‘Britain is supporting a dictatorship in Ethiopia’ By David Smith The Guardian

July 7th, 2014 Print Print Email Email

It’s 30 years since Ethiopia’s famine came to attention in the UK. Now, a farmer plans to sue Britain for human rights abuses, claiming its aid has funded a government programme of torture and beatings as villagers have been removed from their homes “Life was good because the land was the land of our ancestors. The village was along the riverside, where you could get drinking water, go fishing and plant mango, banana and papaya. The temperature there was good and we could feed ourselves.”

This is how Mr O – his name is protected for his safety – remembers the home he shared with his family in the Gambella region of Ethiopia. The fertile land had been farmed for generations, relatively safe from wars, revolutions and famines. Then, one day, near the end of 2011, everything changed. Ethiopian troops arrived at the village and ordered everyone to leave. The harvest was ripe, but there was no time to gather it. When Mr O showed defiance, he says, he was jailed, beaten and tortured. Women were raped and some of his neighbours murdered during the forced relocation.

Using strongarm tactics reminiscent of apartheid South Africa, tens of thousands of people in Ethiopia have been moved against their will to purpose-built communes that have inadequate food and lack health and education facilities, according to human rights watchdogs, to make way for commercial agriculture. With Orwellian clinicalness, the Ethiopian government calls this programme “villagisation”. The citizens describe it as victimisation.

And this mass purge was part bankrolled, it is claimed, by the UK. Ethiopia is one of the biggest recipients of UK development aid, receiving around £300m a year. Some of the money, Mr O argues, was used to systematically destroy his community and its way of life. Now this lone subsistence farmer is taking on the might of Whitehall in a legal action; a hearing took place in the high court in London last Thursday, but judgment on whether the case can go ahead has been reserved. Mr O and his legal team now await a decision on permission from the judge, who will declare whether there is an arguable case that can go forward to a full hearing.

“The British government is supporting a dictatorship in Ethiopia,” says Mr O, speaking through an interpreter from a safe location that cannot be disclosed for legal reasons. “It should stop funding Ethiopia because people in the remote areas are suffering. I’m ready to fight a case against the British government.” The dispute comes ahead of the 30th anniversary of famine in Ethiopia capturing the world’s gaze, most famously in Michael Buerk’s reports for the BBC that sparked the phenomena of Band Aid and Live Aid. Now, in an era when difficult questions are being asked about the principle and practice of western aid, it is again Ethiopia – widely criticised as authoritarian and repressive – that highlights the law of unintended consequences.

Mr O is now 34. He completed a secondary-school education, cultivated a modest patch of land and studied part-time at agricultural college. He married and had six children. That old life in the Gambella region now seems like a distant mirage. “I was very happy and successful in my farming,” he recalls. “I enjoyed being able to take the surplus crops to market and buy other commodities. Life was good in the village. It was a very green and fertile land, a beautiful place.” So it had always been as the seasons rolled by. But in November 2011 came a man-made Pompeii, not with molten lava but soldiers with guns. A meeting was called by local officials and the people were told that they had been selected for villagisation, a development programme the government claims is designed to bring “socioeconomic and cultural transformation of the people”.

Mr O says: “In the meeting the government informed the community, ‘You will go to a new village.’ The community reacted and said, ‘How can you take us from our ancestral land? This is the land we are meant for. When a father or grandfather dies, this is where we bury them.’”

The community also objected to the move because they feared ethnic persecution in their proposed home and because the land would not be fertile enough to farm. “Villagisation is bad because people were taken to an area which will not help them. It’s a well-designed plan by the government to weaken indigenous people.”
The army used brutal means to force the villagers to resettle. Mr O says he witnessed several beatings and one rape, and he knows of several women who contracted HIV as a result. Some people simply disappeared. He claims to have witnessed soldiers, police and local officials perpetrating the abuses. The villagers, including Mr O and his family, found themselves in a new location in Gambella. He says there was no food and water, no farmland, no schools and no healthcare facility. Jobs, and hope, were scarce.

So in 2012 he dared to return to his old village and tried to farm his land. It was a doomed enterprise. In around April, he claims, he was caught and punished for encouraging disobedience among the villagers. Soldiers dragged him to military barracks where he was gagged, kicked and beaten with rifle-butts, causing serious injuries. He was repeatedly interrogated as to why he had come back. “I went to the farm and was taken by soldiers to military barracks and locked in a room,” Mr O recalls. “I was alone and beaten and tortured using a gun. They put a rolled sock in my mouth. The soldiers were saying: ‘You are the one who mobilised the families not to go to the new village. You are also inciting the people to revolution.’ Other people were in different rooms being tortured, some even killed. Some women were raped. By now they have delivered children: even now if you go to Gambella, you will meet them.” He reflects: “I felt very sad. I had become like a refugee in my homeland. They did not consider us like a citizen of the country. They were beating us, torturing us, doing whatever they want.”

In fear for his life, Mr O fled the country. The separation from his wife and children is painful. He communicated indirectly with them last year through a messenger. “I am sad. The family has no one supporting them. I am also sad because I don’t have my family.”

But such is the terror that awaits that, asked if if he wants to return home, he replies bluntly: “There’s nothing good in the country so there is nothing that will take me back.”

Modern Ethiopia is a paradox. A generation after the famine, it is hailed by pundits as an “African lion” because of stellar economic growth and a burgeoning middle class. One study found it is creating millionaires at a faster rate than any other country on the continent. Construction is booming in the capital, Addis Ababa, home of the Chinese-built African Union headquarters. Yet the national parliament has only one opposition MP. Last month the government was criticised for violently crushing student demonstrations. Ethiopia is also regarded as one of the most repressive media environments in the world. Numerous journalists are in prison or have gone into exile, while independent media outlets are regularly closed down.

Gambella, which is the size of Belgium, has a population of more than 300,000, mainly indigenous Anuak and Nuer. Its fertile soil has attracted foreign and domestic investors who have leased large tracts of land at favourable prices. The three-year villagisation programme in Gambella is now complete. A 2012 investigation by Human Rights Watch, entitled Waiting Here for Death, highlighted the plight of thousands like Mr O robbed of their ancestral lands, wiping out their livelihoods. London law firm Leigh Day took up the case and secured legal aid to represent Mr O in litigation against Britain’s international development secretary, whom it accuses of part-funding the human rights abuses.

Mr O explains: “The Ethiopian government is immoral: it is collecting money on behalf of poor people from foreign donors, but then directing it to programmes that kill people. At the meeting, the officials said: ‘The British government is helping us.’ Of all the donors to Ethiopia, the British government has been sending the most funds to the villagisation programme. “I’m not happy with that because we are expecting them to give donations to support indigenous people and poor people in their lands, not to create difficult conditions for them. They should stop funding Ethiopia because most of the remote areas are suffering. The funds given to villagisation should be stopped.” Mr O did not attend last week’s court hearing at which Leigh Day argued that British aid is provided on condition that the recipient government is not “in significant violation of human rights”. It asserted that the UK has failed to put in place any sufficient process to assess Ethiopia’s compliance with the conditions and has refused to make its assessment public, in breach of its stated policy.

“There are credible allegations of UK aid money contributing to serious human rights violations,” states Leigh Day’s summary argument. “In particular, there is evidence that the ‘villagisation’ programme is partly funded by the defendant’s payments into the promotion of basic services programme.” The concerns have led to a full investigation by the World Bank, it adds.

Rosa Curling, a solicitor in the human rights department at Leigh Day, says: “It’s about making sure the money is traced. When you’re handing over millions of pounds you have a legal responsibility to make sure the money is being used appropriately. The experience of the village is absolutely appalling. We’re saying to the Department for International Development (DfID), please look at this issue properly, please follow the procedure you said you would follow, please talk to the people who’ve been affected. Look at what happened to Mr O and his village. They haven’t done that.”

Mr O offered to meet British officials, she adds, but they decided his refugee camp was too dangerous. He offered to meet them in a major city, but still they refused. “They haven’t met anybody directly affected by villagisation.” Curling urges: “If you’ve got money, trace it and put conditions on it so it’s not being used like this. It completely defeats the point of aid if it’s being used in this way. We’re talking about millions of British pounds.”

The view is echoed by Human Rights Watch. Felix Horne, its Ethiopia and Eritrea researcher, says: “Given that aid is fungible, DfID does not have any mechanism to determine how their well-meaning support to local government officials is being used in Ethiopia. They have no idea how their money is being spent. And when they are provided [with] evidence of how that money is in fact being used, they conduct seriously flawed assessments to dismiss the allegations, and it’s business as usual.

“While they have conducted several ‘on the ground’ assessments in Gambella to ascertain the extent of the abuses, they have refused to visit the refugee camps where many of the victims are housed. The camps are safe, easy to access, and the victims of this abusive programme are eager to speak with DfID, and yet DfID and other donors have refused to speak with them, raising the suspicion that they aren’t interested in hearing about abuses that have been facilitated with their funding.”

DfID is set to contest the court action, denying that any of its aid was directly used to uproot Mr O or others affected by villagisation. A spokesman says: “We will not comment on ongoing legal action. The UK has never funded Ethiopia’s resettlement programmes. Our support to the Protection of Basic Services Programme is only used to provide essential services like healthcare, schooling and clean water.” Shimeles Kemal, the Ethiopian government’s state minister of communications, was unavailable for comment.

  1. Developement Without Freedom
    | #1

    Whenever any British journalist mentions Ethiopia he or she does not forget to mention live aid. Their obsession of linking Ethiopia with famine never stops.

  2. Washngton DC
    | #2

    There has been major power struggle infighting and blackmailing within Ginbot7 it self, some of the blackmailing information passing to the Ethiopian government coming from Ginbot7 insiders. The Ethiopian government already knew in advance where and when ato Andargachew and other ginbot7 connections and travelling plan is.

  3. Nameless
    | #3

    Despite popular belief to the contrary, historically the West has always stood for dictatorship and oppression in Ethiopia. There has never ever been any historical evidence where the West was not in the way of Freedom in Ethiopia. All their support remained a lip service. I am beginning to think, some Western officials are well funded by Woyane with monies taken from the poor famine stricken peasants of Ethiopia. It is time to call the West an Enemy of the Ethiopian people

  4. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #4

    I don’t believe UK had any hand in this. If they think or agree with the Ethiopian government that this man is a terrorist or a member of a terrorist organization they would have taken him to court in the UK charging him for being as such. You should understand that Yemen has never been an effective centralized nation at any time in its history. This went from bad to worse after the overthrow of a weak monarchy in the 1960′s. It is a nation formed around competing tribes who sometimes are friends and at other times mortal enemies to each other. If you can make a deal with a clan, then even the big house is all yours. I bet you this man has fallen victim to a bought off Yemeni clan by the Ethiopian security forces. That is why Yemen is found to be an excellent place for Al Qaeda to have a ‘secured’ base. It is just like Somalia. Especially the Northern part of Yemen that includes Sana’a is a society that seems to come out of a mold from the Dark Ages, not even the Middle Ages. It does not surprise me if the President of Yemen was not aware of the arrest until the man was whisked away by the Ethiopian security. Today some clan member has turned filthy rich overnight by this ‘trafficking of a precious cargo’. I mean rich. And the UK could not do anything to help this man. I don’t even think they had any time to do anything. I bet you the victim was whisked out of Yemen within 24 hours of his arrival at the Sana’a Int’l Airport. His fate was sealed the very time Sana’a appeared on his itinerary.

    On the other hand, this will be a stain on the history of relationship of two peoples and will be remain so forever. I feel for his family and I don’t even want to start thinking the agony this man is going through as we speak. He is being subjected to the cruelest methods of physical torture reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition. Nobody will be able to help him. Nobody!!! Thanks to the danger of terrorism and because of that Mr. Tsige and numerous prisoners of conscience like him will remain in the blind spot until terrorism is wiped out from that region.

  5. Zenebe
    | #5

    Why was Ato Andragachew Tsege carrying British passport, Eritrean passport and an expired Ethiopian passport ? ?
    This is disturbing and confusing, I thought Mr. Andargachew was fighting as political opposition for Ethiopia, what was he doing with British passport and Eritrean passport ?

  6. Bezbez
    | #6

    this bla bla will quntinue for one week then we all know that G-7 Will shut thier big mouth!

  7. Anonymous
    | #7

    You’re so full of it…and please stop kissing the back-side of your colonial-puppet masters.

  8. Mesfin
    | #8

    Exactly. Ethiopia does not have dual citizenship policy. A person is either Ethiopian or non- Ethiopian. Hence, if Andargachew has a passport other than that of Ethiopia, then he is not Ethiopian. That makes it illegal for him to engage in any activities, political or not, to unseat an Ethiopian government.

  9. Mesfin
    | #9

    How is it that the media in the UK never bother to include views of the other side, in this case, that of the Ethiopian government when they are accusing them of committing these awful things which I believe are fabricated. By the way, in Ethiopia, the land is owned by the government whether it has been passed on from ancestors or not, so it can by law remove a person from any land with proper compensation, in this case, replacement land. The land may not be as fertile as the original one, but I believe that the government provides support in the form of agriculture extension workers like any other farmer in the country.

  10. Furche Kentu
    | #10

    I totally aggree with Ittu Aba Farda and who would have known, traced or followed Andarkachew`s travel route? the exact date,time? Why do not we suspect Asmera as well? the host country must have known Andarkachew`s back and forth travel route to dobe him

  11. Dawi
    | #11

    [[..On the other hand, this will be a stain on the history of relationship of two peoples ...e is being subjected to the cruelest methods of physical torture reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisitio..]]

    Ittu Aba,

    Apply “torture” for what? I can’t imagine them doing that. There is no mystery to get out of Andargachew; he was in the open and is already “convicted” in absentia. They know better than that; doing such a thing will only hurt the government’s postive standing in people’s eyes including losing all those that look at them as the only organized alternative at this juncture of our country.

    As far the relationship with the two people you can’t blame all people for this incident. How could you?

  12. Anonymous
    | #12

    Ato Zenebe….Ato Andargachew is our hero..beloved son, father,and brother? are you trying to preach him about Ethipianism..who is going t give him updated ethiopian passport? why you try to accuse him of not having an updated ethiopian passport knowing the fact.you son of a beach “Banda ye banda zer”

  13. Anonymous
    | #13

    @Ittu Aba Farda
    America and britain are life time Ethiopa enemies…this is the fact.Do not expect justice from these two evil people and cuntries. I hate this two devilish countries

  14. shanko
    | #14

    I think British officials are deeply involved in human rights abuse in Ethiopia. The amount of money they give to a brutal dictator that kills at will, rapes children, burns down entire villages is mind boggling. They probably enjoy the suffering in Ethiopia.

  15. abinet
    | #15

    @Zenebe
    where did you get this information? It has not been reported in any media !

  16. abinet
    | #16

    @Ittu Aba Farda
    Very intelligent analysis and comment t which is unfortunately very depressing !

  17. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #17

    Obbo Dawi:

    I hope and pray that this man is not and will not be subjected to torture.
    I wrote the comment not to incriminate anyone. I also hope that this collaboration will not be a factor on the future relationships of the two peoples. You sound to worry a lot about it. Therefore, I suggest you hound the Yemeni government and people at large to start treating former slaves of African origin as any dignified human beings. It is not the time of the ‘Great Caliphates’ where harems and palaces were teeming with slaves from Africa. While you are at it, please ask them what they had done to tens of millions of African slaves they hauled from Africa over a period of 12 centuries? Where are their descendants now? Just ask them. If you are really very close to them and trusted by them, they will tell you what the slaves used to be subjected to by their masters. You will find that in their archaic traditional folktales and some lately forbidden songs. Good luck. And if you are bold enough to investigate yourself just mingle with the khadamis in Yemen. They still call them ‘subservient’ low cast people. They don’t eve allow them to enter their house since they consider them as ‘unclean’ (Najees) creatures. They don’t consider them as people of Allah’s creations. You can’t miss them. They are found in their tens of thousands just outside Sana’a and s

  18. Itu Aba Farda
    | #18

    Obbo Dawi:

    I hope and pray that this man is not and will not be subjected to torture.
    I wrote the comment not to incriminate anyone. I also hope that this collaboration will not be a factor on the future relationships of the two peoples. You sound to worry a lot about it. Therefore, I suggest you hound the Yemeni government and people at large to start treating former slaves of African origin as any dignified human beings. It is not the time of the ‘Great Caliphates’ where harems and palaces were teeming with slaves from Africa. While you are at it, please ask them what they had done to tens of millions of African slaves they hauled from Africa over a period of 12 centuries? Where are their descendants now? Just ask them. If you are really very close to them and trusted by them, they will tell you what the slaves used to be subjected to by their masters. You will find that in their archaic traditional folktales and some lately forbidden songs. Good luck. And if you are bold enough to investigate yourself just mingle with the khadamis in Yemen. They still call them ‘subservient’ low cast people. They don’t eve allow them to enter their house since they consider them as ‘unclean’ (Najees) creatures. They don’t consider them as people of Allah’s creations. You can’t miss them. They are found in their tens of thousands just outside Sana’a and some other localities.

  19. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #19

    Dear Editors:

    I don’t see my last response posted. Is there anything that should not be there? Even in my old age I am still a learner. Please give me a holler. Thanks.

  20. OBSERVER
    | #20

    ”There has been major power struggle infighting and blackmailing within Ginbot7 it self, some of the blackmailing information passing to the Ethiopian government coming from Ginbot7 insiders. The Ethiopian government already knew in advance where and when ato Andargachew and other ginbot7 connections and travelling plan is”

    Woyane guy who goes by the name Washington DC.
    What an idiot! This thinly disguised distraction you are fabricating,who do you think it hoodwinks? Who believes such amateurish garbage except an idiot like you?!
    The truth is Ginbot 7 is not just united but has now, because of the abduction of its leader, ignited a new struggle that has brought every opposition together. The enemy has called them into one house!
    A fighter may fall but the just struggle will certainly continue. It shall rise up! The ever bitter OPPRESIVE RULE can only bring about more determined and resolute fighters following the trails of the heroic fallen ones.
    By contrast, you, the TPLF,will soon go down because you are a bunch of hated oppressors and exploiters, even worse than the much loathed predecessor of yours,the Dergue.
    Our persecuted, impoverished and down trodden people hate your arrogant, repressive, predatory and corrupt ways.
    Neither your guns you collected from the Dergue nor your foreign masters who have propped you up for the last twenty years can save you from the coming deluge.
    It is certainly coming! The much contained anger and the great sadness of our ill treated and subjugated people in every part of the country is simmering. It is that anger,it is that sorrow that will, in its own surprising ways,change to a deluge.It will sweep you away unawares.
    In the meantime,the unmitigated brutality and inhuman cruelty with which your treat individuals who oppose your unjust rule including TEGADALAI Andargachew, you be deluded to think, can save you from your inevitable downfall.It won’t. It only betrays your inner cowardice,fear and the unpleasant knowledge that you are a hated oppressor.
    Yesterday, it was you against the fascist Dergue. You had the truth.
    Today,it is us against you.-The fascist TPLF. We have the truth on our side.
    Like the Dergue,you will die. Yet,we know that you won’t die willingly or die an easy death. We also know that this struggle of ours is bitter and it costs us martyrdom and it is for truth and life.
    History is watching!

  21. Engilgilse
    | #21

    Well, first thing first. Mr. Andargachew has always been a man of iron will: Bandas and descendants of Askaris shall never be able to bend or break our patriot’s willpower and the promise this hero of the millions made.

    Eternal death to the blood robbers!!!

    Victory to all Ethiopians!!!!

  22. Tazabiw
    | #22

    Woyane is the one to be blamed for any action Andargachew is blamed to
    have done. It is woyane’s extremist and exclusionist ways and tactics
    tha extremised people like Angargachew denying any room to play their
    roles and political demands within the new developmental democratic
    platform that EPRDF has made available to Ethiopians. But the woyane
    has comitted a grave mistake by undermining and manipulating the
    farsighting policies the people has been demanding and the platform it has put in place inorder to fit its narrow demands and implementing them
    using extremist / extreme ways at the expence of the people.
    interests of survival.

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