Ethiopia is a country with enormous areas of fertile land, but despite this it has been plagued with famines. Joakim Demmer’s documentary Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas depicts how the Ethiopian government sell off huge areas of land to international companies that start up large-scale farms. The consequences of this policy are serious, both for the environment and the people who once inhabited the land. It took Joakim Demmer six years to make Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas and it gives a unique and unsettling insight into the consequences of land grabbing.
- It has been a long journey. When I started to work on the film, I really didn’t know that much about Ethiopia or the topic land grabbing. But, one thing lead to another, and the full scope of the issue became clear. I got a lot of knowledge from the Ethiopian journalists and activist that I meet in the film, and during the six years I started to understand both what was happening and what this meant.
Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas begins with Demming describing how he first got the idea to investigate the phenomenon. At the airport in Addis Ababa he witnessed how a country in crisis received aid, while they also at the same time exported food grown in Ethiopia out. “The new green gold”, meaning the big-scale farming that international investors profits on, became a term frequently used by the director.
- This kind of exploitation does not only happen in Ethiopia, but in many developing countries all over the world. It affects millions of smallholders that loose their livelihoods.
Step by step Dead Donkeys depicts different perspectives on what is happening in Ethiopia, also with distinctions to the international community. Not everyone is cast in a favourable light by Demmer. For example, The World Bank, who seemingly is dedicated to providing aid for the small-scale farmers, are doing far less than one would think.
- The World Bank is merely an example, and this is true of other charities as well. It is alarming that the work these kinds of organisations actually seems to be doing the opposite of what they say they want to accomplish. At the best, you might think that these things happen because of incompetence or ignorance. But sometimes there is reason to wonder about their incentives for behaving the way they do. Whose interests do they really have in mind? Does for example The World Bank act on behalf of the people living in developing countries, or are they acting on behalf of other economic interests?
Demmer is still actively working on Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas, despite the fact that it has been completed and launched.
- The people we met in Ethiopia, who contributed to the documentary, took a great risk to help complete the film. This means that we as the filmmakers have a responsibility to make sure that the film will influence as many people as possible; both by reaching a broad audience, but also by reaching decision makers and those who bear responsibility in this situation. WG Productions is therefore working to make sure the film lives on. We are for example making different versions of the film to be shown in different contexts and in order to reach different target groups. In this way our film may have a bigger resonance in the world. But of course you have to be realistic; a film doesn’t change the world. Therefore, the movie now is included in the work of many organisations that deals with these issues.
It is uplifting to see how many people are working for justice and change on behalf of the small-scale farmers in Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas.
- I think that we as filmmakers and individuals can help by putting pressure on the governments in our own countries. Governments in Europe can actually make decisions that concerns countries subjected to land grabbing. They could for example make it possible to investigate companies that commits these kind of injustices in Europe. European governments can provide conditions that development work must always meet demands for human rights and minority rights. But I also think that we should listen to and support the locals that are activists in their own countries. These kind of people are in all the countries where land grabbing is happening. I am sure that they know the most about what the biggest threat to their own cultures are, and what we ought to do about it.
THE CRITICAL ROOM: LANDGRABBING – A GLOBAL HUNT FOR FARM LAND
After the film, we invite director Joakim Demmer and Lemma Desta, an Ethiopian human rights activist from the organization SMNE - Solidarity Movement for a New Etiopia, to discuss the situation in Ethiopia and the phenomenon of landgrabbing. The conversation is moderated by Kari Helene Partapuoli, director of the Utviklingsfondet.
The event is a collaboration between Films From the South and Norwegian PEN.
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