New evidences & old denials clash over human rights violations in Gambella, as fortified evidences emerge By Keffyalew Gebremedhin

January 18th, 2012 Print Print Email Email

Certainly, the Ethiopian government is not happy with the Human Rights Watch report, which was released Tuesday.

The report accuses the government of forcibly relocating approximately 70,000 indigenous people from the western Gambella region. It is reported that these villages lack adequate food, farmland, healthcare, and educational facilities.

In the past, the government has persistently disputed charges of human rights violations of any sorts, including forced relocations. Not surprisingly, it has now strongly rejected the present report and its overall conclusions.

Nevertheless, it would be recalled that, among others, the feisty State Minister of Agriculture Wondirad Mandefro, confirmed to John Vidal, environment editor for the Guardian, in March 2011 that no one was forcibly relocated, notwithstanding a number of evidences the journalist has collected and informed him of them, which also was corroborated with video clips that speak to the contrary.

During the discussion with John Vidal, the state minister moved from outright denial to scoffing over such allegations and the concerns thereon, as he propounded his government’s position using pretentious arguments that are sound on hearing them but do sinisterly imply any action could be justified in removing dire poverty from the country. In that regard, he said:

“It is their choice…Either to choose to have these basic services come to the villages…It is based on their willingness. But of course, they have to abandon their previous ways of life. [Otherwise] you cannot provide any basic services to the community.”

The Human Rights Watch’s report alleges that state security forces have repeatedly threatened, assaulted, and arbitrarily arrested villagers who resist the transfers. Of this disturbing situation, Jan Egeland, Europe director at Human Rights Watch and formerly United Nations Undersecretary General for the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated:

“The Ethiopian government’s villagization program is not improving access to services for Gambella’s indigenous people, but is instead undermining their livelihoods and food security. The government should suspend the program until it can ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place and that people have been properly consulted and compensated for the loss of their land.”
After initial refusal/hesitation to comment on the report, finally Government Communications Affairs Minister Bereket Simon reacted to the BBC on Tuesday, not only denying to Robin Lustig the charges, but also questioning the motives of Human Rights Watch against Ethiopia, as follows:

“First of all, regarding the current report I can tell you that it is baseless – on both grounds – on both the land grab issue and resettlement of the Gambella people. But at a larger picture of the whole, it has been quite few years since Human Rights Watch repeatedly started to report negatively [against Ethiopia] and based on wrong information and deliberate distortion of the facts on the ground.”
BBC World Service’s Robin Lustig interjected:

“Wait a minute, you say wrong information. They [Human Rights Watch] have interviewed many, many people who have told them stories which can lead them to the conclusion that there can be no doubt that there is a policy of forcible removal of tens of thousands of people from the homes.”
Bereket Simon:

“NO, in the first place Human Rights Watch has never been on the ground. They say in their report, for instance, there is no services on the ground. Let me give you the facts on the ground. We have built 22 health facilities for 20,000 people; 19 schools, 72 irrigation water schemes, 128 kms of rural road, 18 animal health clinics, 30 grain mills and 407 water pumps have been put in place.”
Robin Lustig:

Ok, but do you deny that people are being forced to leave their homes against their will?”
Bereket Simon:

“No one is forced. This is an absolute lie. In the first place let me tell you the facts on the ground. People around Gambella are sparsely inhabiting their place in a very scattered manner. They cannot be beneficiaries of the development like electricity, water and telecom. So for all practical purposes of helping those people who are denied in the past such basic infrastructural amenities, the government has decided to settle them. But it is not [just] a decision; we have discussed the issue in a very thorough manner with the beneficiaries; they have accepted it.”
Robin Lustig:

“Do you accept what is being said by Human Rights Watch and others that part of the impetus behind this villagization program is the government’s awareness that this land has commercial value and certainly has value to foreign investors.”
Bereket Simon:

“No. It is true that we are providing access to land on a lease basis for 25 years for local and foreign developers. We have about three million hectares of land which is not inhabited by anybody.”

Robin Lustig:

“You say not inhabited by anybody. So you are saying there are no cases of people leaving their land by their own will or by force in order to enable foreign investors or others commercial use of their land.”
Bereket Simon:

“Absolutely! This is their land. You know this is the land of Ethiopians. They have every right to stay where they are. Government cannot forcibly relocate them. It is only consensual. On the other hand, we have abundant land where we have not used before.”
Why has the government not investigated the allegations internally and release its findings to date?

The problem, as usual, is that the Ethiopian government is claim of only it what it says is true and right — no matter what the victims allege, people in the region say, what experts and journalists write or the concerns of the international community — I mean, anyone, outside their powerful allies.

There is no more dangerous mix than a state firmly convinced about its inexorable capacities to do everything and individuals that are without moral controls. That is the ugly situation Ethiopia finds itself today in terms of governance, where the line between truth and falsehoods and reality and fiction have increasingly become hazy.

In a way, by smoothing the rough edges of past denials with numbers and figures on services points, that exactly is what the minister’s defense is all about. Unfortunately, the line of his argument has been defeated from the start by the credibility gap Ethiopia’s development state has continued to suffer. Thus, the minister’s long list of defenses via ‘infrastructural amenities’ could not convincingly prevail over the eloquence and persistence of the long running allegations coming from frightened people who lack any recourses.

Another intriguing aspect of this question is that at no time has the Meles regime established a mechanism to investigate to see through the charges either to dismiss them or establish their veracity and correct the mistakes thereon. In Ethiopia, growth and politics are increasingly becoming a game for the chosen few, as the investor world is being fooled by projects dangling as national development undertakings. They are only the voodoos intended to fool under the impression that regime is pro-poor, which it is more in its rhetorics.

If denials were an all cure, the government’s could have ended the many censures around the world against itself. Clearly, their denials hardly get dented in the face of wide condemnations; surprisingly, nor do they get discouraged by the banality of their false defenses that have barely had any impact on the global opinion coalescing against Ethiopia’s harsh, repressive and violent developmental state.

People are right in distrusting the regime

In the circumstances, any citizen is within his or her rights to ask why they should trust whatever the Ethiopian government says. After all, numerous are the unfulfilled pledges and promises on delivering their “liberation of Ethiopia”, with a democratic future for its people, where its governance would be characterized by freedom and equality of individual citizens.

On the contrary, under the TPLF/EPRDF the situation has only proved that power itself is such a powerful broker. Instead it has ended up successfully consummating the marriage between Ethiopia’s political aristocracy and big capital. The regime has failed to balance the interests of the people in better life and openness of the country for foreign investment–never at the expense of one or the other.

A tale of two soul mates affirming their protocol of profound gratitude to each other
Is it not now a public knowledge that Minister Bereket Simon, the man who just made vigorous defense of his government’s actions against Human Rights Watch’s allegations on BBC, and Sheik Mohammed Al Amoudi, the 63rd billionaire in the world and 2nd wealthiest person in Saudi Arabia, are “soul mates”, as the minister described their relations at a lavish party given by the sheik on 22 December 2011 to promote the former’s controversial book on Ethiopia’s 2005 and 2010 elections.
Of course, the tycoon owns agricultural lands in different parts of the country. In Gambella, his was founded on lands cleared of people and natural forests, when he started Saudi Star Agricultural Development, initially on 10,000 hectares of land. There are news reports that he has been planning to expand it to 500,000 hectares, according to Addis Fortune.

Parsing the words of the sheik at that book event at his Sheraton Hotel, actually what he promoted was not only a book but also, as he put it, the wise and friendly leadership of the TPLF/EPRDF from which he has learned great lessons.

The matrix of that teacher-student relations, Al Amoudi has revealed at the party was something very interesting. He said, “ከዋናው ሰውዬ ጀምሮ ወዳጆች ነን፤ ተግባብተን እና ተቻችለን ነው የምንኖረው፤ እኔ ግን አንድ ቀን እንዲህ ሆንኩ ብዬ ቅሬታ አቅርቤላቸው አላውቅም እንደውም እነሱ እንደኔ ሁሉንም የሚጭኑበት ሰው የለም” (Starting from the Number One Person, we are friends. We have good understanding and mutually accommodate each other. However, I never went to them to complain about anything. Nor do I believe there is any other person they encumber for everything more than I.”) This is to show that the prime minister himself is in the palms of his hands.

As to the minister’s wishes becoming the sheik’s command, Ato Bereket openly announced that his book and that of his brother-in-law’s were published in Nairobi, with full publication costs covered from the sheik’s deep pocket on the basis of “the instruction” he gave the sheik.

Not only that. The sheik is also caretaker of the minister’s health, for whose maintenance not long ago he paid a hefty sum in Rands in South Africa, including arranging for the patient to fly by private jet.

Surely, in the eyes of the leadership this would be considered a crime only when someone outside their circle does it or a member outlives his usefulness. Certainly, they would inflict on him or her the full force of the law as a punishment, which Ethiopian law provides up to ten years of imprisonment for influence peddling and kickbacks received by officials.

By all available indications, what we have known all along is that Ethiopia’s political class is determined to defend and promote the interests of the sheik and his category of people. that is exactly what Minister Bereket Simon did on the BBC on 17 January, characterizing Human Rights Watch’s allegations as false and baseless.

It would not require a genius of the obvious to figure out that this is part of the job description of Ethiopian officials! Otherwise alleging that mistakes were made and crimes were committed would only turn the accusations on their head, exposing the collusion between international capital and the Ethiopian leadership in displacing Ethiopian citizens from their lands.

Conclusion

As bad as this is for Ethiopians, unlike Ethiopia’s long history of tolerance, people are now being forced to see that their country is being transformed into practitioner of ethnic discrimination as an official practice — i.e., in breach of the laws of the land. In other words, the state has been fulfilling its duties totally enmeshed in corruption. This has placed ordinary citizens at the receiving end of its ugliness,instead of the new direction and hopeful future the TPLF has promised Ethiopians, even when they have been wary of it from the get go.

This situation now points to the root causes of all its violences against farmers, the free media and independent journalists, teachers, etc., it has been unleashing for a long, long time. Its pervasive sense of knowing it all and being always right that it has been demonstrating speak to the continuing human sufferings in the country, which sooner or later would become the very vortex of its very self-destruction.

http://transformingethiopia.wordpress.com/

  1. Dawi
    | #1

    [[..Unfortunately, the line of his argument has been defeated from the start by the credibility gap Ethiopia’s development state has continued to suffer. Thus, the minister’s long list of defenses via ‘infrastructural amenities’ could not convincingly prevail over the eloquence and persistence of the long running allegations coming from frightened people who lack any recourses...]]

    You know what? We have read this in other Developmental States so the credibility gap is same with, let us say China.

    Almost all of the people being moved are living in desperate poverty in a region that seems especially unforgiving with no amenities; in our case not even clean water to drink. It seems like almost any project would improve their standing.

    The Chinese have moved over 5 million people when they built the 3 gorges Dam. Last year they were in planning to move 2.8 million people from rural Shaanxi to some of the larger towns and cities.

    By moving rural people to village or larger towns it would improve access to medical care and education, with the possibility of providing jobs. It is not guaranteed all will have jobs or anything like that. In fact it was found few Chinese farmers were optimistic about their future in the moving however since they are in bad shape of poverty already, they figure things can’t get any worst.

    Actually when you have access to farm and ‘infrastructural amenities’ people are better off than say those Chinese looking for jobs in the City because if they don’t find jobs they can’t go back to farming anymore. So the Gambela situation, if you see Bereket’s video of how the villagization was designed from the beginning looks very sound to me and with many participants in the making. They can always do more and debate hhow to do it for ever however, remember this is not a Liberal Democracy (endless debate no action to move out of poverty), the majority look as doing better is what I am saying and that is what counts. Schools, clinics, clean water, roads are built.

    HRW are only telling us of those who don’t agree with the resettlement and for sure there are few. So what? Let alone in a Dictatorship even in Democracy majority rules.

    [.. Al Amoudi has revealed at the party was something very interesting. He said, “ከዋናው ሰውዬ ጀምሮ ወዳጆች ነን፤ ተግባብተን እና ተቻችለን ነው የምንኖረው፤ እኔ ግን አንድ ቀን እንዲህ ሆንኩ ብዬ ቅሬታ አቅርቤላቸው አላውቅም እንደውም እነሱ እንደኔ ሁሉንም የሚጭኑበት ሰው የለም” (Starting from the Number One Person..]]

    This is standard Developmental State attachment to few MEGA businesses/owners to kick start a TIGER economy. Read what took place in S. Korea and how core businesses work with the regime hand and glove, very closely; so nothing is new here.

    [[..Ethiopian law provides up to ten years of imprisonment for influence peddling and kickbacks received by officials...]]

    Trust me , if you have Al Amoudi’s cash you will get choice investments too. The guy can get choice investment any where in the world, I guarantee you, let alone in volatile Ethiopia. So I don’t see why he needs to peddle Bereket or anybody else when he is paying their salary indirectly and employing hundreds of thousand people, bldg businesses that partly sustain and make Meles/Bereket government look good already.

    And all I saw is friendship between the two so if he pays for a book no one is going to read anyway as a friend, let it be, at least it didn’t cost tax payers any money for Bereket to tell his tales.

  2. Anonymous
    | #2

    The only thing that will surprise me about Woyanes is, if they do something good for the country and the people. Other than that, they have proven themselves to be lawless, corrupted, inhumane, coldblooded thieves and killers…so there is nothing new and surprising when Woyanes do what they are trained to do well, that is to commit more crimes against humanity. Ethiopians have to unite and find solution to stop the criminal woyane killer machines from committing more crimes! WOYANES MUST BE STOPPED! ETHIOPIANS ARE DEALING WITH THE DEVIL HIMSELF, MELES MUST BE STOPPED!

  3. Samuel
    | #3

    Dawi,

    Do you really want us to believe that the Tigrean governement is moving Aguaks and Nuers from their traditional land to improve their livelihood? Ask how much money is being siphoned off in the name of development (in which local people have never been consulted) from international “investors”?

  4. ጉረኞች
    | #4

    what do you say to the facts below?
    99% of China’s poor live in or come from rural areas, according to national statistics, which count migrant workers in cities among the rural, not urban poor. Even if migrant workers are excluded from the rural population, 90% of poverty is still rural.
    [ Wall Street Journal “Facts About Poverty in China Challenge Conventional Wisdom” April 13, 2009 ]

    Over half of China’s population lives in rural areas…but they share less than 12% of the country’s wealth.
    [ The Telegraph UK “China's wealth gap the widest since economic reforms began” March 2, 2010 ]

    Nearly 500 million Chinese people live on less than $2 a day.
    [ BBC News “Millions 'left behind' in rural China” May 12, 2010 ]

  5. Dawi
    | #5

    Samuel said:

    [[Do you really want us to believe that the Tigrean governement is moving Aguaks and Nuers from their traditional land to improve their livelihood? ...how much money is being siphoned off..]]

    You know Woyane, EPRP and others espoused socialist ideologies in the past. Today the Meles Dictatorship advocates Developmental State (hybrid of Socialism and Neo liberalism), I assume EPRP supports Democracy of the South African/Kenyan type. What ever it is, as people who came out of the Ethiopian Student Movement, they all took and are taking different routes fighting for the ultimate goal of equality for all people.

    Let me tell you something, I think the Derg resettlement was done with good intentions.

    Having said that, I do think the government is moving Anuaks & Nuers with good intentions. I know HRW raised legitimate issues because there are some folks who don’t want to be moved however, what I saw in the government made video is more compelling. You see local teachers who use to go from one hut to the other looking for students to teach but now are teaching many students in a village school just built. The same with local health care and the use of clean water. Hundreds of people seem to be using the services provided and attested to have improved their lives.

    I don’t know what is siphoned and what isn’t however, I may be wrong but, I don’t think Meles would settle for a legacy of some stolen cash deposits in his account. I am sure he knows he can do better than that.

  6. Anonymous
    | #6

    ጉረኞች,
    You think, you’re so brilliant! Only your kinds think and make an excuse for violations of Human Rights going on in China. The truth is, you have no good conscience to tell you that the human suffering going on in communist China and in Ethiopia by the hands of your ruthless master Meles is PURE EVIL!

  7. Get a clue!!
    | #7

    ጉረኞች,
    You think, you’re so brilliant! Only your kinds think and make an excuse for the violations of Human Rights going on in China and other places around the world. The truth is, you are an idiot and on top of that, you have no conscience to tell you that the human suffering going on in communist China, and in Ethiopia by the hands of your ruthless master Meles and your TPLF mafia group is PURE EVIL! You’re clueless! There is no good enough excuse in the world for man made suffering, hunger, torture, killing, robbing poor people, removing people from everything they knew, loved and way of life is barbarous to say the least!

  8. ጉረኞች
    | #8

    ይድረሰ ለወንድሜ አይጠ Dawi
    ለአንተ የተላከ ደብዳቤ በሰሕተት ተዘርዝሮ ወደ አኔ ስለተላከ በውስጡ ያለው መልአክት አንዳያመልጥህ; ካመለጠህ ደሞ ትጎዳብኛለህ ብዬ በራሴ ኪሳራ ወደ አንተ ልኬዋለሁ:: ካወክበት ትጠቀምበታለህ ካልሆነ ደም ሌላ መላ አናፈላልጋለን:: አንዲህ ሆነህ አትቀርም; አይዞህ አንደ አቶ Get a clue አይነት ብዙ ረዳቶች አሉህ::
    BTW, your line of arguments basing woyane’s propaganda machine Bereket Simon or ETV as source of information is simply absurd. After kinijit election, I know no sane minded people believe what is coming out of woyane’s media. You are talking of the same person who announced the 99.6% woyanes election victory with out a blink of an eye. I know you can do better than that. So far, I know only Tecola and you who cites ETV for developing arguments, even Bereket does not refer his own media as information source.

    Get a clue!! :
    ጉረኞች,
    You think, you’re so brilliant! Only your kinds think and make an excuse for the violations of Human Rights going on in China and other places around the world. The truth is, you are an idiot and on top of that, you have no conscience to tell you that the human suffering going on in communist China, and in Ethiopia by the hands of your ruthless master Meles and your TPLF mafia group is PURE EVIL! You’re clueless! There is no good enough excuse in the world for man made suffering, hunger, torture, killing, robbing poor people, removing people from everything they knew, loved and way of life is barbarous to say the least!

  9. gobena
    | #9

    Once the foreign minister of Haileselassie told Gaddafi not Ethiopia but Africa is not for sale. This corrupted leaders have sold already Ethiopia and are going to sell Eritrea. We got to unite. Ethiopians unite. I believe my organization OLF will unite us.

  10. Dawi
    | #10

    ጉረኞች :

    “ለአንተ የተላከ ደብዳቤ በሰሕተት ተዘርዝሮ ወደ አኔ ስለተላከ”

    I think you confused them with your “China statistics” that is why they addressed it to you but I give the following quote just in case. :)

    China is getting out of “Human sufferings” in the fastest speed of humanely possible driving the Economic-Engine. Meles’s GTP if he can rally ALL? (big IF) can do same for Ethiopia.

    “The core of the matter is that radical reforms in China have paved the way for economic development and a number of non-economic changes which have benefited the population and provided a decent level of living for the large majority. This could not have been done without strong leadership bent on pushing such policies, perhaps even to the point of employing coercion against opponents”.

  11. Ojulu
    | #11

    I agree with those who have expressed their humanitarian feeling towards Gambela people. I think Dawi doesn’t know exactly what is happening to Gambela people in the hand of EPDRF or lacks knowledge of the region. What government called development for our people and the video he had seen is not what it is. If he gets a chance to be on the ground and truly believes in human right, he will curse his government and distrust it for good.

    However, we are people and know what is good for us. Don’t worry too much if you don’t feel sorry for the suffering of human being. Leave us alone. We will do whatever possible to reverse the act of evil. We have not looked for hand-out from government for centuries nor beg for development. We came this far without Ethiopia government. Please please….for god sake leave us alone.

  12. menzaw
    | #12

    It is a matter of time, to the progressive and the true believer of the United State of Ethiopia, wining over the Machiavellian devilish TPLF and bring us to the promised, newly reborn Ethiopia, where everybody freely enjoy their own differences and similarity without conflict under a democratic government and multiparty system based on free enterprise/market principle and ideology.

  13. Dawi
    | #13

    Ojulu said:

    [[…I think Dawi doesn’t know exactly what is happening to Gambela people in the hand of EPDRF or lacks knowledge of the region….]]

    I admit and you are correct that I don’t have first hand information of most things I talk about in this forum.

    The videos can be deceiving as well, however the general concept of the Land Lease protecting the indigenous people is not hard to figure out.

    Look – the Native Americans – a small population relative to the land mass of North America, similar to people in the Gambela region of Ethiopia. By enlarge, Native Americans were stripped of their land mass and put in Reservations. On the other hand The Gambela administration today is leasing land for a finite time to be used by foreigners and fellow Ethiopians. As the land becomes productive the income revenue of the State Government will grow. That will be a huge Tax base for the locals to benefit to fund education, health and other developments. The future local kids will become the future masters of their environment.

    I can imagine the region becoming the bread basket of the entire region or Middle East and you’re blessed to be in charge of it. The Saudi’s are a small population who control OIL and your region controls the FOOD they eat.

    [[…We came this far without Ethiopia government. Please please….for god sake leave us alone…]]

    Is a defeatist philosophy and won’t get you or anyone anywhere. As people and country you can play a center role in Gambela & the rest of Ethiopia. Please prepare & equip yourself to give and take to the challenge the global environment has brought to your face.

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