Ethiopia: Land grabs fuel violence in Gambella

The Ethiopian government has committed gross human rights violations by uprooting the indigenous people of Gambella from their traditional territories, which they have inhabited for centuries, in order to make more land available for commercial agricultural investment.

During the first phase of the government’s “villagization” programme, over 21,000 households were forcefully relocated from their traditional villages, farms and water resources. By the end of the programme 45,000 households (about a third of Gambella’s indigenous population) will be moved to new villages. The government has failed to fulfill promises to provide new villages with social services. And since the land in the new places is not suitable for traditional agriculture, people now rely on gold mining in order to survive. 

The indigenous Anywa (or Anuak) of the Gambella region are using peaceful means to protest against the forceful displacement from their territories.  But strong military presence in the region has made it difficult for people to resist. Recently, the government has used violent force, killing indigenous people. A few individuals from indigenous communities have also unfortunately resorted to using violence against the government, investors and those they perceive to be collaborating with investors.

In February, unknown gunmen killed two policemen. In retaliation the government’s military forces killed two indigenous Anywa in Okuna village and arrested others, whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Other similar attacks have been reported. In March, 21 highlanders (Ethiopians who are non-indigenous to Gambella region) travelling to Gambella were killed by unknown gunmen. Without investigating the incident, the military arrested Anywa living in Gambella town and villages around Abobo district. Some of those arrested were accused of being relatives of the suspects. The whereabouts of those people remain unknown today. In other incidents, the military have killed innocent students and farmers, like the killing of a high-school student called Tedo on 7 April in the Gambella regional town. 

On 28 April unknown men attacked one of the camps of Saudi Star Agriculture Development Plc. (one of Ethiopia’s largest foreign land investors) in the Abobo district, killing workers and military personnel. Reportedly, none of the attackers have been captured or killed by the military to date.

Since this incident, the number of arrests and deadly attacks against Anywa farmers have increased. On 1 May, one guard who was working for Saudi Star Plc. was killed by the military just because he was from the Anyuak indigenous community. In early May, the military attacked Pokedi village in Abobo district, killing five people, including one student and one teacher.

Hundreds of people are now fleeing to refugee camps in South Sudan and Kenya to escape violence in the region, as OCHA  reports. Many boys and young men are also going to Juba, South Sudan’s capital, to look for work.

Local activists urge the Ethiopian government to listen to its people and be open for discussion rather than resorting to violence. The government should work on the recommendation of the latest Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on forced displacement in Gambella.

When deplorable incidents of attacks on the government and related targets occur, the military should look for those responsible rather than killing and torturing innocent Anywa farmers and students. This is exactly how events unfolded before the December 2003 massacre, when the military killed some 400 innocent indigenous Anywa people in Gambella town (see HRW 2005 report).

The international community must closely watch and monitor the situation in order to prevent another massacre of the Anywa indigenous community in Gambella and take necessary measures to prevent the situation from further deterioration.

Ojulu is a local activist from the Gambella region.

Image shows a village in the Gambella reigon, Ethiopia. Credit: Pocarropilla

For an in-depth interview with this activist, and for more information about forced displacement and commercial land deals in Ethiopia, watch out for MRG’s State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012, which will be published at the end of June.

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Date: 28/05/2012




Indigenous Peoples
Land Rights

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Name: Ojulu

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