Thousands displaced in Ethiopian development drive

Ethiopia has forced thousands of villagers from their land to make way for commercial farming developments, leaving people impoverished and hungry, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Tuesday.

At least 3.6-million hectares — an area larger than The Netherlands — has been leased to foreign and state-owned firms since 2008, with state security using force to drive people from off their land, HRW said.

“The Ethiopian government under its “villagisation” programme is forcibly relocating approximately 70 000 indigenous people from the western Gambella region,” the report by the New York-based group said.

However, the new villages to which people are sent “lack adequate food, farmland, healthcare and educational facilities,” it added.

“State security forces have repeatedly threatened, assaulted and arbitrarily arrested villagers who resist the transfers,” said the report.

Ethiopia plans to lease a further 2.1-million hectares, the report added.

Rights violations
“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,” HRW said.

Ethiopian authorities rejected the report, stating villigisation programs are key to the country’s development.

“We simply, outrightly reject this allegation,” government spokesperson Bereket Simon said.

“In Gambella as elsewhere we have ensured the safety of our people. We have improved the livelihoods of 20 000 people through resettlement programs,” he said, adding that health clinics, schools, houses and roads have been built for relocated communities.

Bereket said an additional 3.4-million hectares of land are slated to be released to investors, not 2.1-million hectares as HRW reported.

“We will not stop it, we will not back off our development plan,” he said.

Driven by recent food, energy and climate crises, investors from richer nations have been acquiring rights to vast tracts of land in several African nations to meet demand for biofuels, food crops and mining resources. — AFP

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