By Carol Schachet January 26th, 2012
The issue of land grabs remains a critical threat to human rights, forcing millions of people off the land to make way for large-scale industrial farms. Land grabs in Ethiopia are not only threatening to dislocate farmers but are doing so with significant financial aid from the United States. Take a moment to read the information below provided by our colleagues at the Oakland Institute and the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia and take action. And take action to call on President Obama and the Administrator of USAID to stop aggressive land grabs and instead support small farmers, protect food-producing lands and embrace community-based solutions.
Ethiopia, which is deemed an "important regional security partner" by the US government and one of the largest recipients of US aid (over $1 billion a year since 2007), is forcibly relocating 70,000 people from Gambella to make land available for investment in agriculture. In doing this they are also aggravating current hunger while laying the groundwork for future famine in Ethiopia, as people are losing their livelihoods and being moved to areas where they cannot readily feed themselves.
A new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) confirms and elaborates on what the Oakland Institute (OI) and its partner organization, Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE), uncovered in several recent reports on Ethiopia (http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/land-deals-africa-ethiopia) where indigenous people and local communities are being coerced and forcibly moved from their lands to make room for large-scale agricultural plantations.
Incredibly, the US ambassador to Ethiopia Donald E. Booth visited Gambella in January 2012 and said he witnessed "the people of Gambella benefiting from the fruits of development in the state." Mr. Booth seems unwilling to acknowledge any of the abuse, violence, or coercion human rights groups and the media have reported.
Through 100 interviews and 16 site visits, HRW documents how the relocation of 70,000 people from Gambella is far from voluntary and that promised improvements of food, farmland, health clinics, and schools are far from realized. Oakland Institute and its partner Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE) confirm the worst details of brutality that HRW puts forth.
While the Ethiopian government is planning to relocate a total of 1.5 million people, its financial backers--especially USAID, one of the largest donors to the Ethiopian regime--need to take a closer look at what they are funding with taxpayer money.
We ask for your help to pressure President Obama and USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah to take a step back from supporting a repressive regime involved in the forced relocation of long-term and nomadic residents of the area of Gambella and to stop aid to Ethiopia until due diligence is taken to ensure that the well-being and livelihoods of local and indigenous people are valued at least as much as foreign investment.
The Oakland Institute's research in Ethiopia shows that not only do large-scale investments disrupt and destroy communities and ecosystems, they do not deliver on promises of job creation, economic development, and food security.
Ethiopia is the largest recipient of US food aid. In FY 2010, the US government provided $932.6 million in assistance, including more than $451 million in food aid. The US should become better-informed as we may well be creating the next famine in Ethiopia by taking valuable food-producing lands from productive small farmers and pastoralists and handing them over to foreign investors to grow flowers, fuels, and other exports.
Let President Obama and USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah know that it is not too late to put the brakes on, change course, and reevaluate US policy in Ethiopia. US support to the repressive Ethiopian regime and the repercussions of forced relocations will have a great impact on Ethiopia's future food security and poverty in the nation.
Learn more by reading the Oakland Institute and SMNE's report Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa: Ethiopia Country Report as well as OI Land Deal Briefs on Ethiopia's Lower Omo Valley and the Saudi Star investment deal.