USAID, the UK’s DFID and the World Bank are among those covering up for severe human rights abuses against indigenous peoples in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, inflicted during forced evictions to make way for huge plantations, writes Will Hurd. Their complicity in these crimes appears to be rooted in US and UK partnership with Ethiopia in the ‘war on terror’.
In the fall of 2012 my cell phone rang. It was an official from Department for International Development, DFID – the UK government aid agency. He implored me to remove his name from a transcript of an audio recording I’d translated. He worried he might lose his job, which would hurt his family.
I’d translated for this official and his colleagues, both from DFID and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), during a joint visit they made, in January 2012, to the Lower Omo Valley of Southwest Ethiopia.
They wanted to talk to members of the Mursi and Bodi ethnic groups about a controversial government sugar development project. DFID was indirectly helping to fund the forced eviction and resettlement of thousands of people affected by this project, through a World Bank-organized funding program called ‘Promoting Basic Services’ (PBS).
DFID was the biggest state contributor to this program, which had also been accused of indirectly funding resettlement of Anuak in the nearby Gambella region. In Gambella, vast land leases were being given to international and domestic companies. During the visit to the Omo Valley, I turned on an audio recorder.
What struck me about the phone conversation with the DFID official was how much concern he had for his own livelihood and family, and how little concern he and DFID were showing for the hundreds, or even thousands, of families in the Omo Valley.
I acted on his request and left him unnamed.
Aid to ‘help the poor’ opens the way to international agribusiness
The resettlements were happening to clear the land for industrial-scale, international and national, companies. The donors deny a connection between the resettlements and the land leases, but the connection is all too obvious.
The behemoth Gibe III dam is under construction upstream on the Omo River. Its control of the river’s water level allows irrigation dams and canals to be built in the Omo Valley for plantations.
PBS is a $4.9 billion project led by the World Bank, with UK and other funding, under the guiding hand of theDevelopment Assistance Group (DAG). The DAG is 27 of the world’s largest donor organizations, including 21 national government aid agencies.
The full membership of the DAG comprises: the African Development Bank, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, European Union, FAO, Finland, France, Germany, IMF, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain (AECID), Sweden, Switzerland, Turkish International Cooperation Agency (TIKA), UK (DFID), UNDP, UNESCO, USAID, and the World Bank.
It is supposed to provide teacher and health worker salaries and water development in these resettlement sites. This is controversial in itself-only providing services to people who move off their land into resettlement sites – but some of the money was used by the Ethiopian government to pay for implementation of the resettlement scheme.
DFID and the DAG say that this resettlement plan is entirely about providing services to the people. If they believe this, they gravely misunderstand the aims of the Ethiopian Government, which have to do with political control