Capital Ethiopia Newspaper

Gambella relocation saga: Curse or solution?

Almost a third of the 240 households that have been relocated in a state run “villagization” program in Gambella region left resettlement areas during the first year of the initiative due to reasons including poor facilities and living conditions, a diplomatic source said.
“Conditions are such that people decided to walk one or two hours back to where they came from last year,” the diplomatic source, who wishes to remain anonymous, said. They added that some people expressed disappointment  with the lack of medicine, conditions of the school and underequipped health facilities.
There has been “capacity limitation” on authorities’ part to meet the expectations of the settlers, according to the source.
The source however added that majority of those included in the “villagization” program say they are “better off” there and like to stay around.
Increased access to secure water points, health facilities, schools, fertile farmland leading to increased production and food aide, currently being provided by the World Food Program, are cited as main areas the people reported as benefits of relocating to the new villages.
The Ethiopian government says the number of people who have left the resettlement program is very small. Their departure shows they are willing participants in the program and they are exercising their right to leave the village when they wish to do so, according to the government.
“We have to clearly assess the situation on the ground. Even if there is credible information that shows that some people have left- out of some 20,000 people, it only shows that the government understands their right to leave the villages. They were voluntarily included into the program and they may exercise their right to leave the villages whenever they wish to do so which is fully respected by the state,” said Bereket Simon, Minister at the Government Communication Affairs Office.
According to Bereket, lack of medicine and underequipped facilities can be seen from time to time and the federal and local governments have been meeting the demand as they arise. “The approach has been to prepare the facilities in advance and relocate the people later; this will continue also in the future programs. However, some shortage may occur and we will respond to that as they arise but the efforts exerted to put in place the start up facilities have been successful,” Bereket added.
On Monday Human Rights Watch issued a report accusing the government of forcibly relocating approximately 70,000 indigenous people from western Gambella to new villages that lack adequate food, farmland, healthcare, and educational facilities.
The rights group also said many of the areas currently being leased to investors for commercial farms have been areas where people have been forcibly removed.In a statement issued on Tuesday the Federal Affairs Ministry belittled the Human Rights Watch Report as an ideologically driven attack that bases its claims on imaginary accounts and pure fabrications.
The diplomatic sources that have talked to residents in newly setup villages in Gambella back government’s accounts. The source said people there said they moved into the villages voluntarily and majority of them prefer to stay there.
“No one encountered reports or claims of a forceful move and we did not see any military presence,” said the source adding that in discussions and random tours they met nobody among the villagers who claimed of being forcefully moved in order to make way to the commercial farms. People there have reportedly positive prospects of getting jobs at the commercial farms though the readiness of the commercial farms to train the unskilled labor there is yet to be tested.