Resettlement drive presses on through scathing criticism
Despite a barrage of criticism aimed at its controversial ``resettlement'' program, the Ethiopian government plans to continue moving thousands of people from eroded northern highlands to the more fertile southwest. The government's ``resettlement'' and ``villagization'' programs are moving farmers from scattered rural huts into more accessible - and regimented - sites throughout the country.Skip to next paragraph
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In recent weeks, the Ethiopian Herald, the mouthpiece of the Addis Ababa government, has been praising the programs as ways to ``free the country from the stranglehold of poverty and backwardness'' and ``make the peasant masses productive pillars of society.''
300,000 to be resettled
The comments accompanied announcement by the government of Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam that it would resume the resettlement program that during the last two years stirred controversy among relief agencies and Western government officials. Ethiopia plans to move between 200,000 and 300,000 people from the north to existing resettlement sites this year. Still smarting from scathing criticism they received in the Western media when they moved 600,000 people during the 1983-85 famine, government officials insist that this time they won't make the same mistakes.
The French relief agency M'edicins sans Fronti`eres (Doctors Without Borders or MSF) charges that those mistakes include forcing people at gunpoint into lorries and planes heading south; many were too weakened by hunger and illness to finish the trip alive. MSF charges that over 100,000 people died or were killed outright, though relief workers in Ethiopia who were there at the time say that this figure is much too high.
Whatever the figure, the fact is that thousands of people died needlessly because of what the Ethiopian Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) calls actions of ``overzealous local officials.'' Those officials, RRC sources say, used force to meet assigned quotas and win favor with the ruling party. They are now under strict orders to only move people who want to go. This puts the RRC in the tough position of having to drum up 200,000 or more volunteer resettlers before the planting season begins next month.
This is doubly difficult now, since last year's harvests in the north were relatively good. Many farmers there say that they won't even consider moving unless another famine hits.
Not whether, but how
Despite Western criticisms, almost everyone in Addis Ababa - from Western aid workers and diplomats to Ethiopian civil servants - says resettlement can be an effective step in a larger program to rehabilitate the ravaged highlands. It's not a question of whether it should be done, but of how.
For future resettlement to be effective, they say, it must be done voluntarily, with proper social and agricultural services and farming equipment in place before people move. To that end, the Ethiopian government reportedly plans to earmark $1.2 billion to be spent over the next five years to make resettlement sites self-sufficient and livable.