Daily Archives: December 19, 2015

GAMBELLA PEOPLE’S LIBERATION MOVEMENT (GPLM)

PRESS RELEASE

It is with great sadness that we have to witness the killing and massacre of unarmed civilians by the EPRDF forces once again in Ethiopia. The GPLM strongly condemns this heinous atrocity committed by the Ethiopian/EPRDF government forces against peaceful Oromo students who are protesting within their constitutional rights against the land grabbing policy.
Not long ago, when the people of Gambella faced daylight genocide of more than 450 unarmed Anuaks by the Ethiopians armed forces- exactly this month of December, 2003. Every since, we have seen many atrocity being committed all over the country with out impunity by the EPRDF government. The GPLM urged the government to stop this bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters and systematic genocide of non-Tigreans nationality and the people of Ethiopia to occupy their land, which is driven by lust for money and luxuries, while millions of Ethiopians are dying due to lack of food in the country.
The current demonstration of Oromos students is ostensibly a protest because of expansion of Addis Ababa boundary to Oromia, which has nothing to do with economic development nor municipality expansion, but a plan to displace and evict the Oromo farmers from their land.
Like other oppressed nations and nationality, the Oromo people has been politically marginalized, while being the majority in the country. The current demonstration and protest which engulf all over Oromia region, is a deep-rooted historical struggle over injustice, identity, resistance to exploitation of the Oromo’s resources, and the rights to protect their ancestral land.
Thus, the GPLM calls for all Ethiopians who are in the “Woyane”/EPRDF armed and security forces not to fire their bullets against peaceful Oromos students. We also calls on Ethiopian people from north to south and from east to west to joint the Oromos students protest and their quest for justice and democracy in our country. Finally we calls on the EPRDF/”Woyane” government to immediately:
1. Stop the killing of unarmed Oromos students;
2. To unconditionally release all Oromos students who are held captive and illegally put to prison for exercising their constitutional right; and
3. Lastly, we call for independent inquires to investigate the death of Oromos students.

GAMBELLA PEOPLE’S LIBERATION MOVEMENT (GPLM) EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

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Informed by History, Fear of Dispossession Fuels Unrest

Residents were going about their businesses; trucks were speeding by in a hurry to get their loads in or out of Addis Abeba. The only thing appeared to have been out of place in the city of Burayu on that sunny Wednesday morning of December 9, 2015, was a dozen or so uniformed police escorting two young men under custody. There were three police vehicles on the road from Addis to Burayu; residents confirmed that there was unrest the previous day.

Some schools were closed as students were boycotting their midterm tests.

“The students are protesting because they think the lands of their families will be taken and given to investors,” said a resident, citing the urban plan as the cause of conflict around the country, since it had surfaced in 2008.  “If that happens, the students fear they will have nothing to inherit.”

It is not unprecedented for students, mostly in high schools and universities across the Oromia Regional State, to protest against what they believe is a coercive way of implementing the Master Plan of the capital. Many of the inhabitants of Oromia Region, the most populous region with over 27 million people, according to the 2007 national census, are defiantly waging protests because of an urban design scheme proposed for Addis Abeba, which is designed to incorporate farmlands in the surrounding towns. Unlike the first round of protests two years ago, however, the protests over the past three weeks have been recurring and cover wider areas.

The protests have not been without casualities. Although not confirmed by officials of either the regional administration or the federal government, no less than 20 people have been killed and more wounded as a result of standoffs between the region’s law enforcement and protestors. With varying intensity, the standoffs continued in different parts of Oromia Region at this paper’s press time on Saturday night.

Unanimously, protestors are demanding that the government call off its intention to implement a Master Plan for Addis Abeba, to be revised for the 10th round, but perceived to let the capital encroach on to  the five zones surrounding it.

Addis Abeba’s Master Plan is revised every decade. Ever since the first proposed plan under the Italian occupation in 1936, the capital’s expansion has been made at the expense of its inhabitants who are often evicted. Close to 4,000 residents have been dispossessed of their properties in the four years after 1936, and Italian landmarks such as Merkato, Piazza, and Kazanchis remain alive today.

In the decade following the end of the Italian occupation, Emperor Haile Sellasie’s government had commissioned the design of a Master Plan to Patrick Abercombie in 1956. Abercombie unsuccessfully attempted to emulate the Master Plan of the city of London. However, it was three years later that the first Master Plan designed by Botton Hennessy, was delivered with a plan to form satellite towns surrounding it. It was left to serve the capital for three decades.

The most recent Master Plan expired two years ago, and studies were commissioned to design what is now the most controversial and contentious blueprint for urban planning and development. Aspiring to get help from the French city of Lyon, Addis Abeba’s sister city, urban planners at the Project Office thought it would be useful to consider the surrounding region when upgrading the Master Plan.

“Design must always consider its context,” said a professional designer who worked on the Draft Master Plan. “But the matter was politicized before the team had the time to explain the design. It was just a proposal, both Parliament and the people were going to be consulted before any form of implementation.”

The Integrated Regional Development Plan is a programme launched by the federal government in the middle of April 2014. It is an area structure plan designed to integrate economic and social activities in Addis Abeba with those of the surrounding Oromia Special Zones, in a 40Km to 100Km radius. It is designed to integrate infrastructure, environment, law enforcement, as well as special rights of the Oromia Regional State over the capital as espoused in the Constitution, according to a senior official at the federal government.

Thus, the plan incorporates 36 kebeles in 17 weredas covering 1.1 million hectares of land.

The site of resistance to the plan, Sululta, which has a population of 129,000, was included under a special zone earmarked for the development of hotel and tourism in 2008. Other towns included were Burayu, earmarked for mixed development of agrobased industry; Galan, manufacturing and storage; Legetafo, manufacturing, storage and real estate; Holeta, diary farming and tourism; and Sebeta, for manufacturing and agroprocessing.

Perceptions of the programme by many of their residents, however, differ from the intentions designers and authorities claim to have.

One such resident is Lemma Megersa, 56, a priest working in his field with his sons and two labourers, in Betti village, 300 metres from Gelan which is 25Km south of Addis Abeba. He lost 25kerets, and was compensated nine Birr per square metre. He claimed the government later leased it for 5,000 Br to 6,000 Br per square metre to prospective homeowners; a row of single storey private villas align on a border of his farm.

This is a new phenomenon dominating the outskirts of Addis Abeba. A rising middle class, pushed from the centre of Addis Abeba due to prohibitive land lease prices, is finding it affordable to locate plots in these areas to build residential houses. This development is also encouraged by the road links of these areas with the capital. A survey taken by the Central Statistics Agency in 2008 and 2009 showed that the population size in the Special Zone had increased by 51,373 residents, and 428 million square metre plots were incorporated into the Zone.

These plots were once the productive assets of farmers such as Lemma. He recalled harvesting between 300-400ql of teff and wheat prior to his dispossession. Now he cannot even get a 100ql from a plot he is left with. Although he had bought a motorized mill from the money he was paid as compensation, it does little in a way of returning the value of the land.

“The only thing we’re left with is our residence,” he told Fortune last week, munching shimbera(chickpeas) during his break.

He is convinced that the government is back with more appetite for land, in the guise of a master plan.

“We don’t want it because it takes our land and makes our destination unknown,” said Lemma. “We fear losing our land. We’re ready to show our disappointment with the programme; we’re ready to die in this rather than die of hunger.”

Lemma is not alone in his sense of disenfranchisement. Actually, long before he gets to experience loss of land, farmers in todays Gerji, Lebu, Bole Bulbula, Meri and Ayat were part of the 23 peasant associations in farming communities, whose members were affected by the expansion of Addis Abeba in the 1990s. Farmers in Yeka Tafo, with a population of 1,149, were part of the 6,000 households affected when the Ayat Real Estate project gave way to what is now an affluent middle and upper middle class residential complex.

Of the 231 households then, 98 were left with homes while losing their farmlands in return for modest compensation, while 27 were reported to have lost both their farmlands and homes. They were victims of the land lease policy of the government, which does not consider the interests of rural households and poor farmers surrounding the capital, said Feleke Tadele, who studied the impact of urban development on poor farmers, for his post graduate dissertation.

“Private investors are being invited to expropriate rural land occupied by peasants such as those in Yeka Tafo at the expense of dispossessed households without appropriate policy frameworks,” Feleke had warned as early as 1999. “The insecurity of land use rights has been the main causes of conflict in the area.”

Given this trend in the name of development, Feleke is only one among subsequent numbers of scholars who developed interest in studying the impact of Addis Abeba’s horizontal expansion, threatening the separate existence of its neighbouring areas. They all warned of inevitable widespread conflict as a result of farmers’ disenfranchisement.

For a resident of Burayu in his late 20s, whose name was withheld given the sensitivity of the issue, the Master Plan is nothing but an instrument for land grabbing and a threat to the preservation of his identity as an Oromo. He also questions integration aspect, perceiving it as only about integrating the surrounding towns in terms of economy.

“Why do we need the Master Plan in first place?” he asked. “It must be about integrating the surroundings of the administrative aspect, which will put us under the federal structure. If this is the case, our language will vanish because education will be given in Amharic, the federal working language.”

The professional designer with his hand in the development of the Draft Master Plan, thought it was not about administrative inclusion, but simply development. Addis has developed much further than other cities, noted the designer. Other areas should not be bystanders to that growth when they could benefit from it instead.

“Growth is happening regardless,” he told Fortune. “We’re only going to legalize what was already happening via the Integrated Regional Development Plan.”

Landholders do not agree.

For a farmer and a father of eight who lived his entire life in Legdadi, in the north-eastern outskirts of Addis, having the Master Plan implemented will pose a threat on his and his family’s very survival. He is no exception in requesting that his name be withheld, as a result of a pervasive suspicion and insecurity felt by many farmers in these areas.

He is, however, a well-to-do farmer, with a house guarded with stone fences, a warehouse and the other shelter for his cattle. He owns 18 cattle and two donkeys, a scrap of land preserved for vegetables.

“If this Master Plan was implemented, we are going to lose our land,” he said.

His views are informed by earlier evictions carried out on 135 households, with a staggering 108 of them objecting to their evictions but forced to move nonetheless. A survey conducted between July and September 2012 revealed that more than 90pc of 405 households evicted in Galan, Legetafo-Legedadi and Burayu areas “felt sad and disappointed . . . and worried much about future livelihoods.” Close to 82pc of these households had resisted evictions, according to the study.

“Responses of the households reveal that in one way or another [they] made resistance to land expropriation practices of the government,” said the study. “The remaining 18pc have either not resisted or are not interested to reflect their actions.”

Farming is the only skill these farmers have, and land the only thing they have got from their forefathers. The farmer in Legetafo believes he would have nowhere to go if evicted, and no other way to sustain or leave an inheritance for his family. The promised development, in his perception, will not help him or his neighbours – a notion reflected by Abera and his two friends, who all have tilled the land for years.

Although there are factories nearby, including a Turkish textile company, MNS, the elderly man claims that the factories do not hire permanent staff from the surrounding areas. A recent study conducted revealed that a 9.9 million square metre plot was allotted to 837 investment projects in three of the six zones of Galan-Legetafo-Legedadi and Burayu – of which 46pc is for manufacturing and industries.

In fact, of the 405 dispossessed farmers in these three areas and surveyed in 2012, 84pc said they were not able to get a job with these industries and businesses, which moved into their areas, despite their interest. And nearly 47pc identified lack of skill and poor education as major barriers to their employment. The same survey found out that 52pc of the respondents is illiterate, while only five per cent have college education.

In Sebeta only, close to 710ha of land was taken away from nearly 550 farmers in the four years beginning in 2006. Half this number were evicted in 2008/09 according to an undergraduate study in 2011. A total of close to 40 million Br was paid to these farmers as a form of compensation averaging close to 73,00 Br per household.  This displaced farmers in Sebeta, another zone with large numbers of manufacturing plants present, are also unable to find employment in them.

“Although high numbers of industries located and operated in the area, they did not absorb local communities by creating employment opportunities,” another survey by Dejene Negussie reported.

In 2011, Dejene completed his postgraduate dissertation on “Rapid Urban Expansion and its Implications on Livelihood of Farming Communities in Peri-Urban Areaa,” for the Addis Abeba University’s College of Development Studies.

“Local people lack the skill and education required by these industries,” Dejene discovered. “Most industries operated in the area [Sebeta] employed human resource from other areas and most of them come from Addis Abeba.”

But not everyone in these areas is against the Master Plan and its desire to integrate them. Although many in this category are landless and mainly engaged in trading, one of Lemma’s sons, Tefera, who has completed Grade 12, wants to see the programme implemented. Unemployed, he is hopeful that the Plan comes with better infrastructural development and an improved administrative system.

Others residents who do not depend on farming expressed similar views. A trader in the town of Legetafo, who requested anonymity, believes the Master Plan has its own merit. He sees a solution for what he said is the highly developed corruption and maladministration.

“To get any service, we have to pay [bribes],” he told Fortune.

The dissatisfaction equally shared both by those who support and oppose the Master Plan is occurring in a context where frustrations due to unemployment, maladministration, corruption, as well as inadequate infrastructure are being experienced.

“Compared to other regional states such as Amhara and Tigray, maladministration is the worst in Oromia,” claimed an Ethics & Civics Education Teacher working at a high school. But he sees pressing anxiety due to fear of loss of land.

Others expressed similar views.

“I’ have customers who are mostly young unemployed university graduates,” an owner of a pool parlor told Fortune. “Finding themselves in such a life cycle is a frustration for them. In the midst of all this, the Master Plan came and threatened their only hope of inheriting land from their parents.”

For a man who owns a small and micro enterprise near Gefersa, “it is these students who are reflecting the concerns, so far.”

“We’ve not yet raised ours,” he told Fortune.

He has recently acquired a 100sqm plot, nearby Lake Gefersa, from a farmer for 100,000 Br. It has become a common practice for people to migrate from the capital in search of lower prices for plots, to build their residences and business outlets. The push from the capital and the demand for plots has created an army of brokers who go around the farming communities with sales pitches that it is a matter of time before the farmers are evicted forcefully in the process of the integration programme, for compensation which averages 15 Br a square metre. Farmers would rather transfer land on their free will to an individual for higher prices, brokers say.

Way before the words Master Plan surfaced in these communities, 200sqm of farmland with no physical assets on it would have gone for a price of 70,000 Br; this has now plummeted to 40,000 Br, according to a broker who has been in the business of deals with plots in Burayu, with his three partners.

The brokers saw some of the farmers spend the money they get from transfers of land user rights in buying tricycle motors a.k.a. Bajajes, while others paid for the construction of houses for their children. There are also those who spend a significant portion of the proceeds on consumption goods and end up working as security personnel in factories around Tatek, an area in Burayu, 15Km west of Addis Abeba, with 150,000 residents.

An army training ground during the military regime, Tatek is a lush field now, dedicated to the Burayu Special Industry Zone, a.k.a. Desta Sefer. It is mainly occupied by solar panel factories and transformer assembly plants owned by Metal Engineering Corporation (MetEC), and some private ones.

Many of his and partners’ customers come from Merkato, such as one who had paid 135,000 Br for a 160sqm plot located in Kela, a small rural kebele in Gefersa area. The broker and his partners have each earned 4,000 Br from this deal.

“It’s enough to meet our basic needs,” he told Fortune. “But, it’s those who work in the land administration offices or bureaus who get more.”

Source: http://addisfortune.net/columns/informed-by-history-fear-of-dispossession-fuels-unrest/

Ethiopia: Lethal Force Against Protesters Military Deployment, Terrorism Rhetoric Risk Escalating Violence

(Nairobi, DECEMBER 18, 2015) – Ethiopian security forces have killed dozens of protesters since November 12, 2015, in Oromia regional state, according to reports from the region. The security forces should stop using excessive lethal force against protesters.

Protesters in Oromia region, Ethiopia.

Protesters in Oromia region, Ethiopia, December 2015.

 

Police and military forces have fired on demonstrations, killing at least 75 protesters and wounding many others, according to activists. Government officials have acknowledged only five deaths and said that an undisclosed number of security force members have also been killed. On December 15, the government announced that protesters had a “direct connection with forces that have taken missions from foreign terrorist groups” and that Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Task Force will lead the response.

“The Ethiopian government’s response to the Oromia protests has resulted in scores dead and a rapidly rising risk of greater bloodshed,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s labelling of largely peaceful protesters as ‘terrorists’ and deploying military forces is a very dangerous escalation of this volatile situation.”

Protests by students began in Ginchi, a small town 80 kilometers southwest of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, when authorities sought to clear a forest for an investment project. Protests quickly spread throughout the Oromia region, home of Ethiopia’s estimated 35 million Oromo, the country’s largest ethnic group.

They evolved into larger demonstrations against the proposed expansion of the Addis Ababa municipal boundary, known as the “Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan.” Approximately 2 million people live in the area of the proposed boundary expansion and many protesters fear the plan could displace Oromo farmers and residents living near the city.

Since mid-November, the protesting students have been joined by farmers and other residents. Human Rights Watch received credible reports that security forces shot dozens of protesters in Shewa and Wollega zones, west of Addis Ababa, in early December. Several people described seeing security forces in the town of Walliso, 100 kilometers southwest of Addis Ababa, shoot into crowds of protesters in December, leaving bodies lying in the street.

Numerous witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces beat and arrested protesters, often directly from their homes at night. Others described several locations as “very tense” with heavy military presence and “many, many arrests.” One student who took part in protests in West Shewa said, “I don’t know where any of my friends are. They have disappeared after the protest. Their families say they were taken by the police.”

Local residents in several areas told Human Rights Watch that protesters took over some local government buildings after government officials abandoned them. Protesters have also set up roadblocks to prevent the movement of military units into communities. Some foreign-owned commercial farms were looted and destroyed near Debre Zeit, 50 kilometers southeast of Addis Ababa, news media reported.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to corroborate the precise death toll and many of the details of individual incidents because of limited independent access and restricted communications with affected areas. There have also been unconfirmed reports of arrests of health workers, teachers, and others who have publicly shown support for the protest movement through photos and messages on social media.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that security forces shall as far as possible apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, the authorities should use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Lethal force may only be used when strictly unavoidable to protect life.

The Ethiopian government should respect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Human Rights Watch said. While police have the responsibility to maintain order during protests, they should only use force when strictly necessary and in a proportionate manner.

Ethiopia’s government regularly accuses people who express even mild criticism of government policy of association with terrorism. Dozens of journalists, bloggers, protesters, and activists have been prosecuted under the country’s draconian 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.

On December 16, 2015, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said that the government “will take merciless legitimate action against any force bent on destabilizing the area.” The same day, Getachew Reda, the government communication affairs office minister, said that “an organized and armed terrorist force aiming to create havoc and chaos have begun murdering model farmers, public leaders and other ethnic groups residing in the region.” While there have been some recent reports of violence by protesters, according to information obtained by Human Rights Watch, the protests have overwhelmingly been peaceful.

Ethiopia’s pervasive restrictions on independent civil society and media mean that very little information is coming from affected areas although social media are filled with photos and videos of the protests. Authorities have cut mobile phone coverage in some of the key areas, particularly areas where there is significant military deployment, raising concerns over the potential crackdown. In communities where there is mobile phone coverage, witnesses reported repeated gunfire and a heavy military presence.

The authorities’ response to past protests in Oromia raises serious concerns for the safety of protesters and others arrested, Human Rights Watch said. In Oromia in April and May 2014, security forces used live ammunition against largely peaceful student protesters, killing several dozen people, and arrested hundreds more. Some of those arrested are still detained without charge. Former detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were tortured and otherwise ill-treated in detention. On December 2, 2015, five Oromo students were convicted under the counterterrorism law for their role in the protest movement. There has been no government investigation into the use of excessive force and live ammunition during the 2014 protests.

While both the 2014 and current protests are ostensibly responding to the Addis Ababa expansion plan, they also derive from deeper grievances, Human Rights Watch said. Many Oromos have historically felt marginalized and discriminated against by successive Ethiopian governments, and Oromos are often arbitrarily arrested and accused of belonging to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which waged armed struggle in the past and which the government designates a terrorist organization.

Under the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, in cases of death or serious injury, appropriate agencies are to conduct a review and a detailed report is to be sent promptly to the competent administrative or prosecutorial authorities. The government should ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense. Superior officers should be held responsible if they knew or should have known that personnel under their command resorted to the unlawful use of force and firearms but did not take all measures in their power to prevent, suppress, or report such use.

The Ethiopian government should support prompt, independent investigations into the events in Oromia region, including by UN and African Union (AU) human rights experts on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Governments and intergovernmental organizations, including the AU, should raise concerns about the excessive use of force against protesters and call on Ethiopia to respect fundamental human rights in its response to the protests, Human Rights Watch said.

“Ethiopia’s security forces seem to have learned nothing from last year’s protests, and, instead of trying to address the grievances that are catalyzing the protests, are shooting down more protesters,” Lefkow said. “Concerned governments and institutions should call on Ethiopia to halt its excessive use of force and stop this spiral into further violence.”

Source: https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/18/ethiopia-lethal-force-against-protesters