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Land grab: Ethiopia boots 70,000; Brits displace 20,000 in Uganda

Displacement action enforced by soldiers

Displacement action enforced by soldiers

Aid organizations are trying to call attention to a little-noticed but massive plague spreading across Africa that is destroying communities, throwing many deeper into poverty and perhaps causing the deaths of many thousands.

Not AIDS or malaria.

It’s an outbreak of property seizures and community displacements known as the land grab. The forced displacement of 70,000 people in Ethiopia is the latest example of this phenomenon. Human Rights Watch reports that this is being done illegally, and for the benefit of large-scale commercial agriculture.

The news media has a few reports on this, such as UPI’s Thousands Driven Out or BBC’s oddly he-says-she-says report pitting Human Rights Watch against Ethiopian official deniers.

Why doesn’t the BBC just go there to find out for itself? Oh yeah, staff cutbacks. As I’ve noted before, humanitarian organizations are increasingly doing the basic reporting of issues for the incredibly shrinking media overseas.

Last fall, Oxfam International did much the same thing in Uganda, drawing media attention to an ongoing reforestation project operated there by a British firm that the advocacy organization said had prompted the brutal and illegal displacement of 20,000 peasant farmers.

Now, due in part to Oxfam’s criticism and the resulting loss of World Bank support for the development project, the London-based New Forests Company has decided — after displacing the 20,000 farmers and employing some 500 other Ugandans as foresters — to close up the operation and leave.

This is a serious problem. But Oxfam knows you get tired of big, serious problems. So here’s a funny (and somewhat pointed) video on the African land grab from Oxfam, which is one of the leading humanitarian organizations trying to draw attention to this disturbing trend:

For a more serious and focused video report showing Oxfam’s critique of the reforestation project in Uganda, go to this link.

Another organization working to help smallholder farmers and poor communities hold on to their land is Seattle-based Landesa. I’ve written before about Landesa, which tends to take a more low-profile and diplomatic tack to solving this problem.

Landesa has done an excellent overview here describing what’s driving this land rush in poor countries and how we can work to both protect the poor without discouraging commercial investment.

The first step, as always, is to recognize we have a problem. Here’s hoping this issue rises up on the media radar screen. It’s big and it’s not getting the attention it deserves.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.