Ethiopia Forcefully Evicting Omo Tribes for Sugar Plantations
Nairobi, 16 May 2012 - On the ground reports have exposed a secret operation by Ethiopian forces to force the Suri, Bodi and Mursi tribes out of their ancestral land to pave way for sugarcane plantations.
In Suri, the government has cleared all the grass and trees to allow Malaysian investors to establish plantations. Water has also been diverted from the mainstay Koka River to these plantations leaving the largely pastoral Suri without water for their cattle. The Zonal and regional governments cannot interfere with the plantations as they say the investors were sent by the Prime Minister.
The Suri have been fighting the plantations the only way they know. When the investors came and planted maize to prepare the soil, the Suri brought in their cattle to eat the maize. The investors in turn dug a moat around the plantations but the Suri build makeshift wooden bridges, harvested the maize and carted them to their grain stores.
The Malaysian investors paid taxes to the Dizi Woreda and now the Dizi people support the plantations and have been helping them expand the plantations. As one Suri villager, Tenomeri Ulikiwo, said in an interview, “On 11 February 2012, they came with a GPS and marked trees, rocks and cooking stones telling Suri to vacate these lands”. Following this violation of their rights, the Suri took arms and engaged the government forces. The government killed 54 unarmed Suri in the market place at Maji in retaliation. It is estimated that between 57 and 65 people died in the massacre and from injuries sustained on that day. Five more Suri have been killed since then.
The government is also trying to starve the Suri out of their land by preventing them from planting in order to force them into the resettlement sites. On 29 April 2012, the government sent soldiers to the Suri farms and blocked them from entering. Arsonists suspected to be plantation workers also burned down three houses and the money, gold and grain stores in them.
Suri people are being arrested randomly and sentenced to 18, 20 and 25 years in prison for obscure crimes. “Two Suri were imprisoned, their hands were tied with ropes and their feet chained,” said Ulikiwo, “some were killed and those who remained chained were tied up tightly for so long their hands barely work,” he adds. When the pro-plantation Dizi were fighting the Suri, the soldiers let the Dizi into the cells to severely beat the Suri. Family members were not allowed to visit the prisoners.
An estimated 1000 – 2000 strong contingent of police and army personnel has been deployed in the Suri area. Although these forces haven’t done anything yet, the Suri are very scared. “They brought big guns mounted on the backs of trucks,” said Ulikiwo.
Elsehwere in Hana, Selamago Woreda and South Omo Zone, the government is planning to move the Bodi people into a resettlement area. Most people are afraid of going to this site and only about 300 people have registered for resettlement. As media reports of the government’s brutal scheme continue to spread, the government’s anger is mounting demanding to know the reporters. But these media reports have also helped the communities as the government seems to have employed and uneasy halt to their brutish evictions. Before media exposes, the government would call meetings and bring heavily armed personnel to threaten the communities.
The atrocities meted on the Bodi have now taken a different turn. Recently the government started building a bridge in the Bench-Maji area across the Omo River. They blocked the river to do so and to divert water into plantation irrigation canals they are building. One of the canals extends for 8km east of the Omo River and is meant to supply the sugarcane plantations. The flow of the Omo has been reduced to a trickle and many fish and hippos have died. The temporary earthen dam filled up and the overflow flooded many Kwegu and Bodi farms destroying their crop.
The government’s resettlement scheme is ridiculously allocating 0.5 hectares of land per family. Some Bodi communities who have been the primary focus in this phase, have been scared enough to start moving into the resettlement lands. The next target will be the Mursi.
Even as the government terrorizes its citizens, excessive loss of wildlife is also being witnessed in these areas. “The soldiers have good meat every day since they shoot buffalo in the plantation areas,” said Bimarma Lornbui, a member of the Selamago Woreda community. The Ethiopian government continues to ignore all complaints and the communities are now dejected. “The government is not helping the communities or the wildlife, they are only interested in the investment,” concludes Lornbui.
Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT) is a community trust interested in the survival and conservation of Lake Turkana, its ecosystem and its cultural diversity.
Read more about the impact of Ethiopia's plantations HERE