For development’s sake? Land grabbing and the Oromo community in Ethiopia

The concern is that the government would simply claim this land and use it without providing any kind of compensation to the farmers and pastoralists who are currently using that land.

Ethiopia has been heralded as a model for economic growth, with average growth rates of 10% between 2003 and 2014 earning it the name “African tiger”, in reference to Asia’s industrialisation boom until the 1990ies.

Yet development has come at a price. In order to keep up with its ambitious development goals, the Ethiopian government designed the “Addis Ababa Master Plan” for the expansion of the nation’s capital, which would displace and effectively disown a large share of the country’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo. The ensuing protests by the Oromo community, launched in November 2015,  “are tapping into much deeper grievances”, since the Oromo have been “marginalised economically, politically, culturally even, […] suppressed by repeated governments over the years,” Leslie Lefkow holds.

Despite media reports of brutal government crackdowns against protestors, Lefkow argues that there has been little response from the international community: “Ethiopia is one of the world’s biggest aid recipients, […] it’s one of the largest recipients of foreign aid in Africa. […] It [Ethiopia] is seen as a success story when it comes to development. So there is also political unwillingness to raise human rights issues, which are I think often seen by international donors and partners as inconvenient.” The Ethiopian governments eventual withdrawal of the Addis Ababa Master Plan in January can hence be solely attributed to the domestic outrage it caused.

Leslie Lefkow is the Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division.

The interview was recorded in Amsterdam on January 22, 2016 at the HRW office.