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Resettlement in Ethiopia: The Tragedy of Population Relocation in the 1980s
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Abstract

This paper was written and delivered at a public conference in 1989, at a time when the Derg's massive programme of emergency resettlement was in full swing with disastrous consequences. It is being republished now at a time when the present government is embarked on a resettlement programme in response to the food crisis gripping the rural areas. It is hoped that it will stimulate informed debate on resettlement in general and the terrible experiences of the 1980s in particular.

This country has a resettlement experience going back to the 1960s, but we do not seem to have drawn the appropriate lessons from this extensive experience. Resettlement is a complex and costly undertaking, and without careful planning, a sound assessment of the land and other resources available for settlement, and the close involvement of the beneficiaries themselves in both endeavours, the chances of success are very minimal. The international experience shows that out of the hundreds of settlement programmes undertaken in Africa, Asia and Latin America in the decades since the 1960s, only a handful have been judged to be successful.

Resettlement under the Derg had multiple objectives: it was meant to promote food security, to relieve the population pressure of the vulnerable areas, and to bring about the environmental rehabilitation of these same areas. In the end none of these objectives were achieved and yet the cost in human lives and resources was immense. In the period 1984-1986, the Derg resettled some 600,000 people, most of whom were from the northern highlands; the areas of settlement were for the most part the lowlands of western Ethiopia. In this same period, some 33,000 settlers lost their lives due to disease, hunger and exhaustion. An untold number of families were destroyed, and, for many years after, a number of NGOs were still engaged in attempting to reunite thousands of children who had been separated from their parents at the time of settler relocation.

This paper is published at this time in the hope that the terrible experience of the 1980s is not repeated again.