In Ethiopia, More Land Grabs, More Indigenous People Pushed Out

In an August 2013 photo, people from the Mursi ethnic group are seen on the road from Hailewuha to Jinka in the South Omo Zone of Ethiopia. (Photo: William Davison)

CSM

By Will Davison

HAILEWUHA VILLAGE, SOUTH OMO, ETHIOPIA – As night wore on in a remote valley in southern Ethiopia, one policeman dozed and another watched a DVD comedy on a battery-powered laptop.

Close by, in a clutch of thorn trees and grass huts, an ethnic Mursi man tried to explain to outsiders why he is so concerned for his people, who have lived here as semi-nomads for generations but may soon be evicted to make way for a giant sugar plantation.

“We Mursi [people] do not accept this ambitious government ideology,” the man said of an official state plan to house them in new villages in exchange for their compliant departure. He is speaking in the village of Hailewuha, his face lit by flashlight. Cattle shuffle and grunt nearby.

“What we want is to use our own traditional way of cultivation,” he says.

Ethiopian officials say the Mursi, like a growing number of ethnic or tribal groups in Ethiopia, are voluntarily moving out of their ancient lands; human rights groups say this is untrue.

The ongoing controversy is not new in Ethiopia, and “land grabs” by governments for lucrative leasing deals have become a story across the continent.

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