and the rest of them will figure out that they are “outsiders” (not investors) and the free land-givers will “take over” the farming operations, or at least become “senior partners” for giving them free land in the first place. That’s how it will all play out. It has happened time and again all over Africa.
Any written lease contract with Karuturi and the rest of them will not be worth the paper it is written on. Whatever unwritten agreements there may be, they will be conveniently forgotten. By the time the investors figure out that they had been taken to the cleaners, it would be too late. Mr. Sekhon, who giggled uncontrollably for getting hundreds of thousands of hectares of free land will cry uncontrollably all the way back to Bangalore, India to tell his bosses: “We should have known it was too good to be true! We should have….” The guys who gave out millions of free hectares without anyone asking them for it will be laughing all the way to the bank in London, New York and Zurich.
Such were my prophetic words in March 2011.
Suffice it to say that I followed up with additional commentaries telling Karuturi to get the hell out of T-TPLF Dodge before sundown and while there is still time.
But it was too late. Karuturi could not escape. The T-TPLF enchanters had put their powerful evil spell on Karuturi. He was toast.
In my March 2011 commentary, I “told” Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi, founder and managing director of Indian agribusiness giant Karuturi Global and self-proclaimed “pioneer of cut flower revolution in the World” and “inventor and discoverer of commercial farming in Ethiopia” that “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Karuturi thought he had gotten the “deal of the century” when the T-TPLF, the black apartheid regime in Ethiopia, offered him 300 hundred thousand hectares (“1 thousand square miles”) of land in Western Ethiopia literally for pennies.
Karuturi Project Manager in Ethiopia Karmjeet Sekhon laughed euphorically as he explained what happened to Guardian reporter John Vidal:
We never saw the land. They gave it to us and we took it. Seriously, we did. We did not even see the land. (Triumphantly cackling laughter) They offered it. That’s all… To start with, there will be 20,000 hectares of oil palm, 15,000 hectares of sugar cane and 40,000 hectares of rice, edible oils and maize and cotton. We are building reservoirs, dykes, roads, towns of 15,000 people. This is phase one. In three years time we will have 300,000 hectares cultivated and maybe 60,000 workers. We could feed a nation here.
I felt compelled to propose that if Karuturi was going to own a good part of Western Ethiopia, the region might as well be called “Karuturistan” instead of Gambella and the Anuak people be renamed “Karuturistanis”.
In September 2017, Sai Karuturi is crying foul, crying rip-off and crying his eyes out to get his money back.
In March 2011, I knew the T-TPLF rip-off artists will take the shirt, pants and underwear off Karuturi and drive him out of the country sucked dry to the bone. Such has always been the M.O. of the T-TPLF vampires.
Eight months after I wrote my commentary on Karuturi, in December 2011, Global Financial Integrity issued a report confirming what I had been saying all along: “The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage.”
When I wrote my March 2011 commentary, T-TPLF trolls complained I was just being “negative” against the T-TPLF and I would rain on their parades regardless of what they do or don’t do. Others claimed I was unpatriotic, anti-development and anti-investment.
Of course, all I was doing was what I do best: Speak truth to con artists with power.
Behold the truth now!
I knew from the get go that “foreign investment” for the T-TPLF was and still is a huge scam, a racket, a shell game, a con job.
The TPLF thugs refined and perfected their shakedown and hustling skills in the bush in the early 1980s ripping off humanitarian organization of tens of millions of dollars as I demonstrated in my March 2010 commentary, T-TPLF “Licensed to Steal”.
The T-TPLF foreign investment hustle is straight out of “The God Father”.
They set their investment trap and lure unsuspecting, overeager and greedy “investors” by offering shady deals and offers they can’t refuse — out-of-this world freebies, free money, no or very low interest loans, no taxes, no problems– and rip them off in broad daylight. That’s what happened to Karuturi and so many other foreign and Diaspora Ethiopian investors.
I have seen the T-TPLF takedown and shakedown many greedy Diaspora Ethiopians who returned from the West to “invest” and live the life of Riley among the impoverished people Ethiopia with the money they had accumulated. (Truth be told, the greedy Diaspora Ethiopian who “invested” with the T-TPLF got what they deserved. I have no sympathy for those who try to out-con the most cold-blooded con artists in all of Africa.)
Just like Karmjeet Sekhon of Karuturi, they would all talk ecstatically of the free land and free investment opportunities the T-TPLF was handing out in exchange for nothing except “helping the country develop”. They would talk about all the free rides they are getting — tax holidays, income tax exemptions, duty free imports, unrestricted currency conversions, free remittances out of the country, Ethiopian origin ID cards to get favorable treatment and so on.
After they have been picked clean by the T-TPLF vultures, they have come to me with heads bowed down from the land of buyer’s remorse.
All I can do is repeat what I told them before, “Caveat emptor” (Buyer beware.) Investor beware.
The most potent weapon the the T-TPLF arsenal has always been greed. The T-TPLF are the paragons of greed. They worship at the altar of Mammon, the god of greed.
Greed makes a perfectly rational person a blabbering idiotic. Greed makes people lose their commonsense and reasoning. Greed makes a sane person insane. Greed makes the wise downright foolish.
The T-TPLF has a profound understanding of the vice of greed. They know by exploiting the greed in their opponents and others they deal with, they can always win.
It is the power of greed that the T-TPLF uses to ensnare and rob its investors. No one understands the power of greed better than the T-TPLF bosses.
The T-TPLF has made damned fools of every individual and corporate foreign investor they have dealt with over the past 26 years. Their single most important weapon has been to exploit the bottomless greediness of those who want to invest with them.
Karuturi got ripped off by the T-TPLF because he was greedy. He wanted it all; everything for nothing.
I cautioned the Diaspora investors, just like I cautioned Karuturi, that the T-TPLF will take them to the cleaners. They will use them and lose them.
Many of those same Diaspora Ethiopians are today crying like Karuturi. They found out too late, like Karuturi, that they had been took, hoodwinked, bamboozled and led astray. They found out too late that the T-TPLF had run amok with their money. I see them around still licking the unhealed wounds they suffered after being mauled by the T-TPLF hyenas.
P.T. Barnum said, “There is a sucker (fool) born every minute.”
For the T-TPLF, there is one born every nanosecond. That’s how the T-TPLF piranhas have been able to rip off not only multinational and foreign investors but also every Diaspora schmuck who trusted them.
I know that I am a voice in the wilderness. But when it comes to the T-TPLF, I have been right on the money every time.
I have been warning folks for years to avoid making deals with the T-TPLF at least going back to 2009 in my commentary, “Loan Sharking Ethiopia’s Future!”
I have been warning , “Don’t make a pact with the (T-TPLF) devil!” I expounded on that theme in my August 2016 commentary, “Ethiopia: Beyond the Politics of Hate”.
I have always believed the T-TPLF is willing, able and ready to make a Faustian deal with anyone, at any time and in any place.
Goethe’s Dr. Faust made a pact with the Devil, exchanging his soul for wealth, success, worldly pleasures and power.
The T-TPLF is an equal opportunity Devil.
The T-TPLF will promise and deliver wealth, success, worldly pleasures and power to anyone, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, religion, etc., who is prepared to sell his soul. The T-TPLF does not give a damn who you are and will make a deal with you at any cost provided, in the end, it gets your soul.
In dealing with the T-TPLF, my advice is always the same, “The devil is in the details.”
Every reasonable person knows there is no such thing as a free lunch. But every foreign and Diaspora Ethiopian investor invited to lunch at the T-TPLF table believes s/he is getting a free lunch.
Karuturi found out rather late that the T-TPLF had eaten his lunch as he was daydreaming about how he is going to get rich by displacing tens of thousands of people from their ancestral lands in Gambella.
My personal view about investment deals with the T-TPLF is simple. There is the proverbial Midas touch which turns everything to gold. Then there is the T-TPLF touch of Evil which turns everything into _ _ _t.
The Karuturi karma
Karuturi’s “defeat” at the hands of the T-TPLF is karmic reckoning. He got what he deserved. The evil he inflicted on the people of Gambella came back to haunt him.
When Karuturi gleefully snatched the 300 thousand hectares, there were hundreds of thousands of people in Gambella who were crying their eyes out because they were displaced, “villagized”, compromised, atomized and their ancestral lands destroyed.
Who is crying his eyes out now?!
Karuturi received his first karmic message in October 2011 when he announced his first corn crop in Ethiopia had been destroyed.
Karuturi, the gobbler of tens of thousands of hectares in Gambella was gobbled up by floods overflowing the banks of the Baro and Alwero rivers.
When there were no humans to defend the defenseless people of Gambella, the Baro and Alwero rivers literally rose up and defended them against the mighty Karuturi and T-TPLF.
Sai Karuturi said his company took a $15 million “hit” from the floods. He was manifestly puzzled by the intensity of the calamity: “This kind of flooding we haven’t seen before. This is a crazy amount of water.”
No, that was karmic retribution.
It is ironic that Karuturi, an Indian, had no understanding of the power of karma.
The October 2011 floods were the first sign of karmic retribution for the evil Karuturi had inflicted on the people of Gambella. But he paid no attention to it.
In my October 2011 commentary, I also echoed the bitter complaints of the people of Gambella that, despite millions of dollars in investments by Karuturi (and the odious World Bank), they have seen little of the promised jobs, schools, clinics or clean water facilities for their use. I pleaded with Karuturi that at the end of the day, the people of Gambella will be the ones suffering the long-term effects of deforestation (land clearance by burning), reduction of ecological diversity, loss of local species, and environmental contamination caused by herbicides and pesticides used in large-scale commercial farming.
Karuturi did not give a damn.
I made a specific recommendation to Karuturi to do right by the people of Gambella.
I urged him to dump the T-TPLF deal and replace it with contract farming and deal directly with the farmers of Gambella and provide them training to make them more productive. By doing so, I told Karuturi that he would not only help develop the region but also create capacity to supply grains and other agricultural commodities for the Ethiopian market profitably and over the long term maintain a sustainable and ecologically balanced agricultural venture.
Karuturi could have made Gambella the archetype of responsible, prudent and profitable investment in Africa. But he was blinded by the green-eyed monster.
By 2015, Karuturi had nothing to show for his “investment” except 170 million birr debt, if the T-TPLF alleged claim is credible.
The tens of thousands of hectares of oil palm, sugar cane, rice, edible oils and maize and cotton promised by Karuturi never materialized.
The 60 thousand workers to be hired were amounted to nothing more than fantasy.
By January 2017, Karuturi was madder than a wet hen. He was threatening the T-TPLF, “Touch me, then you will see the power of India”. He crowed, “I have invented and discovered commercial farming in Ethiopia… Commercial farming by foreign investors has never been thought of as a potential venture. Karuturi was the first to do.”
Karuturi challenged the T-TPLF land lease. He said there were two different “leases”: one, “the mother document” with the “Gambella government” purportedly granting him 300 thousand hectares and another “agreement which says I will receive 100 thousand hectares to cultivate and 200 thousand more I can get if I want and if I can finish cultivating the 100 thousand.” Karuturi claimed the “mother document is the Gambella agreement”, not the “copy from the then Ministry of Agriculture”.
It is said that here is no honor among thieves. Do we believe Tweedledee T-TPLF or Tweedledum Karuturi? Two sides of the same coin.
It is really too bad Karuturi figured out the karmic power in the universe only at the very end. Karuturi said,
I have learnt one thing in my ten years of wonderful journey in Ethiopia. Don’t try but if you try you should succeed. If you fail you will be crucified. Who the hell are you to crucify me? Failure is a not acceptable here. But the Silicon Valley in the US says that failure is treasure. But in Africa, if you fail you are finished. If you fall, the vultures come and wait for you to die and then eat you well. I am not asking anybody in the government or anybody in the banking system to help me or nurse me to get back to health. I am not asking for help and I have not troubled anybody. I am trying to do what I believe is a noble job which is creating food.
It feels strange to instruct Karuturi on Indian philosophy. But for what it is worth and as a consolation for “ten years of a wonderful journey in Ethiopia,” I will share with Karuturi one piece of advice given by Lord Krishna to the warrior Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: “Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat.”
I believe doing something with unconditional love and without selfish attachments to be the essence of Lord Krishna’s advice to Arjuna.
If Sai Karuturi had done what he has done in Ethiopia “without selfish attachments” and out of love of the Ethiopian people, he could have still lost millions of dollars (although I would strongly doubt that), but would have gained the ultimate prize. He would have found his karma in his dharma.
Lesson for future investors in the T-TPLF’s Ethiopia, “Beware Investor!”
What is the lesson of Karuturi?
“All investors in T-TPLF’s Ethiopia! Beware!”
In a profoundly poignant observation, Karuturi said any international investor who fails in Africa will be dinner for African vultures dressed up as political leaders. Karuturi submitted himself as Exhibit A in Ethiopia.
Karuturi’s message to anyone seeking to invest in Ethiopia with the T-TPLF is chillingly frightening. He says, only investors who can guarantee 100 percent success in Africa, and certainly Ethiopia, need invest or they are doomed to become carrion for “vultures” that can’t “wait for [them] to die and then eat [them] well.”
Sadly, Karuturi is not the only investor the T-TPLF vultures have picked clean to the bone.
The T-TPLF vultures did the same exact thing to Israel Chemicals in October 2016. The T-TPLF reneged on its contractual obligations to Israeli Chemicals to “provide the necessary infrastructures and regulatory framework” for a potash mining project. The T-TPLF taxmen tried to rip off Israel Chemicals, just as they did Karuturi, by imposing “unjustified and illegal tax assessments”.
Last week, Israeli Chemicals announced it is filing an arbitration claim in The Hague for nearly $200 million.
Incredibly, as we speak, the T-TPLF con men are trolling others international investors to sell the same potash project once more. That is such a typical T-TPLF scam M.O. Sell the same stuff over and over to different people.
This past June, the T-TPLF using “the local governments in Oromiya” region tried to rip off Dangote Cement, a company “controlled by Africa’s richest man”. Dangote has threatened to “shutdown the plant in Mugher, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) north of Addis Ababa, as a ‘last option’”.
But that is not all!
In 2015, “Saudi investors accused Ethiopian government officials of robbing them of their land and equipment.”
Yes, “robbing” them! Ripping them off.
According to a report in Arab News:
Mohammed Al-Shehri, who leads a body of investors in the African country, claimed that certain Ethiopian officials falsely accused him and others of criminal activities so that they could confiscate their property. Al-Shehri was quoted as saying in a local publication that the alleged corruption was rife in certain areas, with some investors imprisoned and accused of forgery, and not allowed to bring their equipment back to Saudi Arabia. He said that all farming operations of Saudi citizens in Ethiopia had come to a virtual standstill six years after their inception. The African country had failed to live up to promises made to investors. Al-Shehri said that 50 percent of Saudi investors in Ethiopia have left the country, some leaving behind their farms and others selling them. He said many do not want to return there because they fear being framed for crimes they did not commit.
I could go on and on and on about T-TPLF daylight robbery, including the robbery of the May 2015 election.
The Karuturi lesson for all investors who want to invest in T-TPLF’s Ethiopia can best be expressed in a slightly paraphrased version of the inscription on the gates of Dante’s Inferno (hell): “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” (Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”)
Abandon all hope who invest with the T-TPLF! The T-TPLF vultures will pick your bones clean.
To Sai Karuturi, I have only one thing to say, “I told you so, but you did not listen!”
Better yet, I would instruct him in the wisdom of an Ethiopian proverb (since he does not pay much attention to Indian wisdom), “Mikerew mikerew, embi sil mekera yimkerew” (Counsel him and counsel him some more. If s/he refuses counsel, let heartache, headache and bellyache counsel him”.
As I have said before, “Bye, bye Karuturistan”. Good riddance.
My prophesy about the T-TPLF that has yet to come to pass
“Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind.”
The T-TPLF has mightily troubled the Ethiopia House for 26 years.
It will not be long before the T-TPLF shall inherit the wind in Ethiopia.
Have no doubts. That too shall come to pass.