Ethiopia Forcibly Uprooting Thousands of Farmers: Rights Group

Tony Gosling tony at
Mon Feb 6 19:34:41 GMT 2012

Ethiopia Forcibly Uprooting Thousands of Farmers: Rights Group
By Daniel Tovrov: Subscribe to Daniel's RSS feed
January 17, 2012 2:27 PM EST
Ethiopia's government has been seizing land from indigenous farmers 
and giving it to commercial developers, Human Rights Watch (HRW) 
reported on Tuesday.
The program has seen tens of thousands of Ethiopians forcibly removed 
from their land, at least 8.8 million acres of which has been awarded 
to foreign and state-owned firms. Additionally, HRW claims that the 
government has used military troops to physically, and sometimes 
violently, remove people from their homes and send them to new 
villages that lack basic resources such as food and water.
"The government is killing our people through starvation and hunger," 
and elder from a village in the Abobo area of Gambella region told 
the organization.
"It is better to attack us in one place than just waiting here 
together to die. If you attack us, some of us could run, and some 
could survive. But this, we are dying here with our children. 
Government workers get this salary, but we are just waiting here for death."
HRW based its findings on interviews with 100 people, including 
residents of Gambella and Ethiopian refugees in Kenya. The government 
has denounced the report and claims that all resettlements are voluntary.
"I can tell you that it is baseless - on both grounds - on both the 
land grab issue and resettlement of the people," Ethiopian 
Information Minister Bereket Simon told the BBC.
"No-one is forced [to leave their homes]. This is an absolute lie. 
The people around Gambella are inhabiting the place in a very 
scattered manner," he added.
"It is true that we are providing access to land on a lease basis for 
25 years for local and foreign developers. We have about three 
million hectares of land which is not inhabited by anybody."
Ethiopia's minister of federal affairs, Shiferaw Teklemariam, also 
slammed the report, calling it a "politically motivated" fabrication, 
according to The Associated Press. Teklemariam was quick to point out 
that 50,000 people are enjoying newly constructed villages and 
unprecedented agricultural production.

Resettemenr has been going on in Ethiopia for more than a century, 
but the "villagization" program has been sending farmers around 
Ethiopia on-and-off for the past 25 years. The point of the 
initiative is to consolidate scattered farmers and agricultural 
communities into clusters in order to better take advantage of farmland.
There are benefits to this system. In theory, people will be sent 
from less productive regions to more fertile areas, and by gathering 
people together the government will be able to supply resources, 
water, security and health and education facilities to a number of 
people at once.
However, removing people from their homes and their traditional 
homelands, especially by force, has serious human rights implications.
Additionally, the Ethiopian government is allegedly sending people to 
new villages lacking in food, other resources and sometimes even any 
reasonable farmland.
"The Ethiopian government's villagization program is not improving 
access to services for Gambella's indigenous people, but is instead 
undermining their livelihoods and food security," stated Jan Egeland, 
Europe director at Human Rights Watch, adding that the organization 
isn't totally against villagization but wants it suspended until "the 
necessary infrastructure is in place."
Another 45,000 households are scheduled to be relocated from Gambella 
by the end of 2012.
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