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Ethiopia: Land, History and Justice in Gambella

The Global Development blog of The Guardian's (UK) continues its coverage of land deals after the release of the largest public database on international land deals in April.

One of the countries covered in the report is Ethiopia where villagers in Gambella province are forced to settle in state-designated villages to pave the way for land grabbers. Gambella is the poorest region in Ethiopia.

The Reporter, a local biweekly English newspaper, reports that the Ethiopian government has started evaluating the performance of investors who acquired large tracts of land to undertake commercial farm projects. Though this can be taken as an important milestone for anti-land grabbing activists, Ethiopia’s government decision to evaluate the performance of investors who acquired land has received a scant attention from international mainstream media.

Extracts from Fred Pearce's new book, The Land Grabbers: Africa's hidden revolution, show that land grabbing has more impact on the world's poor than climate change. In an interview, Fred Pearce notes that poor people were being moved off the land with little regard for their historical and cultural rights.

Target countries of land deals from the Land Matrix Project

Target countries of land deals from the Land Matrix Project

However, an Ethiopian government official counters this argument:

He [an official from Ministry of Agriculture] downplayed criticisms that the land leasing has ‘brought negative impacts on the communities who live close to the farms’, claiming that ‘due emphasis has been given to make these investments free of adverse effect on the society who dwell close to them and this would continue in strengthened manner’.

Land activists have created an online petition and are campaigning using Facebook and Twitter. A petition targeting top USA and UK diplomats reads:

I am extremely concerned about reports of deliberate, persistent, and serious abuses of the rights of Indigenous Peoples in southwestern Ethiopia. The government’s program of “villagization” is forcibly removing at least 200,000 Indigenous people from their ancestral lands in the Gambella region and relocating them in new state-built villages. Although the government promises them better access to jobs, education, and health care in these villages, Human Rights Watch researchers found little or no evidence of these services. On the contrary, displaced people fear starvation since they no longer have access to their farms, forests, and rivers. Those who raise their voices against these abuses are frequently jailed, tortured, raped, and otherwise intimidated by government security forces. Those who try to return to their ancestral lands find that the government has already leased their lands to foreign investors who are hurriedly bulldozing forests, farms, and wetlands in order to grow commercial crops of agro fuels, tea, spices, rice, and sugar cane, mostly for export. The resulting environmental devastation and degradation will further undermine food security for Indigenous Peoples.

A Facebook group called Stop Land Grabbing in Gambella, Ethiopia reads:

A space for the international community to voice its concerns over the human rights abuses and environmental destruction the land grabbing happening in the Gambella region of Ethiopia is causing

Land grabbing is the contentious issue of large-scale land acquisitions; the buying or leasing of large pieces of land in developing countries by domestic and transnational companies, governments, and individuals

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