Property Rights at Times of Mob

Abebe AsamereAugust 15, 20202924
What to Expect From the Government

It is a universal truth that governments should protect the rights of citizens and one of such rights is the right to property. This right is not an ordinary right that can be infringed by anyone and it is more of a human right that needs protection from the government. This truth is also part of our constitution and the international human rights conventions Ethiopia adopted as part of its domestic law. Though we are counting decades with this obligation of the government, we are still witnessing thousands of citizens becoming victims of mob robbers and demonstrators. Sometimes, victims lose their properties and businesses in front of armed law enforcement officers who rather irresponsibly claim that they have not received orders to stop the progress of the crime. They also raise lack of security alert and communication gaps as the reason for their indifference in front of a crime in progress. Nothing renders citizens helpless and hopeless as losing their hard earned properties for arson and looting in the immediate presence of law enforcement officers.

The repeated occurrence of such tragic incidents frustrates investors and kills their motivation to invest as the crimes eat away the riches they gained through a life time of hard work in a matter of hours. Without having any proper cure for previous pains, we are still vitiating rule of law by allowing impunity. The ever increasing cry for rule of law was never heard except in the latest episode of mass killings and lootings in the Oromia region in which the government seemed to have lent its ears, albeit a bit late.

The government quantified the damage on property the mob inflicted on houses and businesses. Accordingly, 1022 houses were burned and attacked; 227 hotels were burned and attacked; 6 factories were burned; 104 governmental offices were destroyed; 20 government owned and 273 private vehicles were burned and attacked. More than ten thousand people have been displaced. Among the cities and towns that witnessed the worst damage are: Shashemene, ten Woredas of Western Arsi, Batu (Zeway), Metu, Jimma and Arsi Negele.

Ethnic federalism serves as the best shield for local law enforcement officers to sit back and watch as what they call non-original residents or those that do not belong in the region become the primary targets. The government has responded to their irresponsible acts by arresting and charging over seven thousand people including extremist youth, members of the security forces, Woreda administrators and mayors. Though born and bred there, these citizens don’t have the right to be employed as police officers, be elected and serve in political decision making institutions and other government offices. Though they are not labeled as such, they are treated as mere immigrants. Therefore, the deep rooted apartheid system is the basic cause for all the mess.

Lack of clear policy, legal framework and political commitment to compensate victims is so frustrating for everyone. Citizens living in other volatile regions are also in a similar situation. Therefore, tangible interventions in providing appropriate protection and guarantee should be a priority issue.

Residents and business owners in all corners of the country need to feel safe and secure in their own country, regardless of their ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Light hearted approach, indifference and impunity have the effect of motivating people to do their heinous crimes again. These things promote the killing of people and destruction of property. Before the latest episode of attacks in the Oromia region, there was an earlier mass killing in October, 2020 that claimed the lives of 97 people. The government went a great length to cover up the issue and even pleaded with the culprits in some cases. The total impunity and frailty of government in those days would embolden the culprits and give them a sense of invincibility. Political assassination of a celebrity was all it took for some groups to come and kill over 200 innocent people in the second episode. The isolated arson cases that characterized the first episode of attacks in Oromia have also exponentially grown in the latest episode to destroy property worth more than a billion birr. Putting an end to such atrocious crimes calls for strong policing and legal action against the culprits.

Regional and federal governments should support victims who have lost their properties and businesses with clear admission of its liability for the property burned and ransacked. The government needs to take responsibility for failure to enforce rule of law and accountability. Such a measure would cement public trust for the government. Mere rhetorical denouncement and seemingly sympathetic concern for the victims can’t be considered as commitment by itself.

After victim businesses are reinstated, providing tax holiday for a certain tax season is the other political commitment that the government can pledge. Though much of the tax incentive issues are related to investment, systemic policy incentive should be designed to salvage victim businesses from the trauma they went through and set them on their way to full recovery. State banks, as corporate social responsibility, should consider facilitating interest free or low interest loans to finance the businesses, if they have business recovery plan or pending business expansion plans. We know state banks were financing billions for projects and businesses that did not have a good track record and feasibility study. Such measures will enable businesses to resume their normal operation in the shortest possible time, mitigate the unemployment problem that may follow the extensive destruction of businesses, enhance entrepreneurial opportunities, boost the confidence of others and make them feel protected going forward.

Business interruption insurance should be taken into consideration in volatile areas to absorb the risks of losing business income because of such incidents. Though this insurance scheme is so complex, the state insurance corporation should think about it as part of its responsibility to manage the risks of such victims. Big investment businesses should be able to get the guarantee of regional states so that the regional state will be serious in protecting the business interests of investors from the destructive acts of mobs and other similar politically motivated risks targeting businesses. In a bid to attract investment, one of the commitments of regional states should be a promise to provide such guarantees. Competing claims for security will make regions better secure for investment and business.


9th Year • August 1 – 15 2020 • No. 89

Abebe Asamere

Abebe Asamere holds an LLB in Law and BA in Political Science and International Relations from AAU. He was a member of the executive committee and pro bono legal advisor of the Ethiopian Consumers Protection Association for six years. Later on he became president of the Association for about a year. Since 2000, he has been working as consultant and attorney at Law. He was also teaching business law at the School of Commerce at AAU on part time basis for several years. Comments can be sent to abebe.a@ethiopianbusinessreview.com or aasamere@yahoo.com


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