For over 400 years, Indigenous Anuak families have lived along the wide rivers of Ethiopia’s Gambella region, cultivating maize and sorghum in the rich alluvial soil. On higher ground, they practice shifting cultivation, and in the forests they gather fruits, nuts, roots, and medicines. These diverse resources have spared them from hunger even in times of drought. But now Ethiopian soldiers are moving nearly all of Gambella’s Indigenous people—45,000 households—off their lands and farms and into “villages,” where they fear starvation.
Nearly half of Gambella’s land is leased or available for lease to investors who are creating vast plantations of agrofuel and food crops, mostly for export. Bulldozers are even draining and filling in the wetlands of Gambella National Park and destroying its forests.
One Indian corporation, Karuturi Global, Ltd., has leased a colossal 400 square miles in Gambella and expects to triple that amount. Ethiopian leases are so cheap (Karuturi paid $1.25/hectare for 99 years) that companies from China and Saudi Arabia and many more from India are jumping on the bandwagon. No wonder the phenomenon is known as “land grabbing.”
Who can stop it or even slow it down long enough to assess the environmental costs and the social and economic impacts on the Indigenous populations? Not the elected president of Ethiopia, who is largely a figurehead. Last year, the president and the Environmental Protection Authority ordered cancellation of a lease to 12,000 acres of forest, where the Indigenous Mazenger people live by hunting, gathering, and beekeeping. An Indian company, Verdanta Harvests, is now destroying the Mazengers’ sacred forest, one of Ethiopia’s last, to plant tea and spices for export.
“For us, land is not only economical, it is historical, political, spiritual, and very emotional,” a displaced Anuak farmer told Oakland Institute researchers, who published a study of land grabbing in Ethiopia. His only emotion now is despair. “What is the future for our kids?” he cried. “They will be slaves.” Ethiopia promises the Anuak jobs and health and education services in their new villages, but neither the Oakland Institute nor Human Rights Watch nor foreign journalists have been able to find evidence of these.
Who can stop it? The best hope lies with the donor nations that hold the purse strings. They can ensure that no donor funds or other forms of assistance facilitate land-grabbing and villagization schemes that violate Indigenous Peoples’ rights. We are the ones who must convince them to do it.
See the following for more information:
Read our Executive Director Suzanne Benally's letter to international officials here.
Human Rights Watch report "Waiting Here for Death"
The Oakland Institute report "Understanding Land Deals in Africa- Country Report: Ethiopia"
The Advocates for Human Rights Report, Ethiopia ICESCR Report 2012
BBC Radio 4 Report "They made us leave our farms"
New York Times Op-Ed by Nicholas Kristof "What's He Got to Hide"
AAAS Study, "Documentation of Villagization: Gambella Region, Ethiopia"
Sign a declaration at Stop Africa Land Grab.com
Read a poem Sunset Over the Anuaks: What is Left? by Anuak writer Warajor Ojulu.