Oakland, CA – Today, the Oakland Institute (OI), in collaboration with the Anywaa Survival Organisation (ASO), released Engineering Ethnic Conflict: The Toll of Ethiopia’s Plantation Development on the Suri People, the latest in its series of comprehensive investigative reports about land grabs and forced evictions in Ethiopia. The report uncovers the truth behind a reported massacre of 30 to 50 Suri people in May 2012 near the 30,000-hectare Malaysian-owned Koka plantation. Based on extensive fieldwork, Engineering Ethnic Conflict reveals the destabilizing effects of foreign investment in Southwestern Ethiopia and examines the role of international aid programs in supporting forced evictions in the country.
“The tragic experiences of the Suri people outlined in this report are just one of many examples of the human rights abuses experienced by pastoralist communities in regions across Ethiopia,” said OI’s Executive Director, Anuradha Mittal. “These incidents are intimately tied to the Ethiopian government’s priorities of leasing land to foreign entities,” she continued.
“Some donor countries and development institutions have heralded Ethiopia for its unprecedented economic growth in recent years, which has in turn led to large-scale land acquisitions by foreign interests,” said Nyikaw Ochalla, Executive Director of the Anywaa Survival Organisation. “What has gone underreported is the tragic on-the-ground impact of this growth on indigenous populations. Engineering Ethnic Conflict exposes this harsh reality,” Ochalla continued.
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“Unfortunately the Suri and other marginalized groups have no ability to voice their concerns over these developments on their land. There is little in the way of an independent media in Ethiopia that is permitted to cover this story, civil society that could advocate on these issues have been decimated by repressive laws, any criticism of government is met with harassment and detention. So what options are left for the Suri?” said Felix Horne of the Human Rights Watch.
The Suri pastoralist communities have lived in Southwestern Ethiopia for up to 200 to 300 years. The introduction of the large-scale plantations, including the Koka plantation in 2010, has not only made important grazing lands unavailable to the Suri and devastated their livelihoods–but also disturbed political order between the Suri and other local ethnic groups, escalating violent conflicts.
From coerced displacement of the Suri people to the exacerbation of pre-existing ethnic tensions between local groups in the region, Engineering Ethnic Conflict highlights the unreported nightmare experienced by Ethiopia’s traditionally pastoralist communities.
The report comes at a significant time in US politics. The US Senate included provisions in the 2014 Appropriations Bill that effectively diverts development aid funds for Ethiopia away from projects associated with forced evictions. Engineering Ethnic Conflict raises important questions about whether and how this language is being implemented, and the problematic connections between aid from the World Bank Group and other international donors, including the International Fund for Agricultural Development, for programs that support forced displacement and perpetrate violence against pastoralist communities.
“The stance taken by the US government in 2014 was encouraging, but it remains unclear whether action has been taken to implement the provisions of the bill and monitor the situation on the ground in Ethiopia,” said Mittal. “In light of this opacity and the continued violence and human rights abuses, it is time for the US government, other donors, and international institutions to stop turning a blind eye and take a strong stand to ensure aid in the name of development is not contributing to the ongoing atrocities nor supporting the forced displacement of people,” she continued.