Millions of acres of farm land are being leased to foreign investors for commercial export crops, under a nefarious plan that relocates indigenous villagers into "bantustans" lacking adequate food, farmland, healthcare or schools.
The lands are leased for pennies on the dollar and resemble "land grabs" that displace the county's poorest citizens.
Since 2008, six Indian, one Chinese, and Saudi Arabian companies have leased half a million acres in the state. A lesser amount is going to Ethiopians.
Critics say only foreign firms benefit, while ethnic groups such as the Anuak and Nuer are deprived of resources they have used for eons.
A lease agreement for the Gambela region was initially rejected by Ethiopian president Girma Wolde-Giorgis and the country's Environment Protection Agency but Prime Minister Meles Zenawi gave it the green light.
Under the deal with Bangalore-based Karuturi company, investors would get some 3 million hectares - an area larger than The Netherlands -at just $1.25 per year per hectare for 50 years. The Oakland Institute, an advocacy group in California, highlighted its concerns, including the forced relocation of locals to resettlement of villages and transfer of land coming under the Gambela National Park to Karuturi.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a recent report titled "Waiting Here for Death," wrote: "The Ethiopian government ... is forcibly relocating approximately 70,000 indigenous people from the western Gambella region." Critical views on the relocations can be found at the website of the Solidarity Movement for a new Ethiopia. www.solidaritymovement.org