Ethiopia: human rights groups criticise UK-funded development programme

Date of publication: 
20 January 2015

Leaked World Bank report rejects claims from the Bank’s management that no link existed between their programme and villagisation

A major UK- and World Bank-funded development programme in Ethiopia may have contributed to the violent resettlement of a minority ethnic group, a leaked report reveals.

The UK’s Department for International Development was the primary funder of a World Bank-run development project aimed at improving health, education and public services in Ethiopia, contributing more than £388m of UK taxpayer funds to the project.

However, a scathing draft report of the World Bank’s internal watchdog said that due to inadequate oversight, bad audit practices, and a failure to follow its own rules, the Bank has allowed operational links to form between its programme and the Ethiopian government’s controversial resettlement programme.

Multiple human rights groups operating in the region have criticised the Ethiopian government’s programme for violently driving tens of thousands of indigenous people, predominantly from the minority Anuak Christian ethnic group, from their homes in order to make way for commercial agriculture projects – allegations the Ethiopian government denies.

Many of those resettled remain in poor conditions lacking even basic facilities in refugee camps in South Sudan.

The leaked World Bank report, obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and seen by the Guardian, rejected claims from the Bank’s management that no link existed between their programme and villagisation.

According to the report, weak audit controls meant bank funds – which included over £300m from the UK’s Department for International Development – could have been diverted to implement villagisation.

The report did not itself examine whether the resettlement programme had involved human rights abuses, saying such questions were outside its remit.

However, the watchdog highlighted a series of failures in the planning and implementation of the programme, including a major oversight in its failure to undertake full risk-assessments as required by bank protocol. Crucially for the Anuak people, the bank did not apply required safeguards to protect indigenous groups.

Anuradha Mittal, the founder of the Oakland Institute, a California-based development NGO which is active in the region, said DfID was an active participant in the programme, and should share responsibility for its failings.

“Along with the World Bank and other donors, DfID support constitutes not only financial support but a nod of approval for the Ethiopian regime to bring about ‘economic development’ for the few at the expense of basic human rights and livelihoods of its economically and politically most marginalised ethnic groups,” she said.

Mittal was also critical of the World Bank panel’s draft findings, falling short of directly implicating the World Bank and its fellow donors in the resettlement programme.

“It is quite stunning that the panel does not think that the World Bank is responsible for villagisation-related widespread abuses in Ethiopia resulting in destruction of livelihoods, forced displacement of Anuaks from their fertile lands and forests.”

Disclosure of the draft report’s findings come as the UK government faces increasing scrutiny over its involvement in villagisation.

DfID is the project’s largest donor and in March ministers will face a judicial review over whether the UK’s contributions indirectly funded the resettlement programme. The case has been brought by a farmer from the Gambela region who claims he was violently evicted from his land.

Responding to the report’s findings, David Pred of Inclusive Development International – the NGO which filed the original complaint on the Anuak group’s behalf – said: “The Bank has enabled the forcible transfer of tens of thousands of indigenous people from their ancestral lands.

“The Bank today just doesn’t want to see human rights violations, much less accept that it bears some responsibility when it finances those violations.”

A World Bank spokesman declined to answer the Guardian’s questions about the report.

“As is standard procedure, World Bank staff cannot comment on the results of the inspection panel’s investigation until the executive board of the World Bank Group has had the opportunity to review the panel’s report over the coming weeks.”

In previous statements the bank’s management said there was no evidence of widespread abuses or evictions.

Asked about the findings, a DfID spokesman said: “We do not comment on leaked reports.

“Britain’s support to the Promotion of Basic Services Programme is specifically for the provision of essential services like healthcare, schooling and clean water, and we have no evidence that UK funds have been diverted for other purposes.”


Our Ref: AC/001/WB 002/15
Date: 30th January 2015
Dr. Jim Yong Kim
President, World Bank
1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433 USA

By email

Dear Mr. President,

We, the Anuak Community leaders are hereby addressing this letter to the World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim in Washington DC on behalf of the Requesters, Anuak refugees and asylum seekers based in Kenya (Dadaab, Kakuma and Nairobi) and South Sudan (Gorom) who submitted a complaint to the World Bank Inspection Panel in September 2012. We have written to you twice before but we have never received a response. This is our final appeal and we pray that this time our voice will be heard.

We were forced to flee our homeland in Gambella, Ethiopia because we dared to oppose the government’s forced relocation program, known as “villagization”. We Anuaks never consented to give up our ancestral lands, which is the source of our life and our identity. We only moved out of fear. When local farmers did not agree to relocate, at night soldiers came and raped the women and beat the men. Those teachers, agriculture workers and other civil servants who refused to implement this program, including many of us, were targeted with arrest and torture. This is why we are living as refugees in neighboring countries today.
Without the billions of dollars provided by the World Bank and other donors through the Protection of Basic Services (PBS) project, the Ethiopian government
would never have had the capacity to relocate so many people and grab our ancestral land. That is why we filed our complaint to the Inspection Panel and why we begged you at that time to delay the next phase of the project until you could ensure that it would not be used to displace and kill our people.

Now we have been informed about the findings of the Inspection Panel. We know that the investigation found that the World Bank does not track how PBS funds are used on the ground. If the World Bank cannot guarantee that its money will not be used to abuse people, then it should not provide money in this way to the Ethiopian government.

We know that the investigation found that PBS did not follow the World Bank Policy on Indigenous Peoples. We indigenous people have a right to decide about any development projects that affect us and especially our land. We have a right to be consulted and a right to reject any development that we don’t want. For the past 118 years that we have been living under the control of the central government of Ethiopia, we have never been consulted about any development
project or policy that affects our people. Nobody ever informed us that the World Bank was supporting basic services in Gambella or asked for our opinion about
the services we want and where and how we want them delivered. Instead we were forced to give up our fertile land and move to dry, forested areas in order to access these services funded by the World Bank. And when we moved with the promise of getting better services, we found that it was all a lie. At the new locations, there were no services and the land we were given could hardly grow food. When the World Bank saw this happening, it should have stopped PBS until the government stopped villagization. If you did that, maybe we would not be refugees today. But since the World Bank continued to fund PBS 3 after two years of villagization, and after we pleaded with you to stop, the Bank has a responsibility to help us recover what we have lost.

We want our people in Gambella region displaced by villagization programme, to return to their ancestral land without fear of retribution. We want support to restart their farms, with modern technology like farmers have in other parts of Ethiopia. We want them to grow food on their land for local consumption, rather than working like slaves on big farms owned by foreigners growing crops to export to other countries. We want grinding mills and wells that work in their villages and good roads that go to clinics and markets and not to gold mines. We want a university and a hospital in Gambella region with quality services for indigenous
people. We want our people to be consulted and to have ownership of our development.

In the refugee camps where we live in Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda, we are facing insecurity and dire living conditions but we cannot return home or our lives will be in danger. Women are dying from caesarian sections and minor surgeries because of the poor quality of health care. Newcomers are not accepted by
UNCHR and so we must share our food rations with them so they don’t starve. After primary school, our youth have nothing to do but sit idle or become addicted
o drugs. It is so painful to see our children growing up in a foreign land with no future. We need support to develop our livelihoods and our youth need opportunities to go to secondary school and university.

We are very encouraged by the bold agenda you have set for the World Bank and the international community to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity. We strongly support your call for equitable and inclusive development in fragile and conflict-affected states. We were especially moved by your statement, published last year in the Washington Post, that “the fight to eliminate all institutional discrimination is an urgent task.”

We are victims of a government that systematically discriminates against indigenous people with dark skin. Because of this discrimination, we have gone from food security to extreme poverty – living on food aid as refugees. All we are asking is that you live up to your high words and ensure that your institution lives up to its good policies.

Thank you for your listening to us and may the Almighty God bless the work of your hands.

High regards, on behalf of the Anuak Requesters to the World Bank Inspection Panel,

Churo Abella Olok
Anuak Community Chairperson, Dadaab Refugee Camps, Kenya

Odola Obang
Chairman of Gambella Refugee Anuak Community in Gorom Refugee Camp, Juba, South Sudan