ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of foreign aid, with an average of $3.5 billion dollars a year received from donors. This aid has caused emergency food assistance to decrease from 15 million people in 2003 to 5.6 million people in 2012, and, as a result, Ethiopia is often exemplified as a success story in the developing world. But despite its celebrity success, Ethiopia still struggles with many of the common problems associated with the governments of developing countries.
Recently, the Ethiopian government has enacted a villagization program, which requires a forced relocation of 1.5 million Ethiopians to cities where the government has promised improved infrastructure and access to health care. Instead, the government has relocated many of its citizens to arid regions without the guaranteed services. According to one Mursi man, “The government uses our ignorance and backwardness to control us…They force us to do farming…Those who have been in the bush shall settle together in common village and be brothers. But our leaders do not accept this.”
Many of those forcibly relocated claim that governmental forces have beaten, raped, and even murdered dissidents. The government is interested in relocating these indigenous people, because their ancestral lands are fertile. These lands are going to be used to build Ethiopia’s transnational agro-industry to grow food and bio-fuels for export. The Ethiopian government has been taking these lands and selling them to foreign investors rapidly.
While aid agencies have not directly funded the villagization program, their aid could be used by the government in a myriad of ways, even to support these health and infrastructure programs. Western governments and non-governmental organizations face problems like this regularly. Given the high levels of crime and corruption in target countries, aid is not always disbursed as intended. Sometimes, even, this aid reaches the wrong people and inevitably aid funds illegal activities which run counter to the values of the giving organization. While this is exactly what the organization fears most, this process is inevitable in a target country where good governance is hard to come by. Although aid agencies would prefer not to be tied to this program, the international community is asking that they step up and take responsibility for the effect their development funds are having in Ethiopia.
Various aid agencies, including the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), have recently been accused of failing to act on these allegations of human rights violations in Ethiopia. To make matters worse, some of these violations have been linked to their aid program. USAID, DFID, and the World Bank each claim to have investigated the situation, but were unable to find any conclusive evidence of abuse and forced relocation. The USAID and DFID first found out about these abuses as first-hand accounts from villagers. After these reports, both agencies failed to act.
For example, last year, the Anuak implicated the World Bank in many of the human rights abuses enacted by the Ethiopian government. While the World Bank has denied these claims, it has been involved in similar land grabs in the past. The refugees from this crisis sent a letter to the President of the World Bank claiming that, “These mass evictions have been carried out under the pretext of providing better services and improving the livelihoods of the communities. However, once they moved to the new sites, they found not only infertile land, but also no schools, clinics, wells or other basic services.”
Despite the allegations of human rights violations mounting against the Ethiopian government, the government says it plans to continue the villagization program in the coming years. For now, it is up to the World Bank, USAID, and DFID to monitor the disbursement of their aid better.
– Kelsey Ziomek