The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs weekly press release, A Week in the Horn, rebuked the US-based Oakland Institute in its March 9, 2012 issue, in an article titled ‘The Oakland Institute campaigns to perpetuate people’s poverty’.

Here is the full text:

The Oakland Institute campaigns to perpetuate people’s poverty

The campaign against Ethiopia’s development endeavors appears to have gathered steam yet again.  Waged by people who appear to have a vested interest in perpetuating the misery of the Ethiopian people, it comes in different forms and packages. Curiously enough most of their comments, ostensibly made in the name of protecting the interests and rights of Ethiopians, actually amount to virulent attacks on those very same rights and interests.  Cloaked in paternalism, the materials churned out in these campaigns are all-too-often insulting and certainly condescending. A brief look at some of these is instructive.

One of the areas that have been subject to what can only be called a vitriolic campaign is the villagization program currently under way in some parts of the country. This is a Federal Government project being undertaken with one single objective: improving people’s livelihood within the framework of the national Growth and Development Plan. The targets include provision of efficient and effective economic and social services, including safe drinking water, optimum health care, increased education, and improving agronomy practice and market access, creating access to infrastructural development of roads, power and telecommunication links, and ensuring people’s full engagement in good governance and democracy.  

One vehement actor in the anti-development campaign is the Oakland Institute in California. It paints a lurid picture of not just the villagization program but also of other development efforts in different parts of Ethiopia. The Oakland Institute has made up its mind that the government of Ethiopia is incapable of taking care of the interests of its own people. It is only advocacy campaigners from ten thousand miles away that can have either the “genuine” concern or the knowledge to know the problems of indigenous populations in Ethiopia.  Any development endeavour by the Ethiopian government is immediately and invariably portrayed as an attack on the livelihood and indeed the survival of local populations. 

In its recent media campaign, now being turned into a ‘crusade’, the Oakland Institute alleges that sugar plantation projects in the South Omo area will result in “the decimation” of the entire South Omo population, unless of course, the US and other donors “do something about it.”  The Institute says that “available information shows a network of roads to be built across the area including around 750 kms of internal roads (in an area with virtually none at present) and two extensive irrigation canals that run the length of the Omo River.” These, of course, are evidence of the progress being made in an expansion of infrastructure that will go far to address the long-term problems of child and maternal mortality and other livelihood issues in the region. The possibility of irrigated farming in the region is something from which the local population stands to benefit immensely. The previous river-flood farming traditions have never produced more than precarious living. For the Oakland Institute all these benefits are classifies as threats. Even the possibility of other people from elsewhere in the country having jobs in South Omo sugar plantations is portrayed as an existential threat to the local population although they will also have the availability of employment. In fact, the Institute’s long-distance ‘research’ even goes so far as to suggest that development projects will cause civil war in the region.

In reality, the villagization programs as well as other developmental interventions are all implemented in accordance with the constitution and with relevant democratic principles. The process involves consultations, and is conducted on a voluntary basis and with the full consent and participation of the beneficiaries. The sites for villagization are selected after careful study of the availability of surface and ground water and adequate arable and grazing land and of all environmental concerns. Utmost care is taken to ensure necessary critical social and economic services, including water, health services, education and improved agronomy practices, are put in place before beneficiaries relocate to the new areas. It might be added that they always have the right to return to their original location whenever and if they want; and certainly, on occasions, some have been disappointed and have returned.

The objectives of the villagization program have never been and never will be what the Oakland Institute’s desk ‘research’ claims. Equally, allegations that force has been used to intimidate local populations, that the military or police have been forcefully obstructing settlers from returning to their previous villages, or that the police and the military are routinely deployed in the program are simply not true. There hasn’t been any need for the deployment of police, much less the military, in these projects. The totally inaccurate assertion that local populations have been involuntarily displaced from their original villages can only be seen as an attempt to cause conflicts among the regions’ inhabitants. The same also holds true for allegations about South Omo development projects. The claims appear to reflect the personal biases of Oakland Institute’s informants in Ethiopia or more usually in the Diaspora than any reality on the ground. The methodology used and the informants deployed appear politically and ideologically driven. Certainly their ‘information’ is far removed from reality. The so called “study findings” are simply not worth the paper they are written on.

The South Omo valley projects outlined in the report are part of the plan towards accelerated and sustainable development to end poverty in Ethiopia. The government is open to access from donor agencies and media with relevant interest and knowledge for fact-finding missions in good faith, as demonstrated when the Ethiopia-based Donor Assistance Group investigated allegations in Gambella. There is no reason why similar missions cannot take place if and when a legitimate request is made. Indeed, there already is a joint working group mechanism in place for this purpose that needs to be further strengthened. 

The project sites and the selected locations in South Omo are nowhere close enough to human dwellings to disturb people’s lifestyles. The area involved is only inhabited on a widely scattered pattern. The population density in Selamago woreda, one South Omo project site, is less than 5 persons per square kilometer.  The project covers some 1700 hectares and will involve provision of access to irrigation schemes. Social and economical facilities and infrastructure are involved and these will certainly impact on the livelihood and quality of life positively, not least the 18 kilometers of road access being constructed to the district capital, Hana. 0.75 hectares of irrigated land is prepared for each of 2050 households and more will be available. There will be no land scarcity for any family. Training for improved practices, technology inputs and livestock management will be provided. The projects also create job opportunities for others throughout the SNNPR regional state and more widely. Indeed, the local population will have the opportunity to enjoy a national development dividend rather than face alleged human rights violations. These developments will actually lift South Omo minority populations out of what can only be called dismal living conditions.

This alleged concern about the indigenous culture and group identity is no more than a diversion. Whatever the Oakland Institute believes the constitution respects all individual and group rights claims. Insisting that people be kept in perpetual poverty and backwardness so the researchers of the Oakland Institute can have a primitive environment to whine about is nothing more than an attempt to consign the local population to sub-human status. It is telling to note how the Oakland Institute’s ‘research’ concludes. It suggests that donors, including the US, should leverage their aid to the Ethiopian government to arm-twist it into stopping all development projects. More outrageously, it even claims that Ethiopia must be told to stop its projects because these “sadly annihilate years of investment by USAID and other donors to support the rights and livelihood of pastoralists in Ethiopia.” It is appalling to see Oakland Institute claim that the fight against poverty is a violation of human rights.  It would be rather more accurate to identify sabotage of development efforts to end poverty as a violation of human rights. Indeed, by any standards, it has to be said that the efforts of the Oakland Institute amounts to a campaign to promote poverty.

Source: A Week in the Horn – March 9, 2012 issue.


Check the Agriculture archive or the Human Rights archive for related posts.