Ethiopia: Land grabs are fueling violence in Gambela

Anywaa Survival Organisation | 22 February 2011

by the Anywaa Survival Organisation
The Ethiopian government leased the homelands of these Anuak women to an Indian company, Karuturi Global Ltd, and moved them to a village where there is no land for farming. The Anuak Justice Council has initiated a letter writing campaign calling on Ethiopia's donors to pressure the Ethiopian government to stop the land grabs in Gambela. Join the campaign here. (Photo courtesy of the Anuak Justice Council)

The Ethiopian peripheries, with their abundant, fertile farmlands and water reserves, have become centres of land grabbing, forcing tens of thousands of indigenous people to relocate their ancestral villages, farmlands and grazing areas without proper legal remedies and without their prior consent or consultation. The livelihoods of indigenous people are under threat, as are their traditional ways of life and the environments they have protected and preserved for generations. The government has so far leased out about 3.6 million hectares to national companies and foreign private and state-backed investors, mainly in the regions of Gambela, Omo Valley, Benishangul Gumuz and Oromia.

The policy has drawn critical attention from international media, research institutions and NGOs. In response to widespread grave human rights violations-- systematic genocide, arbitrary detentions, rape, forceful relocations of indigenous people from their ancestral lands to make way for large scale agricultural investments-- insecurity, mistrust and fear has once again returned to Gambela region, one of the major targets of land grabbing, towards the newly independent state of South Sudan.

Since the 2003 genocide committed against indigenous Anywaa people by Ethiopian national defence forces alongside some members of  the Ethiopian highland community, the region has been seeing and experiencing increased tension, insecurity, displacement and unspeakable human misery. Various organisations that support the indigenous people in Gambela, including the Anywaa Survival Organisation (ASO), are drawing attention to the impacts of the government's inconsiderate and deliberate destruction of the cultural identities and traditional ways of life of the indigenous people in the country.

A number of recent calls have been made to increase awareness on land grabbing and the associated human rights issues and potential conflicts in remote regions that have been underdeveloped and marginalised for centuries. They have come in the form of documentary videos (Grabbing Gambela: a joint video by ASO, GRAIN, and EJOLT) and written reports (Peace, Bread and Land: Agricultural Investment in Ethiopia and the Sudans by the Chatham House, Understanding Land Investment in Africa-Ethiopia by the Oakland Institute, Waiting Here for Death: “Villagisation in Ethiopia’s Gambela Region by Human Rights Watch, etc.). Yet the Ethiopian authorities have ignored the genuine concerns over human suffering, displacement, environmental impacts, and instability.

In Gambela region where indigenous people are threatened to the point of extinction, despite the return of relative normalisation and stability in the region since the 2003 indiscriminate killings of Anywaa indigenous people in their own traditional homeland, the government has failed to bring perpetrators to a court of law and justice, and categorically refused to serve apologies and compensation to families of victims.

The authorities instead prevent indigenous people from achieving decent livelihoods by leasing out their traditional farmlands, hunting and fishing grounds, forests and woodlands. Since the 2008 international financial crisis and rising commodity prices in the world market, the Ethiopian authorities have, without concern for the ways of life of indigenous people or the environment, allocated the lands of these people to foreign and national investors. India's Karuturi Global was allocated 100,000 hectares of land, with an option to increase to 300,000 hectares. This land lease deprives about 5000 Ilea indigenous people from the lands they use for farming and from their sacred village along the Openo River, which they have protected in accordance with their traditional customs and beliefs for generations. The Ilea people were not even consulted about the deal.

Similarly, the Saudi business tycoon Al Amoudi was given 10,000 hectares of farmland in Gambela which his company intends to increase to 500,000 hectares. This land deal deprives the people of Pokedi village, along the Alworo River in the Abwobo district, of their traditional farmlands and environment.

The land deals are undermining the survival and cultural identities of indigenous peoples on a similar scale to the 2003 genocidal massacre of  the Anywaa, and they are fueling anger among local farmers and young men across the region, thus increasing tension and insecurity.

The last few months have seen a return of sporadic attacks on government institutions in Gambela, such as an attack on the police station at the Gog and Abwod checkpoints, Pinyudo town, in the Jor district, 30 km from Gambela town.

The attack in Jor district destroyed the police station and communication infrastructures. The attackers took cash and ammunitions belonging to the administration. This was followed by another attack in Pinyudo town leaving an Ethiopian highland woman dead and one Anywaa person and Ethiopian highlander wounded.

A recent incident on 16 February 2012 at about 8:00pm at Abwod checkpoint claimed the life of police officer Opiew Ojulu and Obang Amau Ochudho, a member of the Ethiopian special forces. At around the same time, an Ethiopian highlander, reported to be a staff of the Al Moudi operation, sustained serious injuries when the car he was travelling in was ambushed at the Abwod checkpoint. He was airlifted by Al Amoudi to Addis Ababa for treatment.

Though not directly linked with land grabbing and human rights issues in the region, an Ethiopian highlander, working for Gambela town municipality in charge of finance and administrative affairs, Getachew Ankore, was gunned down by an unidentified group of people last month. Investigations suggest a personal dispute with an Ethiopian highlander who gave himself up to the authorities, but growing tensions and suspicions among the communities in teh region likely contributed to the incident.

The growing insecurity and violence in Gambela, seen in the recent loss of innocent human lives and the attacks on government institutions by unidentified groups, should be seen as a clear warning to foreign and national investors about the dangers involved in the large scale agricultural investments taking place in Ethiopia and elsewhere in Africa.  

For more information contact Nyikaw Ochalla of the Anywaa Survival Organisation:
Tel: +44 (0)118 9414507
Mobile: +44 (0)7939389796,
Fax: +44(0)1189414507
E-mail:[email protected]
Original source: ASO

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