By Geletaw Zeleke
Forceful displacement and eviction of people from their homes is one of the worst crimes on Earth today. Evicting indigenous tribes from their homes is not an independent action but carries with it a number of crimes and complications. In terrible times of war or in such occurrences called land and water grabbing people are forcefully and purposefully evicted from their homes.
The effect of such crimes of displacement can be felt when we place ourselves in the shoes of the Lower Omo Valley area tribes and the Gambella Agnuake tribe of Ethiopia. Long forgotten and far from being modernized some of the tribes in Lower Omo and the Great Rift Valley areas are still nomads. These tribes have little knowledge of the external world. They are highly bound to their homes and the land they use for their survival. We can imagine that for members of these tribes sudden displacement and ultimate eviction would bring terrible stress and equal the end of the world as they know it. Their hopes and views of the world are shattered in one instance while separated from the homes they’ve known and the integral lives where they’ve grown up and raised their children.
The Ethiopian government is always saying that it is “villagizing” these tribes. Nobody claims to hate the idea of villagization but why does the Ethiopian government put the cart before the horse. Tribes must learn about coming changes and be convinced of their merits ahead of time. They should also be approached through their own cultural traditions to best communication and a smooth transition for tribe members.
We fault the former Derg Regime’s villagization because it was forceful. We need to learn from our past. The current Ethiopian government, however, is repeating the same mistakes. What is worse, new villagization and forceful eviction has even lesser motives than in the past. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced from the lower Omo Valley area due to land and water grabbing. Tribes have been displaced from their homes and their land given to foreign or domestic groups loyal to the ruling party government in the name of development by way of sugar and palm oil plantations.
The current government is using land grabbing as a political instrument to maintain its power by manipulating external forces. Land grabbers lobby for the Ethiopian government in the name of a developmental state and fast economic growth while land and water grabbing practices coupled with ethnic politics play a negative geopolitical role for Ethiopia and the horn of Africa at large. The practice of land grabbing has to be eliminated through the struggles of the people and the international democratic community.
I would like to thank one international business organization which I am convinced has recognized the current situation of Ethiopia and has shown great compassion for oppressed people in Ethiopia. On behalf of those evicted and displaced, the tribes which have no voice and those who cannot read or write in the Lower Omo Valley areas, I wish to convey my deepest appreciation and gratitude to the Swedish based H&M Company.
H&M Company recently expressed the following comments in Ecotextile News magazine.
“H&M does not accept land grabbing. It is a violation of human rights and in conflict with United Nations principles as well as our own human rights policy. Due to this, we have required our suppliers to ensure that our products do not consist of cotton from the Ethiopian region Omo Valley, where there is an increased risk of agricultural land having been subjected to land grabbing. We have had a close dialogue with our suppliers in Ethiopia and all our suppliers have signed a written commitment to not use any cotton from Omo Valley. We are continuously monitoring the orders to ensure that these commitments are fulfilled.”
H&M’s decision will be meaningful to Ethiopians and human rights activists around the world. I am disappointed that our products are not going to be used since I want all of my country to participate in world markets. However, the decision of H&M to reject land and water grabbing will serve the Ethiopian people especially those of the Lower Omo Valley tribes. In my opinion the company teaches the following lessons for global trade relations.
- The firm stance of H&M shows how the company is committed to implementing United Nations human rights conventions and how it respects advice and recommendations of human rights groups. This action distinguishes the company as a responsible international company.
- The decision of H&M challenges those profit oriented companies who have weak or absent human rights and social responsibility laws. The challenge can move the mentality of business organizations around the world. An especially good lesson for companies involved in land grabbing activities.
- H&M shows how much it cares about its customers, its staff members and its moral values world round. The decision puts H&M Company and its customers around the world in a class of higher moral value.
- Smart leaders at H&M are teaching the world by conducting business while respecting human rights and universal values. Stable and profitable trade can be realized through and under universal human rights laws. Renewed Omo Valley tribes will start work with H&M having enormous respect and fortified trust. Placing human rights issues side by side makes international trade profitable.
- Money that the Ethiopian government receives from this company will be lost and this is a contribution to Ethiopian people struggling to change ethnic based government. The Ethiopian government uses the money it earns from corrupt practices to oppress its own people. I am sure Omo Valley people would thank H&M Company for its respect for their rights.
As a citizen of Ethiopia I would like to thank H&M and Swedish human rights activists supporting Ethiopians during this tough time in history. In recent months we have learned that Ethiopian high ranking officials are being investigated in Swedish courts. Swedish justice overflows and reaches those nations who have lost independent courts in their own country. May God bless and wipe the tears of those in the Great Valley of the Lower Omo region and the Anguak tribe of the Gambella region.
May God Bless Sweden and Ethiopia.