New opposition leader pledges land reform

The head of a newly-formed political opposition party on Monday pledged wide-ranging land reform as the key manifesto strategy for the 2005 Ethiopian elections.

Dr Admasu Gebeyehu, who heads the United Ethiopian Democratic Party (UEDP), told IRIN his party would hold a countrywide referendum on the country’s land policy.

“The land issue is a priority for us and we will go for land privatisation for the rural farmers,” said the 49-year-old civil engineer turned politician.

Ethiopia’s land policy is highly contentious, as under the current land tenure system farmers do not actually own their plots.

Aid organisations, including the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), have argued that ownership of land could speed up development.

“We hope we can have a significant impact,” Admasu added at the launch of the newly-formed party.

The UEDP is made up of the Ethiopian Democratic Union Party and the Ethiopian Democratic Party. Admasu said it had some 20,000 members and described it as “one of the largest” political parties in the country.

But at present, it has just two MPs in the country’s 548-member parliament.

Admasu voiced his opposition to the independent ruling on the new border between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which places the village of Badme - where the border war flared up - in Eritrea.

“We are not opposed to a peace deal but we are opposed to the Algiers [peace] Agreement which is not to the benefit of the Ethiopian people,” he told IRIN.

Meanwhile, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been invited to the UK by Premier Tony Blair to attend a two-day heads of state governance summit in London. He is one of two African leaders who have been invited, according to a statement by the British embassy in Addis Ababa.