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Engineering Ethnic Conflict of Ethiopia Government is a ‘Nightmare’ for Ethiopian pastoralists in SITTI region

January 19, 2015
Safari Post

Ethiopia’s policy of leasing millions of hectares of land to foreign investors is encouraging human rights violations, ruining livelihoods and disturbing a delicate political balance between ethnic groups, a think tank report has found.

The US-based Oakland Institute says that while the east African country is now lauded as an economic success story, the report, Engineering Ethnic Conflict, “highlights the unreported nightmare experienced by Ethiopia’s traditionally pastoralization communities”.

A controversial “villagisation” programme has seen tens of thousands of people forcibly moved to purpose-built communes that have inadequate food and lack health and education facilities, according to human rights watchdogs, to make way for commercial agriculture. Ethiopia is one of the biggest recipients of UK development aid, receiving around £300m a year.
The Oakland Institute’s reports focused on 380000 thousand pastoralists of Issa people who have lived in North East Ethiopia for up to six centuries. Issa livelihoods consist of herding cattle, goats and sheep, cows, and camel.
But the recent introduction of unconstitutional force displacement has not only made important grazing lands unavailable to the Issa people and devastated their livelihoods, but disturbed political order between the Issa and Afar ethnic groups, escalating violent conflicts

In response forces,Government forces killed 13 unarmed Issa in a marketplace in Gdhmalu town . There have been more killings and arrests since.
Based on interviews with victims’ families, officials and other witnesses, the Oakland Institute found that

The institute accuses the Ethiopian government of manipulating these tensions, for example, by favouring the Afar in development . “According to field research, the increase in violent clashes between the Issa and Cafar can be linked to the intrusion of force displacement of Issa from their land vital for cattle raising, one of their most important livelihood resources.”

Ethiopia claims it is on track to meet most of the millennium development goals and become a middle-income country by 2025. But the report contends that the government puts foreign and political interests above the rights and needs of local populations, especially historically marginalised and neglected ethnic groups.

It also argues that the World Bank’s support of three phases of Ethiopia’s pastoral community development project implicates western funds in the coerced settlement of pastoral communities and the conditional – and coercive – distribution of food aid.

“The dramatic reconfiguration of land for foreign investment in the SITTI region as well as its alleged failure, illustrates the haphazard manner in which the government of Ethiopia implements its development strategy,” it says.

“While there have been reports of Although, presumably, investors are unhappy with the failure of their cheaply-leased land, the local impact has been the increase of neighbouring ethnic conflicts and the drastic altering of local livelihoods.

Felix Horne, Ethiopia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “Unfortunately, the Issa and other marginalised groups have no ability to voice their concerns over these demographics change on their land.
“There is little in the way of an independent media in Ethiopia that is permitted to cover this story, civil society that could advocate on these issues have been decimated by repressive laws, any criticism of government is met with harassment and detention. So what options are left for the Issa people in SITTI ?