Skip to main content Skip to footer

Ethiopian Government to People: This Land is Your Land—Psyche!

November 15, 2014

Ethiopia’s rapid growth in recent years—per capita GDP has more than quadrupled since 2002—is often touted as an African success story. But the economic boom is costing traditional pastoral people their land and livelihoods, a new report charges.

The report comes just in time for this week’s Group of 20 summit in Brisbane, Australia—a meeting of leaders of “the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies.” On Friday, protesters with the international anti-poverty group OXFAM called on leaders to address the “rising tide” of global inequality, saying that rich countries exploit poor communities around the world.  

Ethiopia, like many developing nations (and the U.S., for that matter), has in recent years started leasing huge tracts of land to foreign investors eager to develop industrial-scale farming operations. The country’s government has already handed over some 7.4 million acres. The problem is, millions of local people live on and use that land, according to the report by the California-based Oakland Institute and the U.K.’s Anywaa Survival Organisation.

The report focuses on Suri pastoralists—herders of cattle, goats, and sheep—who have lived in Southwestern Ethiopia for centuries. Massive agriculture development is now cutting them off from grazing lands and water supplies essential to their survival.

“Here they push and push and push until we don’t have a choice,” says C.D., a Suri man from Regia Village quoted in the report. “I did not decide to go myself. I go because they push.”

The groups’ investigation began after violence broke out in the area in 2012 when the government diverted water from the Koka river to irrigate a foreign-owned palm oil plantation, drying up the Suri’s water source for their cattle. The Suri responded with a violent uprising, which led in turn to the massacre of 54 unarmed Suri by government forces at a marketplace. The fighting has also sparked conflict between the Suri and various local ethnic groups, something other organizations have warned about.

“The tragic experiences of the Suri people outlined in this report are just one of many examples of the human rights abuses experienced by pastoralist communities in regions across Ethiopia,” said the Oakland Institute’s executive director, Anuradha Mittal, in a statement. “These incidents are intimately tied to the Ethiopian government’s priorities of leasing land to foreign entities.”

The report also shows that World Bank funds have been used to encourage the forced resettlement of pastoral communities, using suspension of food aid as a threat to force them to move.

Ethiopia’s government also happens to be among the world’s largest recipients of U.S. assistance, slated to receive nearly half a billion dollars in American aid this year. It was also the beneficiary of one of the world’s most famous charitable efforts 30 years ago: the Band Aid song “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” a star-studded single recorded to raise money to aid famine victims. Rocker Bob Geldof, who organized that effort and was knighted by the Queen of England for his efforts, announced this week he’s producing a new version of the song with new performers including Coldplay's Chris Martin and Sinead O’Connor. This time, funds will be directed to help the fight against Ebola.