(Euractiv) Ethiopians talk of violent intimidation, as their land is earmarked for foreign investors

From: Biniam Tekle <biniamt_at_dehai.org_at_dehai.org>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2015 21:36:35 -0400


Ethiopians talk of violent intimidation, as their land is earmarked
for foreign investors

Published: 15/04/2015 - 11:42
Ethiopia has long faced criticism for forcibly relocating tens of
thousands of people from their ancestral homes. [Reuters]

The human cost of Ethiopia’s “villagisation” programme is laid bare by
damning first person testimony published on Tuesday (14 April).

The east African country has long faced criticism for forcibly
relocatingtens of thousands of people from their ancestral homes to
make way for large scale commercial agriculture, often benefiting
foreign investors. Those moved to purpose-built communes are allegedly
no longer able to farm or access education, healthcare and other basic

The victims of land grabbing and displacement are given a rare voice
in We Say the Land is Not Yours: Breaking the Silence against Forced
Displacement in Ethiopia, a report from the California-based thinktank
the Oakland Institute.

Some of the interviewees still live in Ethiopia, while others have
sought political asylum abroad, and all remain anonymous for their own

‘My village refused to move so they forced us with gunshots’

“My village refused to move,” says one, from the community of
Gambella. “So they forced us with gunshots. Even though they
intimidated us, we did not move – this is our land, how do we move?
They wanted our land because our land is the most fertile and has
access to water. So the land was promised to a national investor.

“Last year, we had to move. The promises of food and other social
services made by the government have not been fulfilled. The
government gets money from donors but it is not transferred to the

The land grab is not only for agriculture, the interviewee claims, but
the community has also seen minerals and gold being mined and
exported. “We have no power to resist. We need support. In the
villages, they promised us tractors to help us cultivate. If money is
given to the government for this purpose, we don’t know how it is

“The government receives money from donors, but they fill their
pockets and farmers die of hunger.”

Opposition will not be tolerated

Opposition to the scheme is not tolerated, according to the witness.
“People are intimidated – we are forced to say positive things about
villagisation, but really we refuse to accept the programme. If you
challenge, the government calls you the mastermind of conflict.

“One of the government officials was opposed to the government. They
wanted to put him in prison. He escaped and is now in Kenya, living as
a political refugee.”

Agriculture makes up nearly half the GDP of Ethiopia, where four in
five people live in rural areas. But since the mid-2000s, the
government has awarded millions of hectares of land to foreign
investors. The commune development programme, which aims to move 1.5
million rural families from their land to new “model” villages across
the country, has faced allegations of violent evictions, political
coercion, intimidation, imprisonment, rapes, beatings and

A witness from Benishangul laments: “This is not development.
Investors are destroying our lands and environment. There is no
school, [no] food security, and they destroy wild fruits. Bamboo is
the life of people. It is used for food, for cattle, for our beds,
homes, firewood, everything. But the investors destroy it. They
destroy our forests.

“This is not the way for development. They do not cultivate the land
for the people. They grow sorghum, maize, sesame, but all is exported,
leaving none for the people.”

In response to the report’s allegations, a spokesperson for the
Ethiopian embassy in London has denied that the country engages in
land-grabbing, saying: “As our economic track record clearly shows,
the vast majority of Ethiopians have benefitted from the growth and
sustainable development programme under implementation.”

‘The government dictates’

Another interviewee, from South Omo, says mandatory resettlement has
stoked conflict among different ethnic groups. “There was no open
consultation between the community and the government. If there was a
common agreement based on joint consultations, perhaps the community
might accept. But, the government dictates.

“We are scared that the highlanders will come and destroy our way of
life, culture, and pasture land. What will we do? The government says
we can keep two to three cattle, but this is a challenge. Our life is
based on cattle, and we cannot change overnight. I keep cows, oxen,
sheep, goats – where do we go?

“The investors take land in the Omo Valley. They clear all land,
choose the best place where trees are, leaving the area open. They say
it is for development, but they are clearing the forests. I wonder how
to reconcile development with forest destruction.”

Such accounts threaten to dent the image of Ethiopia, a darling of the
development community that has enjoyed double digit economic growth
for the best part of a decade. The government has been criticised for
brooking little opposition, clamping down on civil society activism
and jailing more journalists than any country in Africa, except its
neighbour Eritrea.

‘Basic human rights are not being upheld’

A government employee told the researchers: “I want the world to know
that the government system at the federal level does not give
attention to the local community.

“There are three dynamics that linger in my mind that explain today’s
Ethiopia: villagisation, violent conflict, and investment. They are
intertwined and interrelated. It is hard for outsiders to know what
leads to what. When people are free, they talk. When they are afraid
of repercussion, they stop.”

Critics have claimed that British aid to Ethiopia’s promotion of basic
services programme were being used by the Ethiopian government to help
fund the villagisation programme. But last month the Department for
International Development announced that it was ending the
contributions because of Ethiopia’s “growing success”.

Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, who
conducted the interviews in 2014 and 2015, said: “The context in which
we release this report is one of torture, oppression, and silencing. A
development strategy without ensuring its citizens freedom of speech
and expression is not a development strategy but a scheme to benefit
the ruling elites.

“Those basic human rights are not being upheld in Ethiopia. It is
therefore urgent to make voices of those impacted heard.”
Received on Thu Apr 16 2015 - 21:37:14 EDT

Dehai Admin
© Copyright DEHAI-Eritrea OnLine, 1993-2013
All rights reserved