First Expert Advisory Panel meeting

The REF team held its first advisory panel meeting on Monday 24th of April 2017 in Brussels. The panel consists of highly distinguished members ranging from academics and researchers to journalists and former ambassadors, each one bringing a wealth of expertise in the fields of migration, development and conflict in the Horn of Africa. The meeting enabled the REF to share research that has been carried out thus far, ongoing work and research activities planned for future. The panel members have been able to provide constructive feedback on the overall REF research programme as well as give particular advice on how to bridge the researcher-practitioner divide and enhance engagements with the media.

For more details on our advisory panel, please visit:

https://www.soas.ac.uk/ref-hornresearch/panel/

Research and Evidence Facility Team

Guest Blog: Threat of famine brings with it mass displacement in Somalia

Dollow, Somalia, on March 26, 2017. DRC Photo / Tobin Jones

By Abdurahman Sharif and Aude Galli

 

Since November 2016, 3,000 people a day in Somalia are being forced to abandon their homes in search of water and food. It is the highest displacement level since the 2011 famine.

Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia, is host to the largest number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the country. In 2015, it was identified as one of the fastest growing cities in the world[1] as the result of the return of a wealthy diaspora and a growing investment in real estate. In contrast, in the same year, over 100,000 forced evictions of IDPs occurred and, since November 2016, 60,000 further evictions have been reported. Most of these IDPs were settled in government owned buildings or private land and were forced to move out as the land was being reclaimed for reconstruction and development. IDPs are highly vulnerable to drought. Most of them are from marginalized communities and are traditionally sidelined.

Although there is a common assumption that ‘drought-displaced’ refugees and IDPs will go back home right after the drought, this is usually not the case as other factors such as security and access to services and education tend to influence the decision to stay or return. . In June 2012, despite improved rainfall, only 14% of Somali refugees in Dadaab displaced due to 2011 famine said they would consider returning, and by mid-2013 voluntary returns were still very limited. Similarly a majority of the 2011 IDPs are still displaced today.

Most drought-induced IDPs have gone to urban areas. In the central city of Baidoa for instance, over the past weeks the number of IDP settlements has doubled to 147 in total today. The majority of those displaced are women, children and elderly people and are confronted with serious abuses including rape, beatings, discrimination and restricted access to food and water.

Photo credit: Somalia NGO Consortium

Since December 2014, 61,665 Somali refugees have returned home, including 22,351 in 2017 alone. Currently, 20,991 refugees are registered for voluntary repatriation. Bur since the announcement of the intended closure of Dadaab, the ongoing repatriation process has been fraught with challenges. Several human rights organisations and NGOs have described the repatriations as coercive and contrary to the principle of non-refoulement in international law and the conditions in south-central Somalia as not being conductive to mass refugee returns due to ongoing conflict insecurity and humanitarian conditions.

According to the UNHCR-led refugee population fixing exercise, 74% of Somali refugees in Dadaab are unwilling to return home, largely as a result of insecurity in Somalia. Due to the existing dire conditions in areas of return, the lack of absorption capacities and the lack of reintegration support beyond the return package, there is a high likelihood that most of the returnees will head to the already overstretched and under-resourced IDP camps across the countries.

Given the impending humanitarian crisis, UNHCR and the governments of Kenya and Somalia need to take into account the consequences that sustained repatriation may create. Contingency measures, including the further deferring of repatriations and revisiting the decision to close Dadaab refugee camp, must be considered as areas of return are impacted by drought and pre-famine conditions.

One thing is clear – drought does not have to turn into famine. Weak governance and infrastructure, conflict and lack of access to parts of the country are all factors that contribute to the position that the country is in today. Alongside an immediate emergency response, different actors – development, political, civil society – have a role to play in strengthening the capacity and leadership at local and national levels to manage and mitigate the impact of drought-induced displacement and look at long term durable solutions. The recent establishment of a Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management to deal with these issues is a small first step in this direction. It is also of paramount importance to continue linking immediate relief to long-term development and to invest in preparedness to prevent further drought-related displacement and to support sustainable development complementing humanitarian interventions.

More than 187,000 people have been displaced in March alone within Somalia due to the drought, bringing the total number to more than 599,000 since November 2016. As these horrendous figures show, drought turning into famine brings with it a massive displacement crisis. The current influx of refugees and IDPs compound an already dire situation with more than 1 million IDPs and almost 1 million refugees in the region. Humanitarian and development actors, both Somali and international, must engage in joint planning and identify collective outcomes under the leadership of the government. Human resource capacity to focus on longer term planning activities in the early stages of displacement must be increased through the engagement of development experts such as urban planners, experts in local government and community driven development to support government capacity.

Drought cannot be addressed in Somalia without a better understanding of displacement trends and dynamics. It is critical to improve the use of displacement related data and analysis to inform the ongoing drought response and prevent further displacement.

Abdurahman Sharif is the Director of the Somalia NGO Consortium. Aude Galli is the Coordinator of the Regional Durable Solutions Secretariat (REDSS).

 The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Research and Evidence Facility or the EU Trust Fund for Africa.

Drought Conditions in Eastern Africa – An Update

Drought is a recurrent natural climatic event in Eastern Africa (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia) that occurs in all geographical zones although its characteristics vary significantly from one region to another. It should be noted that aridity (low rainfall) is a persistent condition in some geographic areas, which can experience periods of more extreme aridity, or drought.

In different arid and semi-arid parts of the region, droughts recurrently impact and undermine the livelihoods of farmers, agro-pastoralists and pastoralists and act as a contributing factor to their increased vulnerability. The most important consequences are limited crop production and pastoral resource regeneration, difficult access to potable water and over-exploitation of limited hydraulic resources, decreased income, loss of livestock, assets and resources.

These extreme events are pushing rural households to reconfigure their food and income sources including livestock in order to survive and preserve their livelihoods. For some communities, their vulnerability increases due to the repeated drought related shocks, which put tremendous pressure on traditional coping capacities eroding their livelihoods in the short term and sometimes the long term. For some, their livelihoods are undermined up to the point of destitution and complete loss of assets.

Summary of drought events recorded for 1900–2013 in EM-DAT database.

Countries Drought Years Events  People affected
Djibouti 1980, 1983, 1988, 1996, 1999, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010 9 1 188 008
Eritrea 1993, 1999, 2008 3 5 600 000
Ethiopia 1965, 1969, 1973, 1983, 1987, 1989, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2012 15 66 941 879
Kenya 1965, 1971, 1979, 1983, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2012 13 47 200 000
Somalia 1964, 1969, 1973, 1980, 1983, 1987, 1988, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2012 13 13 183 500
Uganda 1967, 1979, 1987, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2010, 9 4 975 000

The last recorded severe drought affected the entire region between 2011 and mid-2012. Recorded as “the worst in 60 years”, the drought caused a severe food crisis across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, which threatened the livelihood of 9.5 million people. In 2011, the rains failed in Kenya and Ethiopia, and for the previous two years in Somalia. In many areas, the precipitation rate was less than 30% of the average recorded since 1995. The lack of rain led to crop failure as well as exacerbating a poor harvest and widespread loss of livestock which decreased milk production. As a result, cereal prices rose to record levels while livestock prices and wages fell, reducing purchasing power across the region.

Current situation:

The information below comes from different reports by FEWS, WFP, FAO, UNHCR, OCHA and EWCM. According to the seasonal monitor, produced by the FEWS NET USGS, a severe drought, related to La Niña and warm West Pacific sea surface temperatures, significantly impacted rainfall performance during the 2016 October to December season across the Horn of Africa. As this is the dry season for most areas in the region, the hotter-than-normal land surface temperatures across the Eastern Region of Africa, which are forecast to continue, are exacerbating drought conditions in many areas.

Since early January, the majority of the region has remained dry and much hotter-than-normal, intensifying the ongoing drought conditions, following the poor October to December 2016 season. The worst drought-affected regions are across much of Somalia, eastern Kenya, and southern and south-eastern Ethiopia. Some of these areas have had drought conditions persisting through 2016 into early this year. Along the coastal regions of Kenya and southern Somalia, the current land surface temperatures are also extremely high and well above the recent 10-year average temperatures.

The drought conditions have had adverse impacts on rangeland resources (pasture and water resources) among the pastoral and agro-pastoral communities in the Region. These conditions are expected to worsen in the coming months with the forecast for continued higher than normal temperatures until the onset of the rainy seasons across Southern Ethiopia, parts of Kenya and Somalia in early April, which is expected to be below average.

The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) estimating the current health and density of vegetation compared to average indicates that vegetation conditions are significantly below-average across Somalia and much of Kenya and southern Ethiopia. The pasture conditions are very poor in many areas leading to below-average livestock body conditions and forcing households either to keep their livestock in dry-season grazing areas or to migrate atypically in search of pasture. The ongoing rapid depletion of rangeland resources is likely to result in increased tensions among pastoralists over dry season grazing lands, along with competition for scarce water resources.

Livestock deaths are reported in parts of drought-affected Ethiopia, Somalia and northern and coastal Kenya. Recent assessments have revealed high rates of cattle deaths in Bale and Guji zones (Oromia region), across Somali region and in south Omo zone in Ethiopia (SNNP region), Marsabit in Kenya, and Gedo in Somalia. Puntland and Somaliland also report huge losses of livestock, resulting in pastoral dropouts and displacement. Due to poor body conditions, prices of livestock have declined. In addition, herders are desperate to sell to get some money to feed their families before their animals die. By doing so, they are flooding the markets and further decreasing the price.

At the same time, traditional exports of live animals have drastically reduced due to the crisis in Yemen since mid 2015. Although not officially confirmed, it appears that a temporary suspension of import of live animals from the region has been decided by Saudi Arabia since mid-December 2016 due to the resurgence of the Rift Valley Fever.

The drought had a major negative impact on water resources, both on rivers, ponds and wells drastically reducing the availability of water for human and livestock consumption. In January 2017, most monitored water points by the USGS in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia were at “Alert” or “Near-Dry” levels.

The Early Warning Crop Monitor (EWCM) a consensus based, multi-agency effort from FEWS NET, JRC, WFP, Agricultural Research Council of South Africa, and the University of Maryland classified the end of season cropping conditions as “Failure” in eastern Ethiopia, southern and central Somalia, and coastal Kenya. Crop conditions were classified as “Poor” in northern Somalia, central Ethiopia, and the rest of Kenya. Cropping conditions were also “Poor” for the secondary seasons in Uganda. Widespread crop failures have affected farming communities in most of Somalia and north-eastern Kenya, where moisture conditions were insufficient for planting and early crop growth. In Kenya, the extremely poor short rains are expected to lead to near total maize crop failure in south-eastern and coastal marginal agricultural areas. Leguminous crops were also affected, and the harvest is estimated to be up to 60 percent below average. In Somalia, the sorghum harvest for the 2016 Deyr cropping season is expected to range from less than 40 percent of normal to failure. Prices of sorghum, maize and wheat are not uniform in the region with prices remaining within seasonal average in some parts but increasing atypically in others such as South and Central Somalia (Source: Fews NET).

Humanitarian needs:

In much of Somalia, south-eastern Ethiopia, and parts of north-eastern Kenya, well below-average cereal production, coupled with deteriorating livestock productivity in pastoral areas and limited access to water, has significantly increased the number of people in crisis. According to the UN, 12.8 million people in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Somalia face crisis and emergency food insecurity levels and are in need of humanitarian assistance. Following various assessments in January 2017, the number of food insecure people in Kenya has doubled to 2.7 million compared to August 2016. Some 5.6 million people in Ethiopia and 1.6 million people in Uganda require food assistance this year. Nearly 3 million Somalis are expected to face crisis and emergency levels by June 2017, more than double compared to mid 2016.

Some analysts estimate that the 2016 Short Rains season in parts of East Africa (October to December) witnessed severely low levels of rainfall, largely comparable to those at the start of the 2011 drought.

Current forecasts indicate that the rest of the region is expected to experience unseasonal light to moderately heavy rains in the coming weeks, particularly in Kenya, parts of southern Somalia and southern Ethiopia. This could help provide some minor relief and reduce the current hotter-than-normal and dry conditions. However, concerns for a worsening crisis in the coming months are linked to the very low rainfall forecasts during the next rainy season (March to May), which will affect further the agro-pastoralist and pastoralist communities in the already badly impacted areas. In addition, capacity for communities to cope is at its lowest as it is the third consecutive year of low rainfall in different parts of the region.

Given the crisis, movements of communities and/or families affected by the drought in search of grazing land, water and food have taken place within the region. Internal and cross-border movements have already occurred putting pressure on national/local capacities and relief operations. Meanwhile, violence and protection issues continue to trigger movements of refugees/asylum seekers to drought-affected areas in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. In Uganda, now hosting more than a million refugees, 24,000 people arrived from South Sudan during January 2017. The multiplicity of crisis as well as the limited financial resources available leaves the humanitarian response effort stretched. In addition, the limited humanitarian access to some critical areas hampers the relief effort

As capacities to monitor and analyse the situation appears better today than in 2010/2012 and more systematic coordination mechanisms exist, planning and implementation of responses by Governments, development and humanitarian actors as well as donors is being facilitated. Some of the Governments in the region, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, have increased their leadership through the setting up of dedicated service providers, the implementation of various programmes (e.g. Safety Net Programme) and the allocation of substantial funds and resources in coordination with relief actors and donors to ensure a timely and effective response. The response to the current situation is on-going. If situation worsens should the next rains fail, a scaled up response will have to be put in motion. In order to do so, additional resources and capacities will certainly have to be allocated.

Mitigation and Protection measures:

While looking at the climatic processes causing droughts, many actors have and are focusing on the physical and economic vulnerabilities of affected population groups. By doing so, their main focus is directed towards the setting up of early warning systems and the design of emergency and recovery responses adapted to the impacts of the drought on population groups in different areas. Therefore, the potential mitigation and protection measures only received limited attention.

Whereas supporting the development of these early warning systems and the design of more effective response mechanisms, the different actors involved should also invest in vulnerability assessment to understand better who and what is vulnerable to drought and what are the underlying causes. Although there is no agreed definition of vulnerability and consensus on how to measure it, vulnerability can be looked at as a condition linked to social, economic, political and environmental factors which increases the susceptibility of a population group living in a specific ecosystem to be impacted by a drought.

Historical knowledge of the droughts and their impacts on different population groups according to their social, economic / livelihoods and political realities as well as their environment should therefore be given specific attention. Such type of exercise will permit to assess the “Risk Profile” of various communities in different areas but may also allow the identification of good practices which could be used in the design of mitigation and protection measures

This knowledge will support the development of drought mitigation and protection measures tailored to the specificity of the different population groups and geographical areas. Given the profile of the population affected (farmers, agro-pastoralists and pastoralists) in the region and the ecosystems where they live and depend upon, it is clear that the design of integrated and adapted management of ecosystems and water resources should be looked at in priority.

As early warning, response and recovery capacities continue to be strengthened under the leadership of concerned governments, the development of protection and mitigation policies and programmes should, without any doubt, be given more attention to reduce the impacts of future droughts.

 

Vincent Chordi

REF Conflict and Governance Key Expert

Sahan Africa

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

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Guest Blog: Dadaab closure; view from a former resident

Moulid Hujale

Freelance Journalist, Former Dadaab camp resident

Located just about 100km from Somalia’s border, Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp is home to almost half a million Somali refugees who have been seeking refuge there since the 1991 civil war. For over ten years, I was among those who called Dadaab home after fleeing Somalia as a child. I lived and worked in the camp and made many friends including amongst the host community and other refugees from neighboring countries.

Kenya’s security situation changed when its military entered Somalia in 2011 and later joined the African Union forces to fight Al-Shabaab. Since then Al-Shabaab has been carrying out retaliatory attacks throughout Kenya. Dadaab refugees are therefore caught up in the middle of the war between the two, and as a result, in May last year, Kenya announced it would shut down the camps and send Somali refugees back to their country. Kenya’s campaign to close the world’s largest refugee camp is based mainly on security and economic concerns. It claims the camps serve as a sanctuary for terrorist groups and are where some of the deadliest attacks on its citizens including the Garissa university attack in 2015 were plotted.

However, the reality on the ground is different. Dadaab refugees have become victims of the same terror Kenya is facing. I remember in the wake of these attacks in 2011, the refugee leaders forming a community police unit who were tasked with dealing with security issues in the camp, and many of them were targeted and killed by Al-Shabaab because of their collaboration with Kenyan security. Refugees in the camps work with the local police by carrying out patrols in the night. This shows that most Dadaab refugees are peace-loving people who risk their lives to work with the Kenyan government.

On the other hand, refugees contribute to Kenya’s economy by providing employment opportunities and paying annual taxes to the local authority. With help from family and friends in the diaspora, they developed a booming business within the camps where they trade with local Kenyans. Despite Kenya’s strict encampment policy that confines refugees to their tents, the camp market is filled with all sorts of goods and services including Internet cafes, bakeries, mobile phone shops and electronics. My friend Abdikadir Aden is one of those refugee entrepreneurs, who sells mobile phones and also runs mobile money transfer service in Ifo camp. He’s very ambitious and told me on a recent trip how the refugee restrictions prevent him from fully developing his businesses. He normally buys the phones and other goods from Nairobi but would prefer to deal with manufacturing companies directly. This is impossible, as he cannot move out of the camp. He instead sends money to middle men who purchase the items and send them to him.

Refugees transformed the isolated desert camps into a thriving business hub, which generates about $25 million annual turnover according to a 2010 study commissioned by Kenya (with funding from Denmark and Norway). The study also showed that the locals benefit up to $14 million per year.

I went back to Dadaab in early 2016 to document the commemoration of the 25th year of the camp’s existence. One of the young entrepreneurs I met was Noor Tawane, former youth leader, now a businessman and a father of eight who runs an ice factory in Hagadera camp. This camp is one of the oldest camps that make up the Dadaab refugee complex. Dadaab is usually hot but March is exceptionally hotter, with temperatures reaching over 40C degrees. That means Noor works all day to make enough ice for his customers. Behind the ice plant was another of Noor’s investments; a big house, made of corrugated iron sheet where two large generators were placed. They supply power to around 1,500 clients including businesses and households in the camp. He employs 12 young men who work in both stations. The camp is not connected to the national grid since the Kenyan government does not allow refugees to use electricity in a bid to stop the camp from ever becoming ‘permanent’. Refugees like Noor bypass this by using generators and his generators supply electricity to fellow refugees for a monthly fee. This is the main source of power for restaurants, shops, and cinemas in the market. Some families who can afford it also use electricity in their houses.

This means that Dadaab has become a functioning city, well beyond what you might expect from a refugee camp. It has its own leadership structure where elected refugee leaders work hand in hand with camp officials and aid agencies. There are markets, private schools and cinemas. Noor shared his ideas about what is driving this growth: “We have to do something to feed our children, you cannot just sit and wait for aid that is never enough. I was only 7 years old when we came here. I never thought I would marry in the camp and have children but this is real, it is happening and we have to face it.”

I believe there is a viable opportunity to harness the skills and energetic creativity of the Dadaab refugees instead of repatriating them. They have made tremendous effort in making the camps a source of income that benefits not only them but also the host community and the local government. What if they were given the freedom of movement and employment rights that would enable them to fully utilize their potential?

 

Editor’s Note: From time to time we host guest contributions to our blog series. These blogs are intended to provide a diversity of perspectives and voices on issues relevant to our programme of research. Views expressed by guest bloggers are their own and do not represent the views of the Research and Evidence Facility or the EU Trust Fund for Africa.

 

 

Guest Blog: First REF research put into action under the EU Trust Fund

Olivia Berthon, Communications Programme Manager, EU Trust Fund for Africa – Horn of Africa Window

 

During July and August 2016, the Research and Evidence Facility conducted field research in three cross-border areas of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan, centred on migration and instability, as well as sources of vulnerability. The objective was to help the EU Trust Fund to gain a better understanding of the political, social, environmental and economic dynamics in those areas, in order to be in a position to design an evidence-based project on the ground.

The areas where the research took place are characterised by a lack of resources, poor infrastructure, instability and a lack of basic services, with unemployment levels low and poverty levels high.  Vulnerabilities associated with resource scarcity are widespread, caused by natural shocks such as climate change and droughts as well as man-made development projects. These pressures trigger conflict among pastoralist communities who rely heavily on access to water, livestock and land for farming.

EU Trust Fund project launched to support vulnerable border areas

Based on the research findings, a €63.9 million project financed by the EU Trust Fund for Africa (with €400,000 funded by UNDP) was developed during 2016 and launched in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 21st January. Aimed at enhancing development across these borders and aligned with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Drought Disaster Resilience & Sustainability Initiative, the project Collaboration in Cross-Border Areas will seek innovative approaches to make borderlands more stable and prosperous.

Activities to be initiated in early 2017 will support national and local authorities, local communities and the private sector, as well as invest in conflict prevention, cross-border trade and private sector development. The project aims to improve and diversify livelihoods and allow shared natural resources to be better managed. Through this support, people living in these cross-border areas – and particularly vulnerable groups such as displaced persons, women and children – will have better prospects and a greater sense of belonging, as well as shared interests across communities and borders.

Speaking at the project launch on January 21st, IGAD Executive Secretary Ambassador Mahboub Maalim expressed appreciation for the high level representation from member states “which showcases the sense of ownership”, and acknowledged the role of all development partners in IGAD’s drought resilience initiative, as well as within the cross-border project.

Evidence on the ground building upon political commitments

With its evidence-based approach giving a solid foundation for future developments, this project builds upon a political commitment made in December 2015 between the governments of Ethiopia and Kenya, in partnership with IGAD and the UN, to foster peace and sustainable socio-economic development across the shared border between Marsabit country in Kenya and Borana Zone in Ethiopia.

 

 

Announcing our Programme of Research!

On 15 December, we presented our full programme of research on migration, displacement and conflict to be carried out in the Horn of Africa over the coming two years to the European Union Trust Fund’s Operational Committee. This was an important moment for the REF Team, as it provided us with a formal opportunity to share with the Trust Fund members (most of the EU member states) the work that we have done since our consortium was established and our plans going forward. It also gave us the green light to launch our programme of research, to be carried out over the next two years.

The level of support and enthusiasm for our work on the part of the members was really exciting to see, and makes us hopeful that the results of our work will have a clear impact in improving the programming of Trust Fund activities. Already, we have seen that our research in border areas of the region has helped to inform the programming of more than €63 million in support for border development.

The complete programme will include research in the following areas:

  • Rural to Urban migration and displacement and the linkages between urban and rural livelihood systems
  • Experiences and impacts of voluntary, involuntary and diasporic repatriation and return to Somalia
  • Impacts of development changes on people’s movement choices and patterns of mobility, with a focus on assessing the impact of employment and vocational training programmes on people’s decisions concerning mobility
  • Dynamics of cross-border economies, considering zones affected by migration, displacement, refugee hosting and/or conflict.
  • The impact of migration and conflict management systems on population movements.

Research will be carried out in collaboration with researchers and institutions based in the region, as well as with European Commission delegations and organisations engaged in implementation of Trust Fund activities.

Among the first activities to be launched early in 2017 will be a study of the migration dynamics between the Horn of Africa and Yemen, using Bossaso (Somalia) and Obock (Djibouti) as transit points to assess the experiences of those making the crossing, the networks in place to facilitate the moves, and the effectiveness of migration management efforts in this area.

Dr Laura Hammond

REF Team Leader

 

Researching Development in Lowland Ethiopia: Some Insights

The Ethiopian government argues that land investments, and the accompanying villagization scheme (also called commune programme), constitute the mode of development suitable to the lowlands, i.e., in areas like South Omo and Gambella. However, this stance is not accepted by members of the local community as well as various international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), scholars (in particular anthropologists with extensive knowledge in the concerned areas) and the Ethiopian diaspora. The argument they advance is that such extensive land investments are being pursued through a dispossessive process at the expense of the agro-pastoralists and shifting cultivators in the lowlands. Furthermore, they argue that, the villagization scheme defeats its stated purpose of service delivery to the local population, as it ‘removes’ and ‘concentrates’ the lowlander in villages, further expanding land alienations. This contestation between the government and, mainly, international NGOs and the Ethiopian diaspora sets the context within which conducting fieldwork in the Ethiopian lowlands became particularly difficult. This is especially the case after 2008, when demand for farmland in Sub-Saharan Africa surged and continues to be difficult, as I’ve experienced recently whilst conducting fieldwork in august 2016.

Challenges to fieldwork in the Ethiopian Lowlands

As a result of their differences, The Ethiopian diaspora along with the academic community and international NGOs have spread negative publicity of the Ethiopian government’s doings in the lowlands. They target donor agencies (the World Bank and UK’s Department for International Development) in their activism, and the impact was particularly felt by the government. As such, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democracy Front (EPRDF), the ruling coalition leading the country since 1991, resorted to constraining the spaces of such research backed information on the lowlands from reaching, what it calls, ‘rent-seeking’, ‘anti-development’ forces. In the past five years, there is a perceptible increase in sensitivity and reluctance to give research permits, support letters and data (be it through interview or documents) when it comes to research focusing on land deals and villagization in the country. This is felt both at the federal and regional levels, as well as at lower administrative levels.

Even if one manages to get the proper support letters and goes to his/her case study area, he/she will be facing further challenges. Local officials are intent on making sure that ‘outsiders’ get the ‘right’ information only. This will translate into attempting to steer the data collection process by selecting the data sources. Furthermore, following the government’s ‘false dichotomy’ between ‘developmental’ and ‘rent-seeker’ actors, local actors struggle to ensure that the researcher is not from the latter group or that s/he does not get swayed by information received from ‘rent-seekers’/‘anti-development’ actors at local levels. Not knowing how to carefully navigate these dynamics results in the generation of a biased data and research outputs with poor objectivity.

Past this hurdle comes the actual task of conducting the data gathering from/with members of the local community and the experts and officials of local government. Two types of challenges emerge at this stage. The local community assume a researcher coming from the centre, be it with a support letter from a University or a line Ministry, as influential and do not hesitate to take advantage of the opportunity to air their grievances over a range of issues.

While this could be an opportunity to get detailed information, it elicits expectations, which the researcher cannot meet afterwards. Meeting such expectations would require the researcher to take up the role of an activist as well. Although researchers may believe that this role does not affect their role as a researcher or even the quality and objectivity of their work; it becomes easy for the government to label their findings as ‘biased’ and ‘activist writings’, rather than serious academic works.

As such, experts and officials working for local governments take all the necessary measures to not fall outside the official line and frame of discourse in local development issues. A researcher’s attempt to get past that façade and get the nuances and ‘hidden scripts’ would figure as an attempt to push them outside the sanctioned discourse into saying what is commonly taken as the views and attitudes of ‘rent-seekers’ and ‘anti-development’ actors. It takes time and patience to build rapport to get past this ‘wall’.

Even then, informants working for the local government are very hesitant of what will come out of their giving an interview on the matter. Even if an informant does not go an inch outside the remits of the ‘developmental’ discourse, s/he will not want to get recorded. I have come across some informants alluding that I might record their interview with my phone, even though I have respected their choice of not getting recorded. This proves the extent of fear and by corollary the difficulty of generating as much diverse views from the field as possible to produce a comprehensive and objective report on the matter.

Conclusion

The discourse of building a developmental state and the intention to make the ‘developmental’ mind-set hegemonic in Ethiopia is contributing to further increasing the difficulty of engaging in development research. The researcher, especially if Ethiopian, feels pressured to write ‘developmental’ outputs in various forms. As the incumbent takes academics as bastion of the opposition, her/his critiques will not be taken as objective and rational arguments, rather as politically motivated. Even worse, the need to be on the safe side pressures informants to align themselves within the government’s discourse. This not only has the potential of introducing a methodological bias, but also forces the researcher to go to greater lengths to generate alternative views and explanations.

 

Fana Gebresenbet

Institute for Peace and Security Studies, Addis Ababa University

 

Introducing the REF blog

This blog introduces various voices engaged with research and activities related to development, conflict, governance and migration in the Horn of Africa. It aims to provide an informal space for the sharing of ideas and critical responses coming out of the region. Contributors range from researchers and writers to activists and members of the Horn of Africa societies who have been affected by migration, conflict, governance and development related issues. Through this approach, the REF blog hopes to be inclusive, resourceful and incorporate the widest possible scope of narratives.

We welcome your thoughts, comments and feedback. We would also like to hear your ideas on topics and stories that you think might be relevant. Please get in touch with Idil Osman on io7@soas.ac.uk