Ethiopia is at a critical political transition period. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian Government has been implementing bold reforms since April 2018, which are intended to gradually broaden the political and economic space and improve the human rights landscape. While these reforms will eventually address the root causes of recurrent inter-communal violence that drove a significant amount of the humanitarian need since September 2017, in the interim, large scale displacements, civilian injuries and deaths continue to be reported. At least 2.4 million people are currently displaced by inter-communal violence across the country, including along the Somali-Oromia border; Gedeo-West Guji border; Benishangul Gumuz – Oromia border.
Localized small-scale resource-based clashes and displacements have always existed in the country, mainly resulting from clashes between communities over pasture and water rights, which were mostly quickly resolved by community elders and the Government/Ministry of Federal Affairs. Most of the areas where recent violence is being reported have always been hotspots of such inter-communal clashes; however, the scale and severity are unprecedented. Long-existing and effective traditional conflict resolution mechanisms have so far not been fully successful in abating the violence.
Contrary to what this report `Aid Community Silenced in Ethiopia’ has inferred, the Ethiopian Government is not denying this crisis. A representative of the Ethiopian government was part of the Global Humanitarian overview launch two weeks ago where he spoke about the country’s IDP crisis and called for international support. International partners in Ethiopia are committed to continuing to work with Government counterparts to aid internally displaced people in areas of displacement and areas of return.
I have been working as an international humanitarian actor in Ethiopia for over 3 years and have traveled through many of the internally displaced camps. I have reported unabated on what I have seen and witnessed. At no point in time have any government or national official denied me access or challenged my reports from my missions.
Humanitarian partners have access to almost all people currently displaced by violence. While advocating for protection and access for few places where they do not have access humanitarian partners need to scale up response for the large areas they have access to, and where response is still inadequate and the situation dire.
I am very perturbed about where the information in this report has come from, as this has not been my experience or that of the partners I am working with on the ground.
Reports like this fuel the continued stereotyping of African governments as impeding the delivery of humanitarian assistance which is not factual. In the last few months the Government of Ethiopia has conferred Human Rights monitoring mandate to the UN Human Rights body in the country, this is following an extensive UN human right mission in the country two months prior. The Government also established Emergency Operation Centres where humanitarian partners and regional/national authorities, the UN agencies and NGOs work together to address the needs of displaced people. There are over 400 humanitarian partners in the largest response site.
So much traction has been gained over the last three years in coordinating humanitarian assistance with the Government support in Ethiopia. Inflammatory statements as is reflected in this report distracts from the urgent task of meeting urgent humanitarian needs.
I have visited many Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) and refugee camps in the last 10 years, and each visit leaves me shaken for days. One of the IDP camps I visited this year was in Jijiga town of Somali region. It was not the worst I have seen, but this visit left me emotionally distressed for weeks.
IDPs who had fled inter-ethnic violence were sheltered in a slaughter house that was not yet in use for its original purpose. In the middle of the building were two women who had given birth a few hours before my visit. These women had to surround themselves with a few stones for privacy. I cried.
Mary and Joseph were displaced from their home and fled about 90 miles [150 km], to Bethlehem when Mary was nine months pregnant. Like is typical with places of displacement, the IDP camp where Joseph and Mary fled to was crowded. Like many pregnant women in IDP camps, Mary needed somewhere private to give birth, but the only place available was a stable. Not long after the birth of Jesus, Mary was displaced by conflict once again and Joseph had to take his family and flee to Egypt; Mary and her family including Jesus were displaced a second time and this time became refugees.
Many around the world will be celebrating Christmas through this month. Let us not forget people who are currently in the same situation as Mary and her son Jesus. Many asylum seekers and migrants are facing horrendous situations in their quest for a home. These people are in our countries. This is a time to review the migration and refugee policies being developed and implemented in our countries.
There are 19 countries with internally displaced people in Africa. 17 of these countries are facing internal displacement (IDP) crisis triggered by conflict. Trailing these crises are tensions between international humanitarian partners and national authorities around when IDPs should return or be re-located, including conditions suitable for return.
The number of displaced people due to conflict almost doubled from 2016 to 2017, and 50 percent of the countries affected by new displacements due to conflict in 2017 were from Africa. At the launch of the Internal Monitoring Displacement Centre (IDMC) 2018 report the Director of IDMC Alexandra Bilak had this to say: "With 30.6 million internal displacements in 2017, which is the equivalent of 80,000 people displaced each day, it’s time for an honest conversation, led by affected countries and with support from the international community, on the most effective ways to turn the tide on internal displacement"
Perhaps one way we can have this serious conversation is around how, as humanitarian actors, we priorities linkages to durable solutions like return and re-integration when providing humanitarian assistance to IDPs. According to the 2018 IDMC global internal displacement report, the distribution of internal displacement across the globe in 2017 mirrored the patterns of previous years. `Most of that associated with conflict took place in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.’ Because these IDPs had to flee their place of origin due to conflict, violence and ethnic tensions, humanitarian concerns regarding their safety vis a vis return to place of origin is valid, but we must go beyond simply advocating against returns and re-locations.
Advocating against return without aiding in making conditions suitable for return is not humanitarian enough. This means, in addition to advocating against return for lack of security in place of origin, we advocate for law and order and for security in these places. If people are not able to return because their homes have been destroyed, we raise funds to help them build back their homes and livelihoods.
This was the case in the aftermath of the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007 - 2009. The Japanese Government provided funds for IOM to build homes for communities who lost their homes, properties and were displaced during the crisis. So, while IDPs were in camps and humanitarian assistance was being provided in the camps, partners were also investing in sustainable solutions.
Given the protracted nature of the crisis facing many African countries, a humanitarian response that is not linked to or does not ignite recovery, resilience and ultimately development and economic solvency, perpetuates humanitarian dependency.
When people are displaced, the goal of any Government should be resettlement. No government should be comfortable leaving its citizens in deplorable shelters. As humanitarian actors, just because our mandate is to provide bare minimal lifesaving assistance does not mean we have to leave people dependent on this form of assistance. The least we can do is to refrain from disrupting and or getting in the way of national authorities’ efforts to assist their people to return to a stable life. Just because we are professional humanitarian service providers does not mean that we care about displaced people more than their governments and fellow citizens.
The conclusive statement by the 2018 IDMC report is the way forward. The report says `Countries facing internal displacement must drive policymaking. Over the coming years, countries will have to better account for IDPs and displacement risk and make addressing internal displacement an integral part of development planning and governance at both the local and national level.’ http://www.internal-displacement.org/global-report/grid2018/
The report further rightly notes that to make genuine progress at the national, regional and international levels, there needs to be constructive and open dialogue on internal displacement. `This must be led by countries impacted by the issue, with the support of international partners, and in line with their national priorities and realities.’
The Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO) and appeal was launched yesterday, and I did not get my wish. In the launch of the 2018 GHO and appeal in December last year, I wished for fewer African countries appealing for humanitarian aid annually. In 2018 there were 21 countries appealing for aid and 13 of those countries were from Africa. For 2019, there are 21 countries appealing for humanitarian aid and 13 of the countries are in Africa. Nigeria, the potential economic giant of Africa, sadly is still one of the countries.
According to the launch `Yemen is once again the worst humanitarian crisis in the world while humanitarian needs will remain at exceptionally high levels in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Sudan. Humanitarian needs have also worsened significantly in Afghanistan because of drought, political instability and an influx of returning refugees, and in Cameroon and the Central African Republic due to an upsurge of conflict and violence.’ Most humanitarian needs occur in long-lasting crises in which there has been limited progress in addressing root causes.
Nigeria’s presence on the list of African countries appealing for humanitarian aid annually is not just a tragedy for the country, but for the region as well. When I was posted to Nigeria in 2012 – 2015 to support the national funded and led flood response and the onset of the northeast crisis, Nigeria was providing humanitarian assistance to neighboring African countries. Nigeria’s presence on the list breaks my heart as it means that a blossoming regional resource for disaster response is being eroded.
As has been the case for decades and is increasingly so, Africa remains the face of humanitarian aid appeals globally, and humanitarian appeals remain the main narrative through which many African countries are featured in the global domain.
Tomorrow, on the 4th of December, the Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO) for 2019 will be launched. This will involve the release of annual plans to respond to urgent humanitarian situations in many countries. In the appeal for 2018 launched same time last year in 2017, the GHO appealed for 25 billion USD, but only 14 billion USD was raised. Donors were generous, very generous, but humanitarian needs have increased every year for the last decade plus. For 2018, 21 countries appealed for humanitarian aid, 13 of the 21 countries were from Africa. It was a bleak picture and as 2018 approached, I made a wish for the 2018 New Year for fewer African countries appealing for humanitarian aid. I am looking forward to the launch tomorrow, hoping that my wish will be met.