ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia–France with the help of the World Bank has embarked on missions that destroyed many lives in some African countries. One of those countries in which this duo operates is Ethiopia. Mali, Burkina Faso and Benin are the other victims of the “urbanization for the 21st century,” which mainly advocates building cities around public transportation.
In May 2014, university student protesters of Oromo ethnic origin took to the streets of Ethiopia in opposition to the “Integrated Development Master Plan.” Some student protesters quoted by social media activists dubbed it “a master killer,” because dozens of students and people who protested were gunned down by Ethiopian security forces. Some of them pointed to its “unconstitutionality,” saying it encroaches on Oromia’s land. Ethiopian government security forces effectively silenced the protesters.
However, the real victims of the urbanization projects were the low-income families who lived in Addis Ababa and vicinity. Bekele Feyissa, a farmer in Sebeta, complained to Bloomberg’s reporter in 2014 that he got paid $36 for 1.5 acres of land. Even though the government owns the land, Mr. Feyissa, a father of six has customary rights to the land. He has at least eight people to feed. People like Fayissa are the ones who have gotten the short end of the stick.
It all started with the 1999-2000 urbanization projects. There were multiple moving parts—lender [World Bank Group], contractor [Lyon Town Planning Agency], Addis Ababa city government, French government agencies and German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ).
A document detailing the zenith of a 15-year-old mission is buried in the deep web pages of UrbaLyon—The Planning Agency of the Lyon metropolitan area. Coincidentally, “Mission from 19-26 May 2009” is displayed in bold letters under a picture of Addis Ababa on a cloudy day. According to the header, the document was a result of a collaboration of three organizations. They were Addis Ababa City Government, Lyon Town Planning Agency, and Ville de Lyon—city municipal of Lyon—France’s second-largest city after Paris. The page after the agenda for the seven-day mission, splashes a photo of Ethiopian Herald, with a title that reads, “Officials of Ville De Lyon keen to work with Addis.”
Ethiopian Herald’s title was misleading as it implied working with Addis was a new venture. The “technical cooperation” started ten years before, and the May 2009 mission was to transform it into “city to city cooperation.”
In the historical background section, the document emphasizes the cooperation of Addis Ababa city government and the French (Grand Lyon and the French Embassy). It further states the decision by the French to fund the revision of the 2002 master plan was to establish pre-operational project processes, implying they were there to collect the return.
This rich French city also has other contracts with other African cities like Bamako, Ouagadougou, Porto-Novo and Rabat, whose stories are not too far from that of Addis Ababa. Some of those countries were a little generous to their displaced people due to urbanization planned by Lyon Urban Planning Agency, even though the displaced still suffered consequences.
The most significant part of this document shows the involvement of the World Bank, which is not a surprise by any stretch. However, investigative reports showed the organization’s involvement in projects which ruined at least 3.4 million lives worldwide. These contracts Grand Lyon signs with sub-Saharan cities, do not seem to involve financial planning even though it appears they often made sure the World Bank funded the projects. Three World Bank officials were listed in this document among the contacts: Abebaw Alemayehu (senior development specialist), Yoshimichi Kawasumi (senior highway engineer), and Yitbarek Tessema (senior water and sanitation specialist).
Reports by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Huffington Post, and The Investigative Fund found that The World Bank Group repeatedly failed to enforce own rules to protect communities in its projects’ path. One of the stories featured by these reporters includes Ethiopian Anuak family who were beaten, raped, and displaced from their land as a result of The World Bank Group funded Ethiopian government villagization program.
The disconcerting and destructive quote to The World Bank’s mission came from the World Bank’s Ethiopia program director, Greg Toulmin. “We are not in the physical security business,” ICIJ quoted him saying at the time. Despite his dismissive quote towards human rights and his contradicting of the World Bank Group’s mission, Mr. Toulmin is currently the acting Country Director for Ethiopia.
The World Bank, whose private lending arm, International Finance Corporation (IFC) is a defendant in a class action lawsuit filed in District of Columbia, sent a link to a press release in response to The Horn Post’s request for a budget document showing financial compensation for the displaced people in the outskirts of Addis Ababa. In the press release, in March 2015, the World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said, “We took a hard look at ourselves on resettlement and what we found caused me deep concern.” He also goes on to acknowledge failures in overseeing projects involving resettlement, implementation and enforcement of own policies. The World Bank’s Operational Policies (OP 4.12) clearly states involuntary displacement needs special attention in paragraph 2.
Involuntary resettlement may cause severe long-term hardship, impoverishment, and environmental damage unless appropriate measures are carefully planned and carried out. For these reasons, the overall objectives of the Bank’s policy on involuntary resettlement are the following: (a) Involuntary resettlement should be avoided where feasible, or minimized, exploring all viable alternative (b) Where it is not feasible to avoid resettlement, resettlement activities should be conceived and executed as sustainable development programs, providing sufficient investment resources to enable the persons displaced by the project to share in project benefits should be meaningfully consulted and should have opportunities to participate in planning and implementing resettlement programs. (c) Displaced persons should be assisted in their efforts to improve their livelihoods and standards of living or at least to restore them, in real terms, to pre-displacement levels or to levels prevailing prior to the beginning of project implementation, whichever is higher.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the press release came after both the ICIJ report and the lawsuit accusing International Finance Corporation of irresponsible and negligent conduct in appraising, financing, advising, supervising and monitoring a coal-fired powered plant in India. Countries like China and Turkey are operating in Ethiopia, but France takes the lead in displacing the poor with near zero compensation in the outskirts of Addis Ababa. An email from The Horn Post to Lyon city officials seeking comments regarding Addis Ababa Master plan did not get a response at the time of this publication.
UPDATE: Links to some sources mentioned in this article are added per readers’ suggestions.
As originally published on Sept. 19, 2015.