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THE INDIGENOUS WORLD – 2016: The indigenous peoples of Ethiopia May 22, 2016

Posted by OromianEconomist in Uncategorized.
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Odaa Oromoo

The Indigenous World 2016

The Ethiopian government’s lack of a specific policy or programme to address indigenous peoples’ special needs and status has further aggravated their situation. Ethiopia, is a key political actor in Africa, and the second most populous country on the continent. It is a glaring omission that such a significant political actor has not attempted—in consultation with the country’s indigenous peoples and their representative institutions—to develop policies and programmes that are in accordance with guidelines from the UN and other relevant bodies and which would bridge the social and economic gaps that are currently causing such distress. The Ethiopian government is thus failing to address widely reported concerns regarding the human rights of indigenous people in Gambela, the lower Omo Valley, Benishangul Gumuz, Afar, Somali and Oromia regions—all areas that have been part of the government’s land lease policy and villagization programme. The Oromia region has been the site of significant protests since late 2015 when protests began over plans to expand the capital, Addis Ababa. In what was seen as an attempted “land grab”, Oromo farmers argued that expanding Addis Ababa would lead to their displacement and the loss of arable land. Although plans were subsequently dropped, protests continued, leading to what  activists reported as the deaths of around 200 people so far, and heightened tensions in the area.

 

http://www.iwgia.org/publications/search-pubs?publication_id=740

PP. 394- 408


The indigenous peoples of Ethiopia make up a significant proportion of the country’s estimated 95 million population. Around 15 percent are pastoralists who live across Ethiopia, particularly in the Ethiopian lowlands, which constitute around 61 percent of the country’s total landmass. There are also a number of hunter-gathering communities, including the forestdwelling Majang (Majengir) who live in the Gambela region. Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa, a significant amount of which is concentrated in pastoralist communities living on land that in recent years has become the subject of high demand from foreign investors. The political and economic situation of indigenous peoples in Ethiopia is a tenuous one. The Ethiopian government’s policy of villagization has seen many pastoralist communities moved off of their traditional grazing lands, and indigenous peoples’ access to healthcare provision and to primary and secondary education remains highly inadequate. There is no national legislation that protects them, and Ethiopia has neither ratified ILO Convention No. 169, nor was present during the voting on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Anti-terror law: a threat to indigenous peoples’ rights The situation for indigenous peoples in Ethiopia suffered a significant deterioration in 2015. There was no improvement in national legislation that could offer protection to indigenous peoples, and Ethiopia continues to fail in its obligations under the international human rights mechanisms it has ratified, e.g., the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which calls for special attention to be paid to indigenous peoples, a situation regarding which a number of human rights organizations—including the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), Human Rights Watch  (HRW) and Minority Rights Group International (MRGI)—have expressed concern. Moreover, this lack of compliance must also be seen within the context of wider concerns regarding the Ethiopian government’s alleged use of anti-terror laws to curtail freedom of speech. Concerns about the latter intensified in April 2014 with the arrest of six members of the Zone 9 blogging group and three other journalists, while the situation with regard to indigenous peoples’ rights became even more acute in March 2015 with the arrest in Addis Ababa of seven activists heading to a workshop on food security in Nairobi. Although four of them were eventually released, on 7 September 2015, after six months in detention, the remaining three activists, Pastor Omot Agwa, Ashinie Astin, and Jamal Oumar Hojele, were charged under Ethiopia’s counter-terrorism laws, and now face the possibility of extended prison terms if found guilty (Omot faces a sentence of 20 years to life). This has caused widespread concern amongst human rights defenders inside and outside the country, as well as a number of leading human rights organizations.

Land grabbing and policy of villagization A key element in the deteriorating situation of indigenous peoples in Ethiopia is the ongoing policy of “land grabbing” where companies lease large tracts of land from the Ethiopian government in return for significant levels of foreign investment. Since 2008, when widespread concern about the possibility of a potentially global food crisis increased demand for agricultural land, the Ethiopian government has leased millions of hectares of land throughout the country to agricultural investors, both foreign and domestic. The Ethiopian government says that such investments are important for guaranteeing food security. The policy is also seen as an important element in Ethiopia’s development strategy because it means that land that is categorized as “under-utilized” can be used productively. However, much of this land is in reality not under-utilized but is used by pastoralists, whose customary rights to the land are being consistently violated. Moreover, the way in which the land is used under the new leasing arrangements arguably does little for food security as there is little food produced. Instead, land is chiefly being used for an array of non-food products such as flowers, or for growing food products destined for the export market. Interestingly, at the very end of 2015, the Ethiopian Agriculture Ministry’s land investment agency notified Karuturi Global Inc., one of the first and largest external investors, that its lease was being cancelled because of a lack of “development”. Karaturi had used only 1,200 ha of land out of the 100,000 originally allocated to it, and so the Agriculture Ministry has stated that the rest will return to a “land bank” for future investment. The Ethiopian government continues to highlight the employment opportunities of such investment for those living in lowland areas, but much of the employment in these areas has gone to “highlanders” from the central and northern areas of Ethiopia who have moved there to find work. The latter has also increased the possibilities of ethnic tensions, something that has been seen in the Gambela region and in the lower Omo Valley in particular. In the latter case, the building of the Gibe III Dam, which significantly impacts upon water security in the Omo Valley region, has meant a heightened threat to food security and in turn increased conflict over existing resources. For example, there have been reports that cattle herders have moved their animals into Mago National Park to find grass, and have been met with violence from government soldiers who are protecting the park and its wildlife.  Reports from external sources have said that the lives of those indigenous peoples living in the region have been “fundamentally and irreversibly” changed by the building of the dam. It will make it very difficult for the half a million indigenous people whose lives and livelihoods depend upon the Omo River to continue living in the area and sustaining their traditional livelihoods. According to the Dam’s Public Consultation and Disclosure Plan, only 93 members of four indigenous communities were consulted and this happened only after construction of the dam had already begun. In addition, part of the Ethiopian government’s policy on land management includes the pursuit of a policy of villagization, which aims to resettle those who live in rural areas—often indigenous peoples—into communities with improved access to basic amenities, such as clean water, medical services and schools. In reality, however, such amenities have not been provided, and many of the communities have too little food for the population that now exists there. Many people find that when they try and return to the land that they have left in order to resume their previous way of life the land has been leased and they no longer have access to it.

Indigenous communities thus find themselves displaced and deprived of their traditional livelihoods and of access to their natural environment, including access to water, grazing and fishing grounds, arable lands and forest resources. The Ethiopian government’s lack of a specific policy or programme to address indigenous peoples’ special needs and status has further aggravated their situation. Ethiopia, is a key political actor in Africa, and the second most populous country on the continent. It is a glaring omission that such a significant political actor has not attempted—in consultation with the country’s indigenous peoples and their representative institutions—to develop policies and programmes that are in accordance with guidelines from the UN and other relevant bodies and which would bridge the social and economic gaps that are currently causing such distress. The Ethiopian government is thus failing to address widely reported concerns regarding the human rights of indigenous people in Gambela, the lower Omo Valley, Benishangul Gumuz, Afar, Somali and Oromia regions—all areas that have been part of the government’s land lease policy and villagization programme. The Oromia region has been the site of significant protests since late 2015 when protests began over plans to expand the capital, Addis Ababa. In what was seen as an attempted “land grab”, Oromo farmers argued that expanding Addis Ababa would lead to their displacement and the loss of arable land. Although plans were subsequently dropped, protests continued, leading to what  activists reported as the deaths of around 200 people so far, and heightened tensions in the area.

Considering the future for indigenous peoples’ rights in Ethiopia, it therefore remains important that there be a country-wide, inclusive and participatory movement in the country that would be able to ensure that the concerns of pastoralists and agro-pastoral peoples are taken into account as part of key government policies and programmes. The country’s lack of formal mechanisms in which to consider such issues, as well as legal restrictions on freedom of association and speech, appear to preclude this. This is despite the fact that the Ethiopian constitution—though lacking in clear provisions directly related to indigenous peoples —does include a provision for dealing with the development needs of pastoralist communities. However, the overall outlook for a nationwide indigenous peoples’ movement is promising. Consensus is underway amongst various groups that— with the support of international organizations and a more positive government view—could enable the country’s marginalized communities to face a more positive future.


 

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