Oakland, CA– A new Land Deal Brief from the Oakland Institute (OI) exposes that the controversial Gibe III hydroelectric project located in Ethiopia's Omo Valley, portrayed as development, is facilitating the take over of 350,000 hectares (ha) of land for sugar cane and cotton plantations and resulting in state-sponsored human rights violations, which have escaped international attention so far. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Lower Omo Valley is home to approximately 200,000 agro-pastoralists made up of some of traditional ethnic groups, including the Kwegu, Bodi, Suri, Mursi, Nyangatom, Hamer, Karo, and Dassenach among others and contains two National Parks. The project also threatens an additional 300,000 agro-pastoralists who rely on the waters of the Lake Turkana in Kenya, fed by the Omo River.
In recent months, the Oakland Institute (OI) was contacted by a growing number of people on the ground who reported increased political pressure on the population and criminalization of dissent. Field work confirmed that abuses are on the increase. For instance, villagers are expected to voice immediate support of the sugar plantations, otherwise beatings (including the use of tasers), abuse, and general intimidation occurs. Ethiopian security forces are putting pressure on these populations to end their pastoral ways and settle in one place. The development of plantations will result in loss of access to essential grazing lands, areas of wild food harvest, loss of the ability to grow food along the Omo River, sacred/culturally significant lands, and water sources, with no indication of how lost livelihoods will be replaced.
OI's investigation shows that this travesty is taking place as the Ethiopian government continues to receive massive financial and political assistance from donor countries. For instance, the US is the single largest donor of aid to Ethiopia. The United States, thus cannot and should not turn a blind eye to the massive human rights violations resulting from land and water grabs in South Omo as well as in other regions of Ethiopia. Without significant and timely intervention, the rich cultural traditions of the indigenous people will be gone forever, raising immediate questions about their future livelihoods and identity. The numbers of people forced to relocate and lose their self-sufficiency, will undoubtedly rise due to this land development, joining the already swelling ranks of aid-dependent villagers in Ethiopia. As one Suri pastoralist puts it “This is the end of pastoralism in southern Ethiopia.”