Ethiopia’s Land Grabs: Interviews with the displaced
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Ethiopia’s Land Grabs: Interviews with the displaced

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October 17, 2013
 

Anywaa Survival Organisation-ASO is a non-for-profit organization that campaigns for social justice and environmental friendly sustainable development. It promotes active participation of indigenous people and pastoralist communities in Ethiopia in decision making that directly or indirectly affects their way of life, natural environment and access to vital information.

ASO began its campaigning activities on human rights and other issues affecting remote and marginalized pastoralist and indigenous communities in Ethiopia in 1999. The core founder, Nyikaw Ochalla has extensive work experience in both governmental and non-governmental organizations in Ethiopia including UNHCR, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and regional education office while still in Ethiopia and had made tremendous efforts to bring international attention to underreported but grave human rights atrocities in Ethiopia’s Gambela region. ASO was a leading organization campaigning on the flight and displacement of the Anuak community in Gambela following government orchestrated and unprecedented atrocities in 2003. It also has been playing a key role in exposing the government of Ethiopia’s land grabbing policy and its impacts on the local communities.

Based in the UK, Nyikaw Ochalla traveled to Kenya, Nairobi in May/June 2013 to hear testimonies of those who fled Ethiopia due to government land grabbing and the controversial involuntary resettlement programme that is being carried out on the lands of indigenous peoples and pastoralists.

These accounts of human rights violations, unfulfilled promises, displacement of innocent children, families, women, elders and entire remote communities in the southwest provide a better insight of the suffering and the government’s lack of respect for fundamental human rights. This reality on the ground contradicts Ethiopia’s constitution; in particular, Articles 43 and 44.

Some of those who were interviewed wished to remain anonymous out of concerns for their families back home and their personal safety.

First Interview (wished to remain anonymous)

What do you say about land grabbing in the lower Omo valley?

The indigenous peoples’ land in the lower valley, particularly in the Rift valley, has been forcefully taken by the government and leased to private investors. Out of 740,000 hectares, 640,000 hectares of land have been leased to government-owned companies and private investors. The livelihoods of these communities entirely depend on cattle herding; the size of land that has been taken would undoubtedly expose traditional communities to extreme poverty, massive displacement and forceful exile into neighbouring countries. Worst of all, the local people in the area will see a web of destruction. Land grabbing policy is intended to forcefully evict indigenous peoples from their traditional lands and force them into exile. The community, extremely unhappy for losing grazing and hunting grounds, is either forced to defend their interest to the point of death or else become refugees in neighbouring countries. Such policy that does not put into consideration the needs of affected communities will put the regime into trouble.

The government claims indigenous peoples’ land has not been grabbed. But different sources indicate that traditional community lands have been grabbed and sold to private investors. How many people do you think have been displaced?

We can only rely on government statistics to know how many people have been displaced. But in our view we are convinced with no doubt that the majority of local people in the area will be displaced. The indigenous people will have no access to water and grazing land for their herds. Furthermore, the community will no longer enjoy freedom of movement and arable fertile land.

We believe that 3/4 of the indigenous population in the zone will be displaced. Only a fraction of the indigenous people of the area will be employed as daily labourers and other back-breaking manual jobs. We are strongly convinced that 3/4 of the local population will be displaced.

In relation to land grabbing Indians, Saudi Arabia and other countries are major land grabbers in the Gambela region. Who are the investors in the lower Omo valley?

In the southern part, an Indian company has started cultivating palm oil on 10,000 hectares. It is rapidly expanding its operation in the area. Another Indian company has also started cultivation of rice.

Moving upstream, community land has been given to an Ethiopian investor from north. So far the work of clearing the land to produce cotton, cash crops and other non-food items has begun.

In wayto, Brily agricultural development has begun cultivating cotton on a staggering 500,000 hectares. In short, the entire land in the area has been grabbed by private investors. In this way, the reality of leasing out the intended 640,000 hectare of community land will come true. If this much community land is given to investors, the community loses out from owning the land; the free movement they had in past will be restricted. This action invites mass displacement and forces the remaining communities to work as daily labourers. This is a dangerous move in my view.

Human rights abuses have been reported in various media due to land grabbing. Tell me about these human rights abuses in the southern part of the country.

Well, it is similar to human rights abuses on other land-grabbing-affected communities. This is contrary to the Ethiopian constitution which protects the human rights and dignity of every citizen including the right of farmers to freely use the land under their disposal and the right to pastoralist communities to have access to grazing land. The community in the lower Omo valley have used the land for farming and grazing for generations in the past. But with new land grabbing development leading to increase of land users and the fact that traditional land users have not been consulted prior to implementation of the programme, I would expect serious trouble in the area in the future.

Despite concerns for community traditional way of life, culture, livelihoods, and displacement to human beings and herds of cattle, the government has ignored their concerns and failed to respond appropriately. If you raise the community concerns on various local administration meetings, you are branded anti-development and to some extent forced [out of] public office.

The community [faces various human rights abuses. They are] threatened, arbitrarily detained and arrested without trial, beaten, raped, linked to political dissent and branded as anti-development to inflict fear, imprisoned and forcefully evicted from their ancestral lands. Their right to freedom of speech and association [is] denied, forced to go into exile, and murdered indiscriminately. The causes of these abuses as in recent development in Surma area–an unstoppable conflict [that] engulfed the previously peaceful traditional communities–has its roots in irresponsible government policy and action. The Surma community is being forcefully evicted, murdered, raped and detained without trial. Denial of basic and fundamental human rights of land-grabbing-affected communities is not a simple problem that the government would put under the carpet and [simply] ignore. It demands full attention and careful conflict management skills.

In relation to land usage, the region such as Gambela has traditional farming methods. The government claims land belongs to the state. What do you say about land usage in the southern part of the country?

It is similar. The land belongs to a community chief with clear demarcations between tribal lands. The grazing and farming areas are clearly demarcated by tribal land. They have unique settlement patterns with no contact with other tribal people around them. [The] community right to live and use their traditional land is under serious threat.

The government introduction of involuntary villagisation policy [aims] to displace the community from their traditional land. The involuntary settlement policy does not respect the traditional land demarcation between various tribal people in the area. According the community tradition, there are areas, trees and holy places that for generations have been protected from destruction. But now, the current farming system endangers these traditional community assets and knowledge. This trend will put the communities into conflict among themselves.

Although the communities used to share common grazing land, each tribe has their own distinct farm lands. Each tribe has land for farming and real estate during the rainy seasons. Even during the season where the River Omo over floods, they have a system of escaping the flood to some areas. All these land allotments are known to each every tribal people. Forcing them to relocate contrary to the traditional norm, they could not accept the government involuntary resettlement programme. The community unilaterally refused to relocate telling the government that they will die in their current environment if the government refuses to accept traditional patterns of living. This is the way the traditional land use system has been in the southern part of the country.

If the traditional arrangement demands that every community has its own land allotment, did the government have consultations with the community? If not, will this lack of consultation with the community bring conflict among the community?

[There has been] no consultation with the affected community. The concerned local authorities were instructed to implement land grabbing policy and the effort was to convince the community to accept the project. Nonetheless, the community refused to accept the sale of their farmland to private investors. The approach contradicts the well-known democratic principle of participatory approaches to development. When you discuss the project with the community, they raise vital questions: what will be our fate if the government [sells] these lands to investors? The second and most vital of all is the future of large cattle herds in the area.

Annually, the community practices rotation farming in search for grazing pasture; this takes place at least three times a year. The arrival of private investors into the area restricts community free movement with their cattle herds and creates unstoppable conflict. For instance, if cattle [accidentally crosses into an] investors farm and destroys the crops, the owner may detain the cattle. This creates dispute between the locals and the investor. In the process of settling the dispute that arise over a single cattle, other community members may [get involved], escalating the conflict. For the communities, tradition calls for supporting each other in conflicts and disputes. If one community is attacked by an investor, other communities will join in support of their fellow community member.

The conflict that may erupt in the area will not stop easily. The government will either finish the entire community or the community will pick up arms to defend themselves. In my opinion, any project that does not involve the community has little to bring peace and harmony with the community. In the case of land grabbing, it is intended to deprive indigenous communities but create wealth for other individuals. Such project creates non-stoppable conflict.

As you mentioned earlier, private investors and political-party-affiliated Ethiopian nationals do not produce crops fit for local consumption. Will this production system expose the community to danger?

Well, the system undoubtedly exposes the community in the area into serious food insecurity and danger. Current arable fertile farmland and grazing points will no longer be accessible to the community. The overall outcome of the project is to create wealth for other non-indigenous community members and improve their livelihoods at the expense of local people born in the area who will be at a disadvantage. Other opportunistic local people will better themselves by creating middle income wealth.

The project provides opportunity for the community to go into exile. Subject to extreme poverty, [with] freedom of movement restricted and confined to new settlement camps, forcefully evicted, and left with no option but to use limited force at their disposal, the community will either choose to defend themselves or choose to remain in exile for ever. It will not be difficult to predict the future of these communities under a programme that deprives them access to vital economic assets and government protection. Development under such programme and policy cannot be imagined as the food produced on their traditional farmlands are for export to the international market. When they no longer cultivate on the land, they definitely will leave the area. The strategy of this policy is to displace traditional communities from their land to give way for private investment.

The government claims that the lease of land to foreign investors is to bring development and create job opportunities. How true is this claim?

The development benefits will be to those new-comers and those who will be migrating to the area. It is not intended to create wealth and improve local communities’ livelihoods. There will be no single benefit to the local people. Since the project started, we have seen that all project workers are brought from other parts of the country. None of the local community either educated or non-skilled have secured employment even at the security guard level. Thus, it clearly indicates that any employment opportunity is going to benefit those people from other areas.

This is an [exclusionary] development project to force the local communities to leave their fertile land and move to neighbouring countries where they will remain as refugees. The government is doing this project to displace the indigenous communities and bring their fellow ethnic groups from the northern part of the country and settle them on the land.

Southern Ethiopia and in particularly, lower Omo valley is known for its tourist attractions. Does this project give due regards to sustainable environmental protection?

Well, the environment concerns and traditional sites that have been protected in the past will not continue but come under serious destruction once agricultural projects take off in the area. The ecological balance and traditional tourist attraction sites will be cleared for agricultural purposes. As I mentioned earlier, there are holy sites, trees and traditional places preserved and protected in the past by the community. Once these areas are cleared, the ecological balance and environment management fall under destruction.

There will be cultural clash between local communities and new-comers. While new-comers will impose their culture and tradition, the indigenous communities on the other hand resist to protect their culture and customs. This creates unavoidable conflict. With this conflict, the indigenous communities’ culture and values [will gradually disappear], a great mistake the government is making. To stop such cultural destruction of local communities, it is important to work closely with concerned individuals and institutions at the international level. Such an approach is the best option to protect the community and culture and sustain tourism in the areas.

This cannot be expected from private investors whose primary concern is short-term profit making rather than key issues such as community livelihoods, traditional customs, environment and human rights of the affected communities.

Land grabbing is taking place in Gambela, lower Omo, Beni-shangul and other parts of the country. What do you think can be done to stop it?

I call upon the government to immediately stop land grabbing. I do not believe that imposing a programme on the community without their prior consent and active participation is in the interest of development and harmony with the community. It is contrary to development practice and a recipe for conflict. And, further denying communities the right to freely use the land and other natural resources and a development approach contrary to constitutional provisions, invites unstoppable conflict in those areas and international communities must give due attention to traditional communities cultural and knowledge base practice.

We are approaching the end of our interview. What additional message would you want to say?

I do not understand why some communities are accorded the right to use land and other available resources while others are denied. The communities must equally benefit from constitutional provisions to create wealth and improve their livelihoods without discrimination and bias. Any development should be based on the will of the affected community members through discussions and consultations instead of imposing it on them. I must underline that all operations in relations to land grabbing should stop immediately and dialogues [should begin] in a democratic way.

Second interview

Could you introduce yourself and the work you have done in the past?

My name is Okok Ojulu. I have done number of jobs. I [was] involved in setting up an education association, Gambela Education Welfare Association, GEWA, to support indigenous communities’ education needs, I coordinated Anywaa development association, [doing] consultancy work for UNDP and I was the regional manager for Ethiopian Social Rehabilitation and Development Fund [where I formulated and implemented] various development projects such as construction of schools and health institutions, clean water provisions, [supplied] vital education and health materials and [supported] communities with grinding mills. Active community participation and the dedication of a few staff members achieved tremendous change in the development aspirationa of the communities in a short period.

In 2002, conflict engulfed two major indigenous communities: Anywaa (or Anuak) and Nuer with devastating consequences on the unarmed Anywaa community. This was a government plan intended to set the region into unnecessary conflict. The destructive plan that used Ethiopian highland traders and civil servants to render support to ethnic Nuer, leaked out to the intended targets. The Nuer attack took place three days after the leak, killed 42 and left 63 wounded. The [magnitude of the disaster] was so severe that many unarmed civilians by the help of God crossed the river to safety [while] others remained behind camps at police stations for protection. The effect of the EPRDF plan to annihilate Anywaa community from Itang district spread to Gambela town with the two linguistically and ethnically interrelated communities unnecessarily slaughtering each other with little intervention.

With the swift removal of political power from Okello Nyigelo–former regional state governor–and a shift of power to the security affairs head, Omot Obang Olom, the two communities were made to butcher each other unnecessarily. To bring back normality, control potentially dangerous ethnic upheaval and reconcile the two communities, the regional administration established a peace and reconciliation committee including well-known community elders of which I was made a chairman.

In a government-orchestrated murder plan that made innocent and key people perish, I came into picture and [contacted] military personnel to reconcile the two conflicting parties; our work was to promote peace to bring a sustainable solution to a region deprived of development and ravaged by ethnic feuds. We conducted effective prayer meetings with requests for participants from two antagonistic communities to hold hands in prayer and the result was tremendously huge. The parties to the conflicts realized the intensity of the conflict and broke down into tears. Post prayers and realization of a third party [in the] unnecessary conflict, the two communities returned to normal activities ceased due to hostilities.

With the summon of the regional administration to Addis Ababa, I was entrusted with regional administration to maintain already achieved relative peace and stability. While focusing to consolidate relative stability, new development surfaced requiring full attention and investigation. In some parts of the town, unknown groups set alight local inhabitants houses; destroying properties, lives and trust in reconciliation and peace building. Examining closely to identify dark forces behind instability and destruction, local communities reported to the reconciliation committee that every time an incident of fire [broke] out at night, the first people seen at the scene are military personnel casting doubt on commitment, dedication, and their ability to remain natural in the conflict and restore peace and stability between warring parties.

My investigation and observation of the house burning conforms to local communities’ testimonies and draws a conclusion that the military personnel are not neutral [in the] conflict and their effort is to fuel it. I voiced my concerns on several occasions and this brought me into loggerhead with top military personnel and security officials.

At a meeting held at the regional council, the army and security forces made bold statements to arrest and crackdown those individuals who actively contributed ideas on various peace and reconciliation meetings. I protested and refused any illegal arrest of innocent citizens on the ground of freedom of expression and in my view the action contradicts both federal and regional constitutional provisions. This was the beginning of the trouble; [the military senior personnel, Tsegaye, became a] number one enemy from that time. I noted during that meeting chaired by Tesgaye and the regional chief of security affairs, Jal Omot Obang Olom, who was taking minutes, a long list of names drawn for unknown purpose. While some names were marked by blue/black pen, others were marked by red pen. I realized later on after being released from jail that all those names marked by red pen [all died during] the three days murder campaign in 2003.

Upon the return of the regional council executive committee from Addis Ababa and after completing the ad hoc peace and reconciliation committee mission; restoration of peace, security and stability in the region, the ad hoc committee stepped aside and handed over the regional administration to elected regional council members.

In the return of relative peace and security in z short period, the community expressed their satisfaction by the ad hoc peace and reconciliation committee work that restored confidence and trust. Despite tremendous effort of the ad hoc committee to restore things back to normality, I later learned from close contacts that [evidence was] being manufactured to detain and throw me into jail and my contact advised me to leave the country immediately. I got the flight the next morning to Jimma and continued my journey for Addis Ababa the next morning by bus. When I arrived [in] Addis Ababa I was informed that a police officer was dispatched to arrest me. Realizing the danger of the threat, I stayed in an undisclosed location for two weeks. I came to Pizza, an area where the majority people from Gambela find accommodation after two weeks and was immediately arrested and put in detention. I found many innocent Anywaa and Nuer from Gambela suffering in detention without trial and many more joined us in detention afterwards. After five and a half months in a police station and two and half months in prison without charge and numerous appointments, I realized that the authorities wanted to detain me indefinitely.

While I was languishing in the police station and prison, they were manufacturing evidence to charge me; producing fake documents from the office. They came up with five charges [totaling] 4 million Birr (the currency in Ethiopia) in community contributions towards various community projects.

According to the ESRDF operational manual, every community project is subject to 10% community contribution. As opposed to other regional states with effective and financially-viable development associations, Gambela regional state had no active development association to match 10% community contribution required in the operational manual. While some communities could manage to contribute 3-4%, none of the community had managed to raise the required 10% contribution towards the community project. The cumulative balance of 4 million Eth birr amount was one of the points they brought as a charge against me. In the absence of an effective and active development association, the remaining balance [was] supposed to be paid by the regional government as this is a community project. In addition to community contribution, some part of this 4 million is allowances, travel costs and grinding mill-related transportation costs to Lare, Nuer zone.

Based on these charges, I was given prolong appointments; sometimes 3 and 7 months duration to keep me in prison. While in jail, I learned that Omoto Obang Olom [made further accusations against me, appealing to] federal authorities that I should not be released as my release from prison would expose the government policies and [bring] much disaster to the government should I leave the country. As a believer, I endured the suffering and waited patiently for my release from prison. I volunteered lecturing for a college while waiting for them to release me. As they could not find any evidence, they finally released me. I realized that it is better to join politics if I were to continue working with the communities under such unfavourable circumstances.

While preparing a step to join politics, I returned to Gambela. It did not take me [long to learn] that authorities were planning another web of evidence manufacturing to detain me or kill me. They were organizing young church members to produce fake documents and they wrote a 30-page document with support and advice from Omot Obang Olom, the then-regional state governor. A copy of the document was handed over to state government and the second copy sent to federal authorities, Prime Minister Office. Upon learning of this big plan to arrest me again, I left the country without telling my wife and children. I only communicated with them after I arrived in the neighbouring country. This show how serious the plot [was] to either kill or arrest me.

I must underline and inform you that I made tremendous effort to work closely with human rights institutions including US based HRW and various diplomatic missions by informing and supplying information on land grabbing, involuntary settlement, force eviction and other human rights atrocities. I had various constructive meetings with the US embassy to discuss human rights situations of indigenous communities in the southwest of the country. I made trips to various regions in the southwest and noted that what is taking place in Gambela today is also implemented on those areas in the Ethiopian peripheries such as Benishangul Gumuz. These areas are targeted to take away their land, [make them suffer] in various prisons without trial, murder and destroy their livelihoods and culture. I left the country before the research findings [that were] due to be published in November of that year. In addition, I [had an] interview with a renowned international media, the BBC, though I had disguised my identity and voice. My involvement in both cases threatened my survival and made my decision to come to exile where I have been for the last two and half years.

As you are aware, in Gambela, a large chunk of arable land has been leased to foreign investors. What do you know about this and why are they leasing out community lands?

The government plans is to deprive indigenous communities access to fertile arable farmland and bring unemployed Ethiopians from the north to settle them on indigenous peoples land. 96% of national investors in Gambela according to the investment office records are ethnic Tigray and Amhara from the north. Even the employment statistics in the investment office in Gambela favoured highlanders and in some cases other local ethnic groups but denied the Anywaa (or Anuak) from being employed.

It is obvious that investors who are ethnic Tigray and Amhara will bring their fellow kith and kin from the north and employ them on investment farms. This skewed influx of unemployed people from the north would threaten survival of indigenous people in their ancestral land and demands immediate action to stop this trend. The impacts of land grabbing on indigenous communities, life style and sustainable environment protection is so serious as we can see from unplanned influx of people from the north putting great pressure on local communities. This is the beginning of the government destruction policy and I strongly believe many more policies to destroy the future Anywaa generations are on the way to give way to Ethiopian highlanders [occupying] their ancestral lands.

This can be seen from available pieces of evidence. The indigenous communities are denied access to employment opportunities and no political will and incentives to enable them create wealth to invest on the land if they wish to do so. Efforts are underway to depopulate the entire region. [On] some occasions, discriminatory remarks are echoed in the public telling the indigenous communities to migrate to south Sudan. Such evidence indicates that the Ethiopian government has clear intention to forcefully evict indigenous communities and take away their land. The government should officially declare that the indigenous communities are not Ethiopians.

If the authorities in Addis Ababa want only the land and not the local communities because of their skin pigmentation, it shows they want Ethiopia [to be a] country without dark skin indigenous communities in the south and southwest. Land grabbing policy is a continuation of a destructive web; [massacring, murdering] and poisoning innocent civilians as they have been doing in Gambela. There is much similarity between the current regime in Addis Ababa and apartheid system in South Africa in the 20th century. For instance, if there [is] a quarrel between an Ethiopian highlander and indigenous Anywaa member, the army without investigating and establishing the facts beats the local person and detains him/her in the army barracks.

Furthermore, the two tier systems in Gambela is intended to weaken indigenous communities confidence, morale, and [their] traditional political system. Although the regional administration, leadership and local police is in principle in the hand of indigenous communities, the administration has limited power and the police force, for example, lacks authority to protect the local communities. Instead, the army and federal police forces are entrusted with more power with some invisible forces in the region to protect their fellow Ethiopian highlanders at the expense of the indigenous people. The authorities are behind wide spread displacement, murder, rapes, involuntary resettlement and ethnic conflicts between indigenous communities; Anywaa and Nuer, Majanger, etc.

In my honest opinion, land grabbing is far from development investment alone. [Behind] the policy is a strategy to weaken the spirit of the indigenous communities and subject the future generation to status of independence including begging on the streets. Its primary motive is to destroy indigenous communities’ fabric other than development as claimed.

The Ethiopian government claims land lease policy is intended to bring development and create job opportunities to the people. What do you say about this?

The truth is there could be relative development at the national level as indicated by some reports including Human Rights Watch. But a close look at Ethiopian economic growth would point to skewed development at the hand of a small fraction of individuals; but the government pays no special consideration and attention to indigenous Nilotic and pastoralists whose arable farmlands have been grabbed without their prior consent.

Land grabbing without consultation with the affected communities contradicts the country constitution; mainly, article 40(5) which protects land rights of indigenous communities and pastoralists. For instance, the land in the peripheries such and Gambela and Beni-shangul should not have been grabbed as there is understanding deep rooted in these communities that land belongs to and is property of the community as opposed to government claims that it belongs to the state. The government should adopt constitutional provisions that enable the communities to own and protect their land as in South Sudan. I strongly remain convinced that the land in Gambela belongs to the community as it was before. It is the community then that should have negotiated with investors rather than the government in Addis Ababa. No one from far away such as Tigray should come and give away the community land and deprive them [of their] source of livelihood.

The authorities should be reminded that land has political and historical dimension among the indigenous communities. It carries huge emotions and is a sensitive subject. In the community such as Gambela, these vast fertile lands have clear demarcation, boundaries [preserved] for different purposes. Some are for hunting, fishing, farming, grazing, and fruit collection during drought and famine. It will carry destruction if leased out to investors without consultation with the affected communities. Some of these lands need preservation for historical and archaeological research. In fact, clear demarcation in accordance with indigenous communities’ traditional norms must be followed. I do not accept a notion that land belongs to the state enabling someone from far north-Tigray region to negotiate, forcefully evict local communities [without cultural sensitivity, destroying] the social fabric.

The government’s lack of commitment to uplift the indigenous from abject poverty, underdevelopment and — but grab their land, murder, [indiscriminately arrest and detain, create insecurity and involuntary resettlement] is a continuation of past regimes’ depopulation [using] discriminatory policies towards indigenous population along the peripheries in the south west. The plans are to systematically murder and do away with distinct ethnic communities in these areas and resettle them with Ethiopian highlanders from Amhara and Tigray regions. Any investment on the local communities’ traditional land is to create employment opportunities for unemployed ethnic Tigray and Amhara from north with barely consideration to the suffering of the local population. The government land grabbing policy is institutional plunder as pieces of evidence indicate; for instance, business ventures create wealth in various regions in land grabbing-affected areas but had no appetite to invest in these areas. Indeed, it is an act of stealing indigenous communities’ [resources; God] does not like such kind of dubious action.

Furthermore, they do not accept the distinct communities as Ethiopian but steal their natural resources to destroy their livelihoods. Doing nothing in this political, complex and historically sensitive land issue is not an option. It requires immediate action to create awareness of the affected communities about the government’s destructive policy and lack of recognition of indigenous communities as Ethiopian. The affected local communities should use and evoke various legal provisions as in the UN charter and the current Ethiopian constitution that protects land theft [from] taking place. It does not make sense to see thousand hectares of arable farmland given to foreign and national investors from the north while the local person [is] left with a fraction of 0.01 hectares. The attitude of Ethiopian highlanders from the north is another serious concern as the presence of indigenous communities on marginal land amid Ethiopians from the north would threaten their survival. This plan is to annihilate the local communities from the land and the government plans every day and night to implement its destructive policies. In fact, those people remaining in Gambela are as good as dead. This is not exaggeration but the grim reality on the ground.

The government has introduced involuntary settlement programme to relocate indigenous communities from their fertile areas they have lived for generations. The claim is a lack of vital social services such as education, health, road infrastructures in those areas but to bring them in one area to provide these services. What do you say about this?

This is completely false. These claims are unfounded and lack credibility. No new school or health clinic has been built in these new sites the communities have been relocated. As I mentioned, while working for Ethiopian Rehabilitation and Development Fund, we have provided these essential services to various parts of the region except remote areas such as upper Akobo river bank, Jor and Akobo districts. The plan is to forcefully remove the indigenous communities from their ancestral lands and give their land to investors. The indigenous communities are to be deprived soon their traditional way of life and environmentally sound rotational farming methods as in Gok and other areas in the past.

Land grabbing policy has nothing to do with [providing] essential social and economic services; [but to] steal the land from local people and allocate it to investors. The relocation of Okuna and Ith-Oriemo villages and immediate apportion of their farmlands to investors, forceful eviction of Perbongo village to Oma-kier after which their already arable farmlands to ethnic Tigray for immediate cotton plantation contradicts government claims. These are clear pieces of evidence pointing to [the government’s] clear intention to destroy local communities’ livelihoods other than lack of social services in the areas.

We talked about land grabbing and government policy of resettlement, relocating indigenous people to non-productive areas. What do you think is the benefit to the local communities?

Land grabbing, as I mentioned earlier, came in the name of development. But the motive of this development is rooted in the hatred of the government towards minority ethnic groups that deprived them of genuine development for several years. The investors are coming to loot indigenous peoples and pastoralists’ resources; not to bring sustainable change to the people.

Historically, Ethiopia is known of enslavement and grabbing taxation from the indigenous peoples in the peripheries during the Haile Selassie era. This trend continued during the military junta that brought numerous settlers into areas such as Gambela. The new-comers were active participants in the government murder campaign in 2003 slaughtering innocent civilians with machetes.

Land grabbing is a government [web] to bring thousands of people from other areas to assimilate indigenous peoples. There is no tool better at this time than [to implement the destructive policy of the regime in the name of development]. The multitude of Ethiopians from the north apparently will enjoy security and protection from the army and federal police force in favourable terms as opposed to indigenous populations who will be hunted down and discriminated against in their own homeland. The claim of development barely provides any benefit to local communities and the relocation is intended to free more arable fertile land for private investors, employ more unemployed from Tigray and Amhara, depopulate the entire southwest and destroy their traditional life style. Such development pretext would deprive and deny the community’s environmentally- and ecological-friendly traditional farming methods including the rotational cultivation system effectively practiced in the area.

The government claim no farmland hs been taken away from local farmers. Yet, various reports indicate farmlands have been leased out without local communities consent. These reports confirm my understanding that areas such as Oreithi and Pokedi have been given to investors. What do you say about this?

The land grabbed and leased to investors in Gambela belongs to the indigenous community. Large chunks of these arable fertile farmlands are in the Anywaa zone and belongs to Anywaa community. Those leased in Majanger areas belongs to Majanger community. I strongly believe the land leased to investors belongs to the community and the government should respect national and international legal obligations that grant undisputed rights to the community to own land and enjoy unlimited benefits from the resources. As we all know, there is no wasteland [or un-utilized] land in Gambela. The vast track of arable farmland, forest, and grass land belongs historically to various villages with well-known demarcation between each village. A good example is Pokedi land and its demarcation with neighbouring villages; a part of the land extends to Abuod village, Perbongo village and it extends to current Gambela airport, Pumoli, Igara and Ilia villages and others extending to Pinyudo, Abol village along Gilo River and owalo village along Openo (Baro) river. One can imagine such track of land belonging to Pokedi village. Yet, it is not without a purpose; some for hunting, fishing, grazing, and others for farmlands and alternative food sources during famine and drought.

According to traditional custom, each village has a duty to respect customary demarcation and boundary and failure to observe this boundary carries a curse and potential conflict. This is a pattern of traditional land ownership that follows the traditional history and human dignity of the people. It does not make sense for someone from far away as Tigray to claim that the indigenous community land belongs to state without respecting the indigenous peoples’ traditional custom and historical land value. I am extremely concerned with land leased to Al Moudi, Saudi Star company owner at Pokedi and [employer of] over 60,000 people from outside of the [region. It raises] valid questions: what will be the future and fate of the indigenous communities? No doubt they will be subject to extreme poverty and a slow but painful death. Multiple factors point directly to the systematic killing of the community around the farm; arrival of thousand employees with negative attitude and racial hatred, lack of respect of local peoples’ culture and history and the existence of an already-antagonistic relationship with indigenous population in the area in the past.

The indigenous communities are dead alive. What is taking place in Pokedi village is the experience of other villages; the government destroys historical facts, deprives communities of arable farmlands, and does not have the political will to improve their livelihoods. This destroys the future of the indigenous communities. What they have done to other Ethiopians by destroying their culture and customs, is what they are introducing in Gambela. It’s better to sacrifice your life rather than be oppressed on your own land.

We can look into the history of other black skin Ethiopians along Ethiopian borders and how their confidence and life style-as a result of Ethiopian government’s discrimination towards the indigenous communities in these area– has been destroyed. For instance, Gumuz people, whom they call them Shankela, have been deprived of any development. Similarly, other dark skin at Shegole in Addis Ababa remained marginalized and deprived of genuine development. The Ethiopian authorities do not have desire to bring development to indigenous communities and will thwart their effort to bring sustainable development by plotting against [them]. How can we believe their hidden development motives and live with such double-faced people? Their intention is to destroy the future of indigenous communities along international borders and should be taken seriously.

I grew up in Ilia village aware of cash crop cultivation and sorghum farming. The people also farm along the Openo River during dry and rainy seasons. I heard KGL have cleared a sacred community burial site removing the bones of their ancestors. What do they say about this?

The story of farmland grabs in Ilia village is unspeakable. Karuturi Global farming starts 26 km from Gambela town. Alternative food sources, sacred trees and communities cash crop farmlands fall in the KGL. All the trees along the routes to Birhane selam have been cleared causing serious environmental destruction. The indigenous people farmlands have been taken by KGL.

Before I left the country I was aware of the conflicts building up with KGL as they attempted to clear chief’s burial sites. Even the recent Ilia chief’s grave was about to be removed. This was stopped by the communities. They do voice their concerns but are frequently ignored. For instance, a large tree of historical importance was at the verge of destruction without community prior consent and this caused a great tension with the community. This is an indication that land grabbing is intended to destroy local peoples’ history. They took their case to the regional administration and there was no satisfactory response to address their concern. Upon realizing that the government give little support to their concerns, they gave up.

I do not dispute the claim that investors are destroying historical and burial sites. The people are in abject poverty and if the investors who used money to corrupt local officials, they will have no power to challenge. The local community and their representatives in the administration can be divided easily. Those with short-term views can gain the abundant interest of the community. The investors have been seen purchasing alcohol and other insignificant materials to destroy the unity of the local people.

KGL promised to build a university for Ilia community in an attempt to divide the few educated local people and the farmer community. Until now, there has never been any university in Ilia and the entire region. It was intended to divide the community.

Indigenous communities have been farming crops such as maize, Sorghum and other cash crops. What do private investors produce?

Private investors in Gambela lack commitment to bring development in the region. They are engaged in capital flight and crops produced in the region are either taken of out of Ethiopia or to benefit other areas. For instance, rice produced by Al moudi in the region is not for sale in the local market.

The majority private investors are engaged in producing cotton in a region where there is no single manufacturing factory; [the cotton] is being exported to the international market. This is a system to steal the community land.

What is the role of the regional government in land grabbing deals?

The regional administration hardly belongs to indigenous communities. Instead, it belongs to Ethiopian highlanders to serve their interest in the region. For several years, the indigenous communities demanded the removal of former governor, Omot Obang Olom for various criminal activities with no success. Despite the governor’s anti-local communities’ agenda including sale of community land, corruption, engineering conflict between the federal authorities and the local communities and being not elected by the people, the federal government had kept him to oppress the indigenous and steal their land.

This indicated that the regional government belongs to Meles and his cronies, a similar trend [from the] old days when the Amhara were in power, [controlling military forces, the economy,] and political power with little involvement from the indigenous communities.

I believe that any government that cares for the citizens on equal terms would fellow minimum democratic standards including fair and free elections, allow people to elect their leader without intervention, and [permit communities to participate] at every [level of] decision making. I made a decision not to work with the government that do not allow people to use their initiative and implement policies that directly benefit the community. In short, the administration in the region is an indirect rule from Tigray and Amhara rather than for indigenous communities.

Land grabbing in Gambela focuses on arable farmlands. But Gambela has abundant water resources and a reason for private investors to rush for fertile land. What is the water utilization concern in land deal contracts?

The government wants people to believe that it is concerned with the livelihoods and the flood impacts of people along the main rivers. It claims that the relocation of the communities along the rivers is to reduce flooding impacts. But the truth is to grab their fertile land and abundant water resources and lease [it] to private investors. The intention is far from genuine development for the community. The government policy destroys traditional farming methods and has nothing [to do] with food security of the people. Instead, the plan is to deprive local communities’ access to fertile arable farmlands and water resources which they will develop effectively once the indigenous communities are destroyed. [In] some public meetings, Ethiopian highlanders are heard saying they will kill local communities one by one to remove them from the land in Gambela.

If the concern is for food security, why can they not make an effort to change the local people to use available farmland and water resources to become self-sufficient by providing training in modern farming methods, involving local educated people like you and me, and [provide] further assistance in agricultural systems? But as they do not have political will and initiative to [invovle] the local people in meaningful development, they will continue to deny local people access to vital decision making to improve communities’ livelihoods.

I recently learned that [local communities, after KGL harvested maize crops, went to use the remaining land on the farm. But KGL burnt the remaining land] so that the local should not use it. What does the regional government say about this and if you know anything about such development?

I have no information about this development.

The Ethiopian claims that the land development policy is good to reach out to scattered communities to receive international assistance. It is known that Ethiopia has 13 million [people] in need of food hand-outs and our region has a share of this. Yet, the government is relocating people to unproductive land for the above purpose. What do you say about this?

There is much national greed in Ethiopia today. Such irresponsible policies are clear indications of a lack of political will to develop affected communities and if they continue with such policies, they will not do well even for the majority Ethiopian ethnic Oromo.

The Ethiopian economy is concentrated in the hands of a few political elites who have no interest to improve the majority livelihoods. It is in their interest to see local farmers suffering and lacking sufficient food. The effort is to make local people dependent on food aid, unproductive and lacking initiative and morale to work on the land while their land is being given away to Ethiopian highlanders in the name of investment to those from Tigray region with both finances and machinery. The trick is for these investors from Tigray to acquire farmland first and then approach Tigray development association to get finances and produce crops [that are not meant for] local consumption.

The policy is to discourage local communities to work and live on the land.

The region Gambela has hot weather. But this weather has been maintained in past through sustainable environment management. Today, however, the current farming system does not follow such responsible [methods] and the weather [is hotter than ever]. What do you think can be done?

The government destruction policy should stop immediately to allow the local communities to engage in afforestation for future use. That is the only way to bring the glory of the past. The current farming system has put the environment and [wildlife] in serious danger. If you travel from Abobo to Pinyudo, previously-thick forest has been cleared by investors. Elephant herds have no forest to hide now.

The way they have deforested Tigray and Amhara regions, is taking place in Gambela today. Trees are being cut down for charcoal and other vital resources are destroyed unnecessarily in the name of farming. They want to bring unethical farming systems and deforestation into Gambela region. In my view if the people become free and the ownership of Gambela returns to indigenous people, the next task is to plant trees again so that we can return the environment management we are used to traditionally.

We are concluding our interview. What do you think can be done for the future?

Nothing could replace the importance and value of land. Without land, we would remain psychologically dissatisfied in our lives. We must thank God for giving us this fertile land and its abundant water resources. However, we must work hard and struggle to stop the current web of land grabbing. Otherwise, we will not reverse and get back the land that has been grabbed by private investors. For our coming generation definitely needs land to develop, create wealth and properties. We are only respected if regain control of our land; this does not come without sacrifice and struggle to return traditional land ownership to indigenous communities. This may take either negotiations or other possible means.

We should unite and bring our effort together to stop land grabbing of our ancestral land given to our forefathers by God. It is where we can produce and raise our children with dignity and respect. To produce wealth and even become a millionaire in a foreign land where you have no respect and dignity makes little sense for me.

Thank you Jaal Okok Ojulu. We conclude our interview.

Interview Three (wished to remain anonymous)

You came out recently from Ethiopia. The government gave a massive track of land to foreign investors and some political elites. What do the indigenous communities say about this and have they been consulted?

I took notice of land grabbing to foreign investors in practical terms. I was working in Abobo district, the most affected land grabbing area in the Gambela region. Most fertile arable land hase been given to private investors; Ethiopian highlanders with connection with the ruling EPRDF party (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) and foreign investors. On the way to Pinyudo, a large track of thick forest and sacred trees [was] cleared in the name of development.

A kilometer from Abobo towards to Pokedi village, Ethiopian investors have cleared forest and part of Gambela national park with barely a concern for the environment and wildlife protection. On the other side of the park, a vast track of farmland has been given to Al-Moudi with possibilities to extend the farm to Jor district and across Gilo River. This policy contradicts international concerns for climate change, sustainable environment management and wildlife protection.

Puzzling is lack of consultation of the affected communities in land grabbing policy. It [remains in the circle] of senior government officials with hardly any participation of regional council and district officials.

Another land grabbing development that I am involved in the discussion of, was the involuntary villigazation programme. At Abobo district level, the villages targeted were Okuna and Perbongo villages. At its start in 2011, the areas targeted were Okuna and Perbongo villages. Farmers were told that their arable farmlands were to be given to private investors. Okuna village, known for its thick forest and abundant water resources, was preserved and protected by a joint effort of regional council, district administration and World Bank staff. In contradiction to a landmark joint concern for sustainable environment management and effective resources management, the decision to lease community arable farmlands came as a shock to local people. The community opposed the decision to lease their farmlands to private investors.

The village farmers gave historical accounts by informing authorities they do not want to pick up another conflict with any outsiders. A previous villigasation programme had targeted Okuna village for its thick forest, fertile land, and conducive weather conditions. When the regime fell in the 1990s, we fought with Ethiopian highland settlers. We opposed other new-comers to come and take our land to avoid tension and potential conflict in the future. We sometimes wander in the forest hunting, collecting fruits and consumable roots during famine. What if a local person crosses an investor’s farm and accidentally steps on a crop? Is this another policy to trap us and kill us as it was during the military regime? We do not want any more conflict with any new-comers.

I reported the discussion with Okuna community to the district council and was told I made the story up. “These do not come from farmers” said the federal expert who was sent to organize the land grabbing. I told them that these are my discussions with the community but they did not believe me and [I] became a victim afterwards. I was branded anti-development in Abobo district. Two people, Didumo Adar and Alemithu omot were sent from regional council to convince the community by preaching to them the development benefit they would get if they [relocated] to new settlement sites.

The community demanded such developments be brought to their current locations at a meeting conducted at Abobo district council. There was a serious debate between farmers and officials; the community raised concerns [about] land grabbing and associated development benefits [that] have not be discussed with them; they have suffered and had not had rain since the arrival of these investors who have been clearing their farmlands and destroying thick forest in the area.

Secondly, the community was concerned with their traditional burial sites and customs for generations. They demanded that the government should first remove their ancestral burial graves to be taken to where they will be resettled. Unless such kinds of arrangement are made, they do not want to relocate to another new site.

A farmer claims that he only saw a bulldozer on his farmland. He thought this was another settlement web as during the military junta. But looking at them carefully, I saw similar community [was] settled on our land without our consents during the derge regime. Why should we not be consulted if this was a genuine development for the community? The government should seek our opinion first and discuss with us issues regarding our land.

The same discussion continued during our cadre meetings; a federal government representative [demanded] the regional party take swift action to remove anti-development forces from the party; otherwise, there will be no development in Abobo district. There some individuals in the district council who do not want Ethiopian highlanders to come and invest in the area, he said. This statement of anti-development in Abobo district was also echoed during a party at a hotel in Gambela and I was mentioned by name at this function. I was accused [of making] anti-development propaganda at Okuna village and I was informed by Didumo Adar over the phone. I informed him that I did not made such propaganda. Less than a week after Dimma conference, I was dismissed from my job accused of ten points including land grabbing. I was reinstated by the decision of the zonal administration on condition that the case will be investigated in accordance with disciplinary procedures of the party.

In general, the community had no awareness of the land grabbing taking place in the region. [They found] information about land grabbing taking place from different international media and some educated indigenous communities concerned about land grabbing.

Out of 600,000 thick forests in the region have been sold at throw away prices and the community though not happy with land grabbing taking place, lack ability and power to challenge it. With current environmental destruction and deforestation, rivers such as Alworo, Ciro, and Gilo sources from Ethiopian highland will rapidly dry up. The water holding capacity and reservoir of these rivers are lower than before, an indication that current level of land grabbing activities would contribute to environmental degradation and climate change.

If some communities did not oppose forceful and involuntary settlement programme, the majority of them would be in concentration camps. Okuna and Perobongo villages remain on their traditional settlement areas due their strong opposition to the involuntary villigasation programme. Despite the government effort to send senior government officials and subsequent threats to deny them social services, the community expressed their dissatisfaction and lack of social service benefits since the current regime took power in 1991.

I focused on Abobo district but land grabbing trend is similar in other areas. For instance, the grab of 300,000 hectares of farmland by KGL was not discussed with the community. It came in the form of instruction and the community were told that someone has been given farmland in this area by federal authorities. Similarly, the people at Dimma were instructed to receive an investor given 100,000 hectare of arable farmland in the area. This contradicts the constitutional provisions of land under regional and federal government administration.

The source of current tension and high level of insecurity in the region has its roots in land grabbing policy that did not consult the community. The transfer of land under regional administration to federal government made it possible to dispatch investors without prior consent of indigenous communities. The World Bank team travelled to Gambela and Abobo districts to investigate land grabbing policy in the region. They came to Abobo and noticed that 62 investors were given land for half a century. They investigated Saudi Star Company to know their plan and further proceeded to learn from Indian company, KGL. In Ilia, the team, knowing the size of land given to KGL, sought their plan for the community in the surrounding farm. Most important of all, food security of the community who have been using farmland, water, and other natural resources which they soon will be deprived.

KGL told the team they have nothing to do with the community. They will discuss their need with the regional government. They informed the World Bank team that the community is lazy and do not want to develop the land. They said, “They will bring workers from their countries.”

The government wants to achieve its claimed development plan only and does not want any input from the community. Any constructive plan that raises concerns for the community would be termed anti-development. This has led to many people [being] scattered across the neighbouring countries such as Kenya and South Sudan [and] high tension and conflict in the region.

The government claims that the land grabbing programme is [meant] to provide food security, create job opportunities and bring development to the people. What do you say about this?

The policy is intended to promote land grabbing in the region and convince pro-government without concern to indigenous communities. Indeed, the claim has nothing with the local communities but to convince those in the inner circle of the government. These are people who would talk well about land grabbing policy.

No claimed development benefits have reached the affected communities. I am not saying this because I am out of the country. But this is the reality on the ground. In Gambela today, there are no adequate medical supplies in the hospital. The only available [supplies] perhaps being given by international donors freely is the malaria tablet. The same can be said about education system delivery in the region. There is a skewed student-text book ratio; currently, text book to student ratio is 1:6 and this ratio does not improve the quality of education in the region. The claim that land grabbing would bring development and improve social services provisions is unfounded.

Policies are in most cases made from the federal government without contribution from the local communities and virtually are not meant to benefit the indigenous communities. Any constructive contribution from local people is always branded as anti-development. Even though the investment operational manual stipulates 25% to benefit the affected communities, it hardly seen that local people benefit from 5%. For instance, Saudi Star Company promised 250 beehives for three communities in Abobo district. The items were brought to the council and got contaminated as they did not inform the council and the community intended to benefit. If they were concerned for the wellbeing of the community, I supposed they should have consulted the community to identify their need before they made a decision.

They only better coverage so far is clean water provision. In most of the districts except Jor district due to lack of transport infrastructure, there are adequate water facilities to local communities. The district Jor, still has no adequate education facilities and those with BA’s do not go there to teach due to its remoteness putting pressure on the quality of education in the district.

The overall plan of land grabbing is to benefit Ethiopian highlanders at the expense of local communities in the region. For instance, in 2011 when the programme of villigazation was introduced, it was through imposing the idea on the communities without any form of consultation. There was a division among the regional council members with some asking the government to consult the community and others opposing the prior consent. But the policy was imposed on those who disagreed and asked to forcefully implement the programme due to the claim that some communities along the river banks do frequently suffer from recurring floods.

The local authorities were further reminded of EPRDF policy of convincing the communities to implement any programme despite their position. This is contrary to what is written on paper, only to provide a better explanation when there is any concern from international communities and humanitarian organisation by showing what is written on the paper.

I can be honest: all health institutions in the region do not have medical supplies. In addition, there are no education facilities in relation to the current web of land grabbing.

The land lease policy of the government started about 4-5 years ago. Can you tell me the benefits and disadvantages to the community?

The major investment companies such as KGL and Saudi star have been in the area for about 4 years. However, national investors have been in the area for more than four years. I believe that there is not much benefit these investments have provided to the community. The only benefits are to a small number of community members who are employed as daily laborers. None of them, however, are employed in responsibility areas in these investment companies. Most of the employees are from other parts of the country and they brought various diseases into the community. Only a fraction of local people have secured employment in the farmland. These employment opportunities do not even constitute 25% the community expected from land deals taking place in their own home land. The employment opportunities to the community compose young people who want to do seasonal jobs during school break.

The government is currently planning and implementing the settlement programme to relocate indigenous communities from their traditional arable farmland. The main claim of the government is to provide clean water, education facilities, health institutions, and markets. What do you say about these claims?

As I mentioned earlier on, the people of Okuna and Perbongo villages demanded that their forefathers’ grave be removed first and taken to new resettlement sites so that they can follow their ancestors. They question the primary motive of the government’s development claims after 20 years in power. They concluded that the government wanted to bring the community into one area so that they can kill them easily. For instance, the people of Perbongo village demanded to discuss further the development claim with senior regional government officiald. The governor and the head of agriculture visited them and realized that they were not willing to relocate. The government accepted their demand and allowed to remain on their traditional areas.

Only some communities from Thenyi village agreed to relocate to settlements to receive clean water, education and health facilities which they have not been provided with in the past. Those who refused were threatened with losing vital services.

A section who agreed, their houses were burnt down to discourage them from coming back. Various human rights groups and international media visited Thenyi communities both at the relocation sites and in their old settlement village. They realized that the community had not received what they were promised in relocating them.

They community realized that they were [manipulated] to accept the government programme and it was difficult for them to return to their homes that have been destroyed. The team of international media, [including] Al Jazeera have documented this destruction. The claim of a school is not of even standard and the clinic is only equivalent to a birth control centre. All these claimed promises of clean water, education and health facilities, roads and markets are unfounded and meant to deceive the communities to accept relocation so that their arable farmlands and grazing areas could be given to foreign and domestic investors. It is a common government deception policy to portray a good image of the government when the donor countries and other humanitarian organizations visit these areas; to meet certain minimum standards before their arrival. For instance, the [visit by Al Jazeera] was marked by preparations to [organize] the people of Thenyi and to give them the impression that things are good. People were selected from the community to give the government version of events and discouraged others who would like to tell the truth on the ground.

While still on the plan to relocate indigenous communities from their traditional arable lands to new sites, the government intention is to give away their abundant land to investors. Tell me what sufferings/disadvantage the community have suffered?

The people were under pressure from authorities to accept the resettlement plan and those who refused were threatened of not getting any government basic services. This caused tension between the local communities and authorities. The government took an indirect action against those who refused to relocate. [Upon close examination], there is direct link between the action taken and villigisation programme.

On several occasions they were branded anti-development and [tied] to diaspora groups who are opposed to the resettlement programme and the development plan of the government. There were people arrested on allegations that some people burnt down a new settlement site. The same arrest and detention took place in Nuer zone; they were accused of burning down new settlement sites. Similar arrests took place in Dimma district with the local communities accused of not cooperating with authorities in implementing the government villagization programme.

The livelihoods and the economy of the region entirely depends on agricultural produce such maize and sorghum. In some cases, they conduct hunting and fishing to supplement their diets. But the current trend of investment is mostly focusing on producing cotton and other non-essential food items. What is the benefit of the crops produced by investors to the local food security and livelihoods?

I have mentioned earlier that none of the local communities in the region will directly benefit from the current development investment. The community do not benefit from investment as can be demonstrated from Saudi star investment which is for export purposes. The pilot programme on the farm produced sorghum and Saudi Star [shared] little benefit with the local communities. Instead, the sorghum [was] left for birds to feed on. Even birds could not finish the sorghum they harvested to divert [their attention away from] rice, the main produce. They also produce maize to divert attention of other animals such as monkeys and baboons from destroying the main crop. Yet they did not share the produce from the communities in the surrounding areas affected by famine and some of them working for them. These communities are Thenyi and Ochwakchala. The management in the rice farm is dominated by Ethiopian highlanders in the surrounding villages and these are settlers during 1980s Ethiopian famine and drought. This happen because the programme is coordinated by Ethiopian highlanders from Addis Ababa. Any answer of major benefit in the current web of development is the government prior orientation to give positive impression about the investment. That is the reality on the ground.

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