• Indigenous peoples in Ethiopia

    Indigenous peoples in Ethiopia

    Ethiopia is home to a great diversity of peoples speaking more than 80 languages. Still, Ethiopia has no legislation that protects or address the rights of indigenous peoples.
  • Diversity

    80 languages are spoken in Ethiopia
  • Rights

    No national laws protect indigenous peoples
  • Climate

    500,000 indigenous people in the Omo valley threatened by water insecurity


Ethiopia does not have national legislation that protects indigenous peoples. Ethiopia has not ratified ILO Convention 169, nor was it present during the vote on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.

The obligations of Ethiopia under the international human rights mechanisms that have been ratified, p. the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination - remains unfulfilled.

The Indigenous Peoples of Ethiopia make up a significant pro- portion of the country’s estimated population of 110 million. Around 15% are pastoralists and sedentary farmers who live across the country but particularly in the Ethiopian lowlands, which constitute some 61% of the country’s total landmass. There are also several hunter-gatherer communities, including the forest-dwelling Majang (Majengir) and Anuak peoples, who live in the Gambella region.

In Ethiopia, more than 80 languages are spoken, and the greatest diversity is found in the southwest. Two-thirds of the population speak Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya and Somali.

Main challenges for Indigenous Peoples in Ethiopia

The pastoralists of Ethiopia live on lands that, in recent years, have become the subject of great demand from foreign investors. It is believed that Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa, a large part of which is concentrated in pastoralist communities that live on land that, in recent years, has become the subject of high demand from foreign investors (land grabbing). This land grab, a government policy that leases vast fertile land to foreign and national companies, continues to negatively affect indigenous peoples.

The government considers that its land investment policy is important to maximize the usefulness of the land through the development of "underutilized" lands in the lowlands. However, the selected lands are the source of sustenance for some 15 million indigenous peoples: pastoralists, small farmers and hunter-gatherers, whose customary rights over land are constantly violated.

Ethiopian village policy, a policy for the resettlement of people in designated villages, has also forced indigenous peoples to relocate. Although villagization is designed to provide "access to basic socio-economic infrastructure" to people who relocate, the resources provided by the government have proved insufficient to sustain people in the new villages. The access of indigenous peoples to medical care, as well as to primary and secondary education, remains inadequate.

Indigenous peoples in the Gambela regions and the lower Omo valley have been affected by the policy of foreign investment and land lease and the government's village program.

Conflict in Gambella

Since the mid-1990s, the Gambella region in Ethiopia witnessed factional fighting and inter-communal violence between the Anuak and the Nuer, mainly for resources and for socio-cultural reasons.

The increase in ethnic tensions between the Anuak and the Nuer is fueled by the porous border between South Sudan and Ethiopia. Gambella already shelters some 330,211 refugees from South Sudan, due to the ongoing conflict in the country, which continues to displace people inside the country and forcing them to enter neighbouring countries. Ethiopia is currently the second largest refugee receiving country in South Sudan, the vast majority of which have found refuge in Gambella.

Along with the increase in the Nuer population, tensions and violence have intensified with the Anuak communities over traditional land claims and access to jobs. Land use rights in Gambella remain controversial.

Ethiopia: The government suspends land allocations

Reports have shown that investors have not been utilizing land allocated to them by the Ethiopian government appropriately. The Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture will therefore need to re-evaluate the current status of land in the possession of investors before allocating further land for investors.

Continue Reading

Land grabbing in Ethiopia

It's the deal of the century: £150 a week to lease more than 2,500 sq km (1,000 sq miles) of virgin, fertile land – an area the size of Dorset – for 50 years. Bangalore-based food company Karuturi Global says it had not even seen the land when it was offered by the Ethiopian government with tax breaks thrown in. Karuturi snapped it up, and next year the company, one of the world's top 25 agri-businesses, will export palm oil, sugar, rice and other foods from Gambella province – a remote region near the Sudan border – to world markets.

Ethiopia: New report on forced villagization of indigenous peoples

The report "Waiting Here for Death” was released on January 16, 2012, according to Human Rights Watch press release. The report examines the first year of Gambella’s villagization program. It details the involuntary nature of the transfers, the loss of livelihoods, the deteriorating food situation, and ongoing abuses by the armed forces against the affected people. Many of the areas from which people are being moved are slated for leasing by the government for commercial agricultural development.

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

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