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Humanity before Ethnicity

Mr. Obang Metho addresses Ethiopian women on the second annual International Conference of Ethiopian Women in the Diaspora in Washington, DC
“Land Grabs, Displacement, Urban Evictions and Other Forms of Government-Sponsored Poverty Creation in Ethiopia and its Affect on Women”

Sponsored by the Center for the Rights of Ethiopian Women

March 23 - 24, 2013


I am honored to be invited to this very important conference on “Ending Violence Against Ethiopian Women.” I would like to give my deepest thanks to the Center for the Rights of Ethiopian Women, the sponsors of the Second International Conference of Ethiopian Women in the Diaspora. I was invited to participate last year, but due to scheduling conflicts, I was unable to come. Despite much going on again this year, at the last moment, happily, I was able to make the arrangements to be with you. Initially, I was only going to attend to give my support to Ethiopian women, but now I have been invited to speak as well. You have no idea how meaningful it is to me to be part of this dialogue.

The role of Ethiopian women in building a New Ethiopia is so important that I believe we will never achieve our goal without the involvement of the women of our nation, many of whom are our wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, colleagues and community members. 

If we think of our struggle as a huge puzzle of many pieces that must be put together, Ethiopian women make up a huge section of the still missing pieces. Our Ethiopian women make up one of the largest sub-groups in the country, around 50% of our population. They share many common values, aspirations, challenges and obstacles; however, they also are representative of our rich and diverse Ethiopian culture.  

For example, some of our Ethiopian women may come from some of the larger or more powerful ethnic groups, like the Oromo, the Amhara, the Somali, the Tigrayan or the Gurage. Others may come from some of those ethnic groups you hardly know, like the Konta, the Dirashe, the Irob, the Murle or the Bodi. They may be Muslim, Ethiopian Orthodox, Evangelical Christian, Ethiopian Jew, animists or non-believers, but they all are women. They may come from the rural regions, marginalized settings, urban areas or from the Diaspora. They may be highly educated or illiterate, young or old, rich or poor. They may speak several languages or only their tribal language, but they are all Ethiopian women and they are us! 

Our topic today is about Ethiopian women, all women, regardless of differences. I would suggest that nearly all of them want a better Ethiopia for their children and grandchildren; however, as of today, the moral backbone of our society is broken and in many situations, it is our women who are carrying a heavy burden as they struggle to care for their children and families. 

At the same time, rather than receiving the honor, value, respect and equal opportunity they deserve; in a violent-prone society like ours, our women have become among the most vulnerable to all forms of physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, violence and closed doors to opportunity. Access to rights, an education and a voice in our social and political affairs is often denied more to women based on their gender than based on any other distinctions.

Yet, if we are to bring meaningful change and healing to our wounded and dysfunctional society, we must be open to the voices of Ethiopian women. From a distance, people will call them “women” in general, but if you get up close, they could be our mothers who carried us nine months and then fed and nurtured us through our childhoods, helping to make us who we are or they could be our wives who will pass on our descendents. They might be our sisters who are carrying for our elderly parents or our grandmothers, still helping to care for their grandchildren. These are the heroines in our life, but among them are also the potential heroines of tomorrow. How are they being affected by what is happening in Ethiopia?

The theme given to me to speak about today was the impact of displacement on women due to the millions of Ethiopians being forcibly removed from their homes and land; however, there are at least two sources of displacement: 

  1. The first is from being evicted by regime authorities from one’s home or land.
  2. The second displacement, much broader, is because Ethiopia has become such an unlivable, inhospitable, impoverished and unsafe home for its people that many choose to leave it. Women are highly impacted whether they stay behind or leave.

How has Ethiopia become a land of displacement? In my opinion, it is due to Ethiopian (TPLF/EPRDF) government-sponsored poverty creation, consisting of a multitude of avoidable contributing factors. Many of these are outright TPLF/EPRDF policies, laws or actions and others are related to the lack of security for citizens, high levels of corruption and TPLF/EPRDF domination of all opportunity. Either way, what results is increasing levels of displacement, poverty, desperation, risk-taking for self or family survival, suffering and sometimes death. No longer is life sustainable for great numbers of our people and no group is more impacted than our women, yet, as I will conclude with, no group is in a better position to demand and bring change than this same group! 

TPLF/EPRDF Poverty Creation

The current regime, post-Meles, continues as a dictatorial regime under the tight control of the TPLF/EPRDF. Despite its claims of double-digit economic growth, our people are some of the poorest people on earth. It has received billions of dollars to bring Ethiopians out of poverty, but I contend that the regime’s actions, laws and policies have resulted in POVERTY CREATION with the possible exception of their own region. Remember, abject poverty and the war on terror both bring in donor dollars but sadly, TPLF/EPRDF’s misuse of funds and the dispossession of many of the poorest Ethiopians of the meager means to sustain themselves—through their land—has made life tremendously more difficult, especially for women trying to care for their families.

Regime actions, accompanied by impunity under the law for human rights abuses, property confiscation, punitive taxes for non-party members, disproportionate development to one region, the Charities and Societies Proclamation, the Anti-terrorism laws, urban evictions, and favoritism for education, jobs, health care and government positions based on ethnicity and party membership, are all examples of poverty creation.

The TPLF/EPRDF’s poverty creation policies have created societal upheaval that has resulted in: 1) the internal displacement of huge numbers of our people in the rural areas, 2) increasingly large numbers of political and economic refugees fleeing the country, 3) making it so difficult for mothers to provide for their children that they are giving them away for adoption; while at the same time, the regime and its middlemen are making money at every step of the adoption process, 4) educated Ethiopians are abandoning the country in a huge brain drain because of lack of good jobs, security and opportunity, 5) those who receive scholarships to study abroad fail to return, 6) the exodus of our young women and men as they seek jobs in the Middle East, 7) the manmade cases of homelessness in the urban areas, and 8) to death [sometimes widowhood] from losing those who  succumbed to hunger, human rights abuses, unmet simple health needs and the risks related to fleeing the country. Let us look at some of these impacts separately.

Land Grabs and Forced Evictions: According to recent investigative reports by Human Rights Watch, nearly two million Ethiopians will be displaced. Tens of thousands have already been affected. These are families made up of mothers, fathers, children, elders and relatives. When these people are displaced, most will suffer greatly; their livelihoods will be impacted as they are forcibly moved elsewhere where they will have to find new sources of food, water, shelter, including tillable land, let alone finding schools, health care and other services for their families.

Instead of depending on their own land for their sustenance like their forefathers, they are told they will be provided food aid and services. However, when they reach resettlement villages they often find themselves without either and less able to care for their families. Men have been killed, detained or beaten if they have resisted. Women have been raped, often repeatedly, by security and military forces. Oftentimes, men have had to flee to other countries due to threats to their lives. Women often stay behind with the children and elders trying to fend for their families under great hardship.

Although the large number of land grabs and subsequent evictions of indigenous people from their land have been more widely exposed in the Gambella region, these rural land displacements are widespread throughout Ethiopia, including in the Ogaden, the Afar region, in Southern Nations, recently in Benishangul-Gumuz and in Oromia. This makes it difficult to document the total numbers of those affected by this poverty creation program, but we believe many millions have been displaced. I personally do not know of any cases where the displaced are better off economically than they were before; this includes those who hold the few jobs created by foreign and crony investors.

You may have heard of the World Bank case involving an Anuak family who lost family members to violence inflicted by regime security agents, another family member who disappeared and whose female family members were raped. All remaining in the family fled the country for safety and appealed to the World Bank due to claims that the bank’s aid to the government’s Protection of Basic Needs program, which funded salaries for that program, was misappropriated by the TPLF/EPRDF in their use of these staff members in the forced resettlement of the indigenous people from their land in Gambella. This case is not unique among those displaced. Based on the findings of the bank’s independent appeal board, sufficient evidence has been found to recommend a full investigation into this case.

Examples in the Ogaden region:  In the Ogaden region, reports continue to emerge from this closed off region that a silent genocide—an extreme form of TPLF/EPRDF poverty creation—is being carried out through a block in this food-strapped region that prohibits anyone, including humanitarian organizations, from entering the area. Some of the Ogadenis have taken up arms to resist, but the regime has been carrying out a brutal counter-insurgency assault on the local people since 2007 where civilians are regularly targeted.

Women have become the primary victims of regime-made hunger, starvation and health problems that could have otherwise been corrected. They are vulnerable targets of the regimes human rights abuses as many women have stayed behind to care for children and elders after the men in their families and villages have either joined the insurgency or had to flee from the country for their lives.

More reports have recently emerged regarding cases where women are being gang-raped, their livestock killed and then forcibly displaced by regime-controlled military forces. How will they survive? With few provisions, women are carrying and tending for their children over long distances, only to lose multiple children along the way. Similar situations exist for women in the Afar region, in Oromia, Amhara, Southern Nations and in Benishangul Gumuz.

Spouses of political activists and journalists: When husbands speak up for justice and these men are taken to jail, prison or detention, it is always their wives who are left to care for the families. In other cases, some of our heroic Ethiopian women have spoken out and been imprisoned for it. Then it is often husbands and the grandmothers who are left to care for the families.

Refugees: When young men and young women leave the country, again, it is the mothers, grandmothers and other female relatives who remain behind to care for the young. All of the problems we Ethiopians are facing within the country or outside of it are because we lack freedom, justice, security and prosperity in our homeland. If we had a government which cared about all the people and gave them equal opportunity, we may not be hearing the heartbreaking stories of Ethiopians suffering throughout the world as they seek a better life outside their country that boasts of double-digit economic growth.

Please see this links below to view the sad and shocking details of the numbers New Arrivals in Yemen Comparison 2009-2012 and difficulties being faced by these Ethiopians and others from the Horn of Africa: http://www.solidaritymovement.org/downloads/121221-New-Arrivals-in-Yemen-Comparison-2009-Nov-2012.pdf Those remaining in Ethiopia have a daily struggle to just provide for themselves and their families.

Urban land grabs: Who is counting how many Ethiopians are falling victim to poverty, homelessness and displacement because of the TPLF/EPRDF’s urban land grabs? This is another poverty creation program in the city that is impacting those city-dwellers living on desirable real estate sites sought-after by the regime, regime-cronies or foreign investors. For those with no connections to the TPLF/EPRDF, the home-owners are vulnerable to unreasonable demands by authorities for property improvement as a justification for evicting them from their homes and city lots.

For example, reports have been documented that people were told to evacuate their homes and land unless they built a two-story or more buildings on their sites by a certain arbitrary date. How many Ethiopians can afford this? When residents have failed to meet the government’s demands, they have been evicted from their homes. Many have ended up homeless in the city. Some of these are women—some with children; others are elders. They might try to look for jobs, but jobs are few, even for the educated.

Job seekers in the Middle East: In our culture, it is the role of young people to take increasing responsibility for the well being of their families by trying to find jobs; however, because of a rate of unemployment in Ethiopia that exceeds 60%, many of the young see no opportunity and opt to leave for jobs in other countries.

Despite warnings of hardship and mistreatment, they still go, hoping their case will be different, but they end up risking their lives in order to earn much-needed money to send home. This is why you see so many Ethiopian young women continuing to pay human traffickers to help them flee the country only to face horrible conditions along the way. Many do not make it. These are the hope of the next generation—the children of Ethiopia. The sons and daughters, for whom these families have cared for, end up being tortured, detained, raped or killed.

Please watch the youtube links below for the torture and cruel treatment of Ethiopians in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Saudi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZdU3WJ76t0



We grieve as we hear repeated reports of the young Ethiopian women and men who are so desperate to support their families and to find a future for themselves that they become easy prey for human traffickers, unscrupulous maid recruiters or exploitive employers; often ending up living under such deplorable circumstances in some Middle Eastern countries that they have been driven to take desperate actions; sometimes against others, sometimes against themselves.

As you can see from the map of the Mixed Migration in Horne of Africa and Yemen linked below http://www.solidaritymovement.org/downloads/121221-November-2012-Map.pdf. At great risk of harm, over the last year, tens or hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians have embarked to places unknown only to end up in dire, if not deadly, situations. You can also see the link to learn more about the Regional mixed migration summary for November 2012 covering mixed migration events, trends and data for Djibouti, Eritrea/Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Puntland, Somalia, Somaliland and Yemen. http://www.solidaritymovement.org/downloads/121221-RMMS-Monthly-Summary-November-2012.pdf

Even after hearing the stories from the Middle East of how many Ethiopians have ended up in domestic servitude, frequently being mistreated and both physically and sexually abused or even sexually trafficked, some see it as the only way to get the needed money to send back to impoverished families who might otherwise not survive. Some cannot bear up under it all and have had psychological breakdowns from the mental trauma they are forced to endure; sometimes even killing themselves or others.

Prostitution:  Lack of respect for women, violence in the home, lack of jobs and lack of basic needs for survival have created an environment for the exploitation of women. Some young women who have been displaced, homeless or without any means to support, have become so desperate to find food for themselves or their children that they have resorted to prostitution. They need jobs, education and/or land and property rights.

In conclusion, the TPLF/EPRDF has become the chief antagonist of the people of Ethiopia. The actions, policies and institutions of the TPLF/EPRDF serve their own interests and exclude the people; often emptying the pockets of some of the poorest citizens of the little they have while lining their own. A good government would enable and empower their citizens, but instead, the people of Ethiopia have become impediments to the regime’s development plans, and have been left out of the picture.

Such development has instead served TPLF/EPRDF members, their family members, their cronies and their foreign partners who are willing to turn a blind eye to the injustice of it all. To stop this displacement we must have a government that values its people and one that makes Ethiopia a livable place not only for one ethnic group but for everyone; a government that gives opportunity to all not to just a few.  

The TPLF/ERPDF is known for saying the rights words in public, such a claiming double-digit economic growth but to see the truth of how much is reaching the people, one only needs to look at the on-the-ground evidence of all the Ethiopians who continue to run away from the country looking for a way to survive. The TPLF/EPRDF will talk about unity while inciting ethnic or religious division. This way they can claim they will rule for many years to come because Ethiopians are so divided by tribes that they are incapable of challenging them; however, Meles, the leader who was really driving the ethnic division train, is now dead. This gives us all, including women, an opportunity to reclaim our government—a government by the people and for the people.

We can all prove them wrong if Ethiopians put humanity before tribe or religion in the application of equality and justice. This will only be possible if Ethiopians work for it and embrace an inclusive society. Ethiopians must also demand private land ownership, which is open to all people, including women, rather than only for the elite, foreigners, and government cronies. 

Ethiopian women must start a dialogue; not by focusing on the regime, but instead by focusing on themselves and what the women of this country can do to help. We must build bridges to each other if we are to end the land grabs and displacement of the people from their indigenous land. The same is true if we want to make Ethiopia a livable home again. This cannot be done by a few but requires everybody. It cannot be done “part time,” but instead requires a “full time” or even an “overtime” commitment. 

We must challenge ourselves, including challenging this organization (Center for the Rights of Ethiopian Women). Ethiopian women have to come forward like you have, not only as an organization, but individually and in groups. Last year there was a conference and here is another, but we want results to be effective throughout the year until our goals are met.  Coming to meet at an annual conference must lead to something more or we will not get anywhere.

Ethiopia is still hanging on because of the nurturing mothers who can bring this country back to life. This mothering is desperately needed. You who are hearing this are called to make a difference.

May God help us find “Ethiopian mothers” for our society who can be “peace-makers,” helping to bring reconciliation to “the family of Ethiopia.” Will it be these mothers who can bring the politicians together?  Will it be our Ethiopian women who take a role in easing the mistrust between the Muslims and Christians so they might join together to create a common front to challenge the regime? Will it be you who helps end our ethnic-based hatred and tendency towards authoritarian leaders that have given us serial dictatorships rather than freedom, liberty and justice for us and future generations? Maybe it will be you mothers who will teach people to see the humanity in everybody; just like every mother who does not favor one child over another, but who builds a family to make it stronger and healthier.  Will you do your part in this?

May God help us bring the mothers of Ethiopia out among us to start a dialogue of reconciliation and a process to create a home so welcoming and warm that the exodus out of Ethiopia will stop and our people will even begin to return home to contribute to the building of this New Ethiopia.

May God teach and guide us in making Ethiopia a true home for its people, not only for today, but for the generations to come.


Please do not hesitate to e-mail your comments to Mr. Obang Metho, Executive Director of the SMNE at: Obang@solidaritymovement.org

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