Ethiopia’s “Villagization” Program Overtakes Private Land, Violates Indigenous Rights

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

In the southwestern region of Ethiopia known as Gambella, the government is overtaking private land and leasing it to outside investors under a program known as “villagization.”  In April 2012, citizens in the Gambella region who oppose the government’s resettlement program attacked a commercial farm owned by Saudi Star Agricultural Development (SSAD).

In the April attack, unidentified armed men killed at least one Pakistani and four Ethiopian employees.  One of the gunmen who attacked the SSAD commercial farm said, “The April attack was in retaliation for the land leasing … (to) foreign investors.”  A day after the shooting, Ethiopian soldiers entered the same company and shot and killed four guards, “accusing them of complicity in the attack.” Ethiopian soldiers also entered at least five nearby villages, “arbitrarily arresting and beating young men and raping female relatives of suspects.” according to reports.

Many of those forcibly displaced by the villagization program are indigenous people. Under Ethiopian and international law the Ethiopian government is supposed to obtain free, informed, and prior consent of indigenous people it wishes to move and compensate them for their loss of assets and land.

The Ethiopian government has promised improvements – a clinic, schools for children and clean water delivery to residents that agree to sell their land. However, when residents decline to do so, the military comes with force.  Some Gambella residents have fled to South Sudan, telling officials from Human Rights Watch (HRW) that their resettlement was involuntary. HRW’s January 2012 report “Waiting Here for Death” tells it all.



Cassandra Herrman, “Ethiopian reprisal attacks serve as cautionary tale for global land investors,” September 7, 2012, Center for Investigative Reporting,


Cassandra Herrman, “Update: Shooting at Ethiopian plantation,” May 10, 2012, Center for Investigative Reporting,


Human Rights Watch, “Ethiopia: Army Commits Torture, Rape,” August 28, 2012,


Ismail, “Ethiopia’s resettlement plan falls short on development,” Ethio Somali Democratic Council, April 4, 2012,


Human Rights Watch, “Waiting Here for Death,” January 17, 2012,


Student Researcher:  Abrina Carlos (College of Marin)


Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)