World Bank failed indigenous peoples in Ethiopia

2 February 2015

A November 2014 investigation report by the World Bank’s accountability mechanism, the Inspection Panel (IP), found the Bank to be non-compliant with its own policies, including on indigenous peoples rights, on a project providing budget support to the Ethiopian government to increase access to basic services in Ethiopia. The report, which was leaked to the media in late January, responded to a September 2012 complaint submitted to the IP by indigenous people from the Gambella region (see Update 86, 82). In the submission, they claimed to have been severely harmed by the Bank project, due to its alleged links to a government ‘villagisation’ programme in the same region that has led to “forced evictions”. The Bank’s management in November 2012 refuted the connection: “the allegations raised … are matters that are not related to compliance with Bank policy”, however, the IP found the request eligible for investigation in February 2013.

While the report did not look into the alleged human rights violations associated with the villagisation programme, it established that “there is an operational link” between the programmes, given their parallel objectives of providing improved access to basic services and the “chronological and geographic overlap in [their] implementation”. It found that the Bank “did not carry out the required full risk analysis, nor were its mitigation measures adequate to manage the concurrent roll-out of the villagisation programme”. It also found the Bank to be out of compliance with its safeguard policy on indigenous peoples.

In response to the findings, in late January the indigenous people published an open letter to Bank president Jim Yong Kim. They wrote that they were never consulted, nor did they consent “to give up our ancestral lands … We only moved out of fear.” Furthermore, “at the new locations, there were no services and the land we were given could hardly grow food.” They argued that: “Without the billions of dollars provided by the World Bank and other donors … the Ethiopian government would never have had the capacity to relocate so many people and grab our ancestral land. … If the World Bank cannot guarantee that its money will not be used to abuse people, then it should not provide money in this way”. They called on the Bank to “to help us recover what we have lost.” According to the IP the report is due to be discussed by the Bank’s board in February or March.

The IP report also quoted a 2013 report on the Ethiopia project by the Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group, which identified similarities with the Bank’s lending instrument Program-for-Results (PforR, see Bulletin Feb 2014, Update 82, 79). Launched in 2012 with a two-year pilot, a review of PforR is due to be discussed by the Bank’s board in late February, including whether to lift the initial cap that limits the programme to five per cent of the Bank’s total funding commitments per year. The report noted that when PforR was launched the IP had “raised questions as to whether the instrument fully fostered key dimensions of mutual accountability”.