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Ethiopia forcing 1 000s off land – HRW

2012-01-17 10:44

Addis Ababa - Ethiopia is forcing tens of thousands of people off their land so it can lease it to foreign investors, leaving former landowners destitute and in some cases starving, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.

The Horn of Africa state has already leased 3 million hectares - an area just smaller than Belgium - to foreign farm businesses and the US-based rights group said that Addis Ababa had plans to lease another 2.1 million hectares.

The United Nations has increasingly voiced concern that countries such as China and Gulf Arab states are buying swathes of land in Africa and Asia to secure their own food supplies, often at the expense of local people.

HRW said that 1.5 million Ethiopians would eventually be forced from their land and highlighted what it said was the latest case of forced relocation in its report "Ethiopia: Forced Relocations Bring Hunger, Hardship".

"The Ethiopian government under its "villagisation" programme is forcibly relocating approximately 70 000 indigenous people from the western Gambella region to new villages that lack adequate food, farmland, healthcare, and educational facilities," HRW said, adding it had interviewed more than 100 people for the report.

"The first round of forced relocations occurred at the worst possible time of year - the beginning of the harvest. Government failure to provide food assistance for relocated people has caused endemic hunger and cases of starvation," it said.

Government officials deny the charge and say the affected plots of land are largely uninhabited and under-used, while it has also launched a programme to settle tens of thousands from the remote province in more fertile areas of the country.

"Human Rights Watch has wrongly alleged the villagisation programme to be unpopular and problematic," government spokesperson Bereket Simon told Reuters.

"There is no evidence to back the claim. This programme is taking place with the full preparation and participation of regional authorities, the government and residents," he said.

Ethiopia says its prime intention in leasing large chunks of land is technology transfer and to boost production in a country that has been ravaged by droughts over the past few decades.

Comments
  • ludlowdj - 2012-01-17 13:20

    Aaah, Africa, home of the dictator and pseudo Democracy, where a human life has less value than a Zim Dollar and dictators own luxury villa's in the trendy international hot spots.

  • abel.mekonen2 - 2012-01-17 19:05

    In Ethiopia today every one is required to volunteer. That is, excepting PM Meles and his wife and friends. Early this year every civil servant was ordered to volunteer to forego a month's salary spread over a year for the Big Dam Project. Journalists, publishers, and priests are routinely told to voluntarily self-censor. And now rural populations are being resettled - voluntarily, of course, or else. With rising food prices and long lines at government-run rationing stores we have come full circle to the days of Meles [oops, Mengistu]. See article below. Populations targeted for resettlement are, unsurprisingly, from Gambella, Benishangul, and Afar - all occupied by foreign agro-businesses and a possible public relations disaster if foreign reporters sneaked in [the irony of Occupy Wall Street Movement is not lost on us] and the other in the east is occupied by resenting Ogadenis. And none will be resettled in Mr. Meles's Tigray region. It is worth remembering how foreign media went into a frenzy when Mengistu's government tried to do the same in the 1980s. We had anticipated the relocation would be disguised as voluntary; what we left out was the money component that certainly would be sought from foreign sources. Observe that the resettlement is deceptively presented as households, which at eight per household would total nearly a million persons. We should also realize these are estimates and more than likely a first phase of far larger numbers planned. ETHIOPIAN RECYCLER

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