Ethiopia: World Bank promotes forcible 'resettlement' of indigenous people

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

To enable corporate land grabs, indigenous peoples in Ethiopia are being driven off their fertile ancestral lands and forced into new villages where there is little access to food or arable land.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Two articles on the dispossession and relocation of the Anouk people in Ethiopia, a massive viollation of human rights, financed by the World Bank and related institutions


by Ahni
Intercontinental Cry, October 11, 2012

Indigenous Peoples in Southwest Ethiopia have implicated the World Bank in grave human rights abuses that are being carried out as part of a resettlement programme headed by the Ethiopian Government.

The government is currently working to resettle approximately 1.5 million peoples across the country by 2013. “Villagization” is supposed to be a voluntary process that offers increased access to basic services and improved food security. However, according Anuak who reside in the Gambella region, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Anuak say they are being dispossessed of their fertile, ancestral lands and forced into new villages where there is little access to food or arable land. They also report a daunting list of abuses that are being carried out by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF). These abuses include intimidation, beatings, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture in military custody, rape and extra-judicial killing.

In a letter to the World Bank Country Director for Ethiopia, one person detailed his experience,

“The relocation was not voluntary, I was not asked if I wanted to be relocated nor did I give my consent to being moved. My village was forced by the government to move to the new location against our will. I refused and was beaten and lost my two upper teeth. My brother was beaten to death by the soldiers for refusing to go to the new village. My second brother was detained and I don’t know where he was taken by the soldiers.”

“The sheer scale of the forcible dislocation of people in Gambella by the villagization program and the gross human rights abuses that have accompanied it are indicative of crimes against humanity under international law,” said David Pred, a Managing Associate at Inclusive Development International (IDI).

IDI recently carried out an in depth policy and legal analysis of the situation. According to that analysis, The International Development Association (IDA), headquartered in Washington, D.C., has thus far contributed $1.4 billion USD in grants and loans to the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) through the World Bank-financed and administered Protection of Basic Services Project.

“Bank funds are helping to make possible the villagization process which is violently uprooting tens of thousands indigenous people from their ancestral lands,” said David Pred.

“The PBS project’s aims to expand access to and improve the quality of basic services including education, health, and water supply are indisputably laudable,” added IDI Legal Associate Natalie Bugalski. “However, forced relocation as a means to deliver basic services, and the use of international public development funds to carry it out, is totally unacceptable.”

“Most Anuaks consider this process to be the realization of the Dec 13/2003 mass killing that left more than 424 educated male civilian Anuaks; wounded more than a thousand and forced many more to seek asylum”, said a group of Anuak Community leaders, in a recent appeal to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

“Out of the estimated four thousand and five hundred (4,500) refugees and asylum seekers based in Kenya around 20% fled the country due to the current forced villagization programme with an average of 2 to 3 families arriving every day… The situation is getting worst every day given the fact that there is no media [revealing] the truth and the intimidating environment”.

Meanwhile, amidst the extrajudicial killings, the rapes and the hundreds of families who are leaving everything behind, the government of Ethiopia is awarding land left and right to domestic and foreign investors.

Perhaps that was the point all along.


Summary chapter of Waiting Here for Death (pdf), a report published by Human rights Watch.

The Ethiopian government is forcibly moving tens of thousands of indigenous people in the western Gambella region from their homes to new villages under its “villagization” program. These population transfers are being carried out with no meaningful consultation and no compensation.

Despite government promises to provide basic resources and infrastructure, the new villages have inadequate food, agricultural support, and health and education facilities. Relocations have been marked by threats and assaults, and arbitrary arrest for those who resist the move. The state security forces enforcing the population transfers have been implicated in at least 20 rapes in the past year. Fear and intimidation are widespread among affected populations.

By 2013 the Ethiopian government is planning to resettle 1.5 million people in four regions: Gambella, Afar, Somali, and Benishangul-Gumuz. The process is most advanced in Gambella; relocations started in 2010 and approximately 70,000 people were slated to be moved by the end of 2011. According to the plan of the Gambella regional government, some 45,000 households are to be moved over the three-year life of the plan.

Its goals, as stated in the plan, are to provide relocated populations “access to basic socioeconomic infrastructures … and to bring socioeconomic & cultural transformation of the people.” The plan pledges to provide infrastructure to the new villages and assistance to those being relocated to ensure an appropriate transition to secure livelihoods. The plan also states that the movements are voluntary.

Human Rights Watch interviewed over 100 residents affected in the first round of the villagization program in Gambella and found widespread human rights violations at all stages of the program. For example, immediately after the move to a new village, soldiers would force villagers to build their own tukuls (traditional huts) and villagers would be threatened or assaulted for resting or talking during the building process.

Instead of enjoying improved access to government services as promised in the plan, new villagers often go without them altogether. The first round of forced relocations occurred at the worst possible time of year in October and November, just as villagers were preparing to harvest their maize crops. The land in the new villages is also often dry and of poor quality. Despite government pledges, the land near the new villages still needs to be cleared while food and agricultural assistance-seeds, fertilizers, tools, and training-are not provided.

As such, some of the relocated populations have faced hunger and even starvation. Residents may walk back to their old villages where there is still access to water and food, though returning to their old fields they have found crops destroyed by baboons and rats.

Human Rights Watch’s research shows that the program is not meeting the government’s aims of improving infrastructure for Gambella’s residents. On the contrary, it threatens their access, and right, to basic services. Due to this lack of service provision in the new villages, children have not been able to attend school, women are walking farther to access water thereby facing harassment or beatings from soldiers, and few residents are receiving basic healthcare services.

The impact of these forcible transfers has been far greater than the normal challenges associated with adjusting to a new location. Shifting cultivators-farmers who move from one location to another over the years-are being required to plant crops in a single location. Pastoralists are being forced to abandon their cattle-based livelihoods in favor of settled cultivation. In the absence of meaningful infrastructural support, the changes for both populations may have life-threatening consequences. Livelihoods and food security in Gambella are precarious, and the policy is disrupting a delicate balance of survival for many.

The villagization program is taking place in areas where significant land investment is planned and/or occurring. The Ethiopian federal government has consistently denied that the villagization process in Gambella is connected to the leasing of large areas of land for commercial agriculture, but villagers have been told by local government officials that this is an underlying reason for their displacement. Former local government officials told Human Rights Watch the same thing.

Since 2008 Ethiopia has leased out at least 3.6 million hectares of land nationally (as of January 2011) to foreign and domestic investors, an area the size of the Netherlands. An additional 2.1 million hectares of land is available through the federal government’s land bank for agricultural investment (as of January 2011). In Gambella, 42 percent of the total land area of the region is either being marketed for lease to investors or has already been awarded to investors, and many of the areas where people have been forcibly removed under the villagization program are located within these parcels.

Areas essential to livelihoods such as grazing areas, forests, and fields for shifting cultivation have been taken from the local populations with no meaningful consultation or compensation. The indigenous peoples of these areas, ethnic Anuak and Nuer among others, have never had formal title to the land they have lived on and used. The government simply claims that these areas are “uninhabited” or “underutilized” and thus skirts the Ethiopian constitutional provisions and laws that would protect these populations from being relocated.

Such population transfers are not new. Ethiopia has a long and brutal history of failed attempts at resettling millions of people in collectivized villages, particularly under the Derg regime, in power until 1991, but also under the current government of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The villagization concept has now been reborn in Gambella under the guise of “socioeconomic and cultural transformation.”

Foreign donors to Ethiopia assert that they have no direct involvement in the villagization programs, although several donors concede that they may indirectly support the program through general budget support to local governments and by underwriting basic services in the new villages. As a result of their potential responsibilities and liabilities, donors have undertaken assessments into the villagization program in Gambella and in Benishangul- Gumuz and determined that the relocations were voluntary.

Human Rights Watch’s research on the ground in Gambella contradicts this finding. We believe that donors to the Protection of Basic Services (PBS) Program that underwrites the creation of infrastructure in the new villages, such as the World Bank, European Union (EU), and United Kingdom, are involved in a program that is doing more to undermine the rights and livelihoods of the population than to improve them.

Human Rights Watch calls on the government of Ethiopia to halt ongoing human rights violations being committed in the name of villagization. Relocations should be voluntary and populations should be properly consulted and compensated. Mass displacement to make way for commercial agriculture in the absence of a proper legal process contravenes Ethiopia’s constitution and violates the rights of indigenous peoples under international law.

International donors should ensure that they are not providing support for forced displacement or facilitating rights violations in the name of development. They should press Ethiopia to live up to its responsibilities under Ethiopian and international law, namely to provide communities with genuine consultation on the villagization process, ensure that the relocation of indigenous people is voluntary, compensate them appropriately, prevent human rights violations during and after any relocation, and prosecute those implicated in abuses. Donors should also seek to ensure that the government meets its obligations to respect, protect, and fulfil the economic and social rights of the people in new villages.