by David Pred and Natalie Bugalski
A leaked World Bank report calls for an investigation into allegations that a multi-billion dollar aid program in Ethiopia is underwriting the forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities to free up fertile land to lease to investors. A meeting of the Bank’s board of directors to discuss the Panel’s preliminary findings was postponed on Tuesday due to objections from the Ethiopian government. Rights groups are watching closely to see how the new Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, will deal with sensitive questions about World Bank accountability and human rights in one of its most important client states.
Anuak indigenous refugees from Gambella region who fled human rights abuses in Ethiopia submitted a complaint to the Bank’s Inspection Panel in September claiming that they had been severely harmed by the flagship international aid program for the provision of basic services in Ethiopia, which is administered and partially financed by the World Bank.
Landlocked in the Horn of Africa and beset by periodic droughts and famine, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world. International relief and food assistance is still needed to feed between 10 and 20 percent of its roughly 85 million people. Many Ethiopians, particularly rural dwellers, lack access to basic services, including water, sanitation and basic health facilities.
Since the ousting of the Soviet-backed “Derg” military regime in 1991, the Government of Ethiopia, led by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), has implemented a vast program of economic recovery and reform meant to address the dire poverty and enormous social and economic needs of the population.
The government and its development partners claim impressive strides towards meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and significant progress in key human development indicators over the past two decades, including a quadrupling in primary school enrollments, halving of child mortality, and a doubling of the number of people with access to clean water.
Yet, in parallel to its economic reform agenda the government has become increasingly oppressive and intolerant of criticism and dissent. As Human Rights Watch has reported, the government has “severely restricted the rights of expression and association, arbitrarily detained political opponents, intimidated journalists, shuttered media outlets, and made independent human rights and election monitoring practically impossible.”
These human rights abuses are rarely openly acknowledged by the bilateral and multilateral donors to Ethiopia. Ethiopia is one of the world’s largest recipients of foreign aid, receiving approximately US$3 billion in funds annually from external donors, including the World Bank, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Commission, Germany and the Netherlands.
Largely turning a blind eye to the increasingly repressive political climate, donors justify their support by both the enormity of the need and the reported inroads achieved in reducing poverty since the EPRDF came to power. Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi forged close alliances with Western nations based on a common interest in combatting Islamic extremism and establishing greater stability in the volatile region.
Throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, the World Bank and other donors supported the Ethiopian Government by providing direct budget support through a series of Structural Adjustment Credits and Poverty Reduction Support Operations, in addition to several specific purpose projects. In 2004/05 direct budget support from all donors constituted approximately one third of total aid to Ethiopia, placing significant aid amounts directly in government hands with minimal control and oversight, despite evidence of egregious human rights abuses being perpetrated by the government and military.
The Protection of Basic Services Project
Government perpetrated violence and human rights abuses following the 2005 national election propelled multilateral and bilateral donors to shift their financing relationship with the Government of Ethiopia. State security forces had reacted to a series of election-related protests with excessive force, killing 200 and arresting over 30,000 people. Although this was not the first time the government had used violence, including open gunfire, to suppress dissent, the widely publicized events led to a suspension of direct budget support by the World Bank and other members of the Development Assistance Group (DAG), a consortium of 26 donors to Ethiopia.
The World Bank explained that the decision was based on the donors “perception of increased risks relating to governance, particularly the risk that unconstrained budget support could be vulnerable to political capture or diversion from the core priority of basic service delivery.”
Despite these real and grave concerns that direct aid flows could underwrite political discrimination and repression, donors quickly devised a number of new instruments through which to channel aid into the government budget, theoretically with increased mechanisms for transparency and accountability.
The largest of these instruments is the Protection of Basic Services (PBS) project, which aims to expand access to and improve the quality of basic services in five sectors: education, health, agriculture, water supply and sanitation, and rural roads. Through PBS, donors transfer “block grants” to the federal government, which then disperses combined donor and government funds to regional and woreda (district) governments, responsible for the decentralized delivery, operation and maintenance of basic services.
The World Bank has contributed approximately $1.4 billion in grants and loans to the first two phases of the program since 2006. The Bank approved another $600 million on September 25 for a third phase of the project, which it renamed “Promotion of Basic Services” to reflect that “in the past six years, the Government, the World Bank and [other donors] have shown that they are committed to protecting basic services, even when the political and economic environment has been uncertain.”
The PBS project objectives are indisputably laudable and aim to meet a number of dire needs of the Ethiopian population. There is evidence, however, that PBS funds are being used to commit grave human rights abuses. The risk identified by the World Bank that “unconstrained budget support” could be misused has been realized in the absence of robust safeguards, accountability mechanisms and oversight.
Bank project documents sought to distinguish PBS from previous forms of direct budget support through a commitment to “timely and detailed reporting”, “explicit monitoring and oversight”, and “the introduction of measures to encourage local accountability.” In reality, however, PBS has closely resembled previous modes of support with almost complete discretion left to national and sub-national governments to design programs to meet PBS objectives.
According to the Bank “the PBS itself has no direct mechanism to influence choices made at the local government level.”  It is very difficult, if not impossible, for the Bank to track the use of its funds since “[t]here are no separate bank accounts beyond the initial entry point into the Treasury and no separate disbursement or accounting procedures.”
Donors have acknowledged that the suspension of direct budget support is “viewed to some extent as predominantly symbolic since much of the assistance allocated to general budgetary support has been diverted to other program-based aid instruments such as the Protection of Basic Services (PBS) programme…” A confidential United States diplomatic cable dated 2009, released on Wikileaks, stated:
Direct budget support, which the [United States] does not provide but is favored by many donors, is the most vulnerable form of assistance. As an example, Post has received numerous reports of graft and politicization of donor support provided through the Provision of Basic Services (PBS) program [sic], which provides block grants to regional governments and is coordinated by the World Bank.
Forced Displacement and “Villagization” in Gambella
In the region of Gambella the government’s principle means of delivering basic services is through the implementation of the “Villagization Program Action Plan”, which commenced in mid to late 2010 during phase II of PBS. According to the Action Plan, “villagization” is to occur in all woredas in Gambella with the goal of creating “access to basic socioeconomic infrastructures of those people who are settled scattered and along the riverside…and those who practiced cut & burn shifting cultivation…[sic]”
Under the three-year plan, 45,000 households (approximately 300,000 people) were to be resettled in new villages in which schools, water schemes, health posts, roads and other infrastructure would be erected in order to facilitate better access to basic services, improve food security, and “bring socioeconomic and cultural transformation of the people.”
In May to June 2011, Human Rights Watch interviewed over 100 people affected by villagization in Gambella and found widespread human rights abuses at all stages of the program, described in detail in the 2012 report, “Waiting Here for Death.” Despite the government’s assertions that all resettlement under the project is voluntary, Human Rights Watch found clear evidence of forced displacement and a “resettlement” process plagued by threats, harassment, beatings and assault by soldiers in some cases leading to death; arbitrary arrest and detention; and rape and other sexual violence. Almost all of the villagers interviewed told Human Rights Watch that they were forcibly resettled. 
In a letter to the World Bank country director for Ethiopia, which is excerpted in the request to the Inspection Panel, one of the complainants detailed his experience with villagization:
The relocation was not voluntary, I was not asked if I wanted to be relocated nor did I give my consent to being moved. My village was forced by the government to move to the new location against our will. I refused and was beaten and lost my two upper teeth. My brother was beaten to death by soldiers for refusing to go to the new village. My second brother was detained and I don’t know where he was taken by the soldiers.
Other letters that the Bank received from victims of villagization before they filed their complaint to the Inspection Panel describe how those who challenged the relocation suffered beatings, torture, rape and killings by the Ethiopian authorities. They also explain how promised basic services and facilities were often not provided and the lack of food and livelihood options at the resettlement villages. Some spoke of people who had starved to death. One villager told Human Rights Watch:
The government is killing our people through starvation and hunger. It is better to attack us in one place than just waiting here together to die. If you attack us, some of us could run, and some could survive. But this, we are dying here with our children. Government workers get this salary, but we are just waiting here for death.
Hundreds of Gambellans, mainly young Anuak men, have fled the intolerable conditions and sought asylum in neighboring Kenya and South Sudan. Many of those affected by villagization in Gambella are Anuak, an ethnic minority, indigenous to East Africa, who consider the areas upon which they reside, cultivate and otherwise use as traditional lands. One Anuak elder resettled under the villagization program said:
We want you to be clear that the government brought us here… to die… right here…. We want the world to hear that government brought the Anuak people here to die. They brought us no food, they gave away our land to the foreigners so we can’t even move back. On all sides the land is given away, so we will die here in one place.
Villagization is not limited to Gambella. A study published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, corroborated Human Rights Watch’s findings with respect to villagization in Benishangul-Gumuz region. The study states that some members of affected communities said that they did not relocate of their own free will, but did so out of fear of imprisonment or to otherwise “avoid trouble”. It further reports that some women stated that officials demolished or threatened to burn down houses.
Villagization is also reportedly occurring in the regions Somali and Afar. According to published reports a total of 1.5 million people throughout the lowland areas of the country will be resettled under villagization programs.
There is evidence that the villagization program is taking place in fertile areas where significant investment in commercial farming is planned or is already occurring. A former regional civil servant told Human Rights Watch that the link between villagization and the transfer of land for agricultural investment was well known within the government. The Finnish study reported that affected people interviewed in Benishangul-Gumuz thought that releasing land to investors was a hidden agenda in the villagization program. This was the perception of all the refugees we met in Kenya and South Sudan.
PBS Funds and Forced Villagization
According to project documents for PBS Phase II, Bank and other donor funds that are transferred as block grants to the national government are then distributed to all regions and districts to cover salaries of woreda officials, and operations and maintenance of basic services and infrastructure. Bank documents state that flows from PBS constitute “the major source of funding for woredas.”
A 2011 study commissioned by the Government of Ethiopia and its development partners confirmed: “In effect one can argue that PBS pays a portion of the compensation of all regional government and local government employees (not just salaries and benefits in the five sectors enumerated above) because PBS funds are commingled with funds from other sources that regional state and local governments use to pay employee compensation.”
Yet the World Bank insists that PBS funds do not contribute directly to the Villagization Program. At a meeting at the World Bank office in Naiobi with Human Rights Watch, Inclusive Development International and several Anuak refugees, the PBS project team leader explained that the Bank is able to track how PBS funds are being used down to the woreda level. He emphasized that the Bank is only paying the salaries of public servants such as schoolteachers, health professionals and agricultural extension workers. In the complaint to the Inspection Panel, however, former teachers and agricultural workers from Gambella, now refugees, are quoted describing how they and other public servants were ordered to implement the Villagization Program. One teacher explained:
What we were told, everybody and anybody on the payroll of the government, they have to do their part. And not only the teachers, all the administration, everybody has to participate and do the work. And people who are opposing it, they will be detained. They will be jailed, or taken to the military camp…”
The Bank’s Response
Despite all the reports and direct testimony from victims that Bank staff heard in Nairobi, in its official response to the Inspection Panel complaint, the Bank maintains that, “to date neither the Bank nor other Development Partners have been able to identify any evidence to substantiate possible links between reported abusive behavior and villagization.”
One reason why the Bank and other donors may not have identified substantiating evidence is because they aren’t looking for it. The DAG conducted two assessments on villagization in February 2011 and June 2012. They include some Orwellian findings such as, “there were no reports of forced relocation or systematic human rights abuses, but half the people interviewed said they didn’t want to move and there were reports of some pressure and unmet promises linked to movement.”
When you look at the questions they asked, you see that they didn’t actually ask people if they were forced to move or if they suffered any human rights abuses. Instead they asked questions in focus groups, most likely with the presence of village authorities, about whether and how villagers were consulted and if they can make a complaint about the program if necessary. Anybody who knows the repressive environment and culture of fear that pervades Ethiopia would understand that nobody would volunteer information about human rights abuses unless asked directly in a safe environment.
In the refugee camps of Kenya and South Sudan, where people are free to speak openly, we heard dozens of testimonies of people who challenged the villagization process or even asked clarification questions about it during “consultation” meetings and suffered beatings and other retribution afterwards as a result. The Bank and the DAG have not gone to speak with the Anuak refugees in the camps in Kenya and South Sudan, despite receiving requests to visit from group leaders in all four camps.
The Bank also argues in its response to the complaint, “there is no basis to claim that PBS 3 is directly linked to villagization, based on the fact that some government officials at the local woreda level, part of whose salary is being paid under PBS 3, may also have some responsibilities relating to villagization.” They say that it would not be “feasible or desirable” to have an arrangement where all officials paid by the Bank must work exclusively on the activities for which they are being paid, because that would run counter to the ongoing international efforts at improving aid effectiveness. The main concern for PBS 3, according to the Bank, “must be whether each official has discharged the PBS-related duties which are the basis for paying her/his salary.”
How far can the Bank take this line of reasoning? Is there no end to the severity of crimes that government officials can commit before it becomes unacceptable for aid money to be paying their salaries? Does the donor at some point become complicit in the crimes it is helping to make possible?
At one point after hearing the compelling stories of the Anuak refugees during the meeting in Nairobi, one of the Bank officials turned to a former teacher from Gambella who had been told them how he was beaten and arrested along with his brother for asking questions about whether villagization was necessary (he fled to Kenya as soon as he was released). She asked him if he thought the Bank should stop paying teacher salaries as a solution to the problem of villagization.
The teacher responded by explaining that in his experience, he often had no chalk, pens or textbooks to teach with and that his salary didn’t come on time. He turned the question on the Bank and asked: “If that is the case, are the donors to PBS happy to continue funding a project where the results are not seen on the ground?”
Too big to fail
PBS may be having positive results on the ground in other regions of Ethiopia, but in a country where there is entrenched political and ethnic discrimination, the distribution of benefits from development interventions have been highly uneven.
There are other options for the donors short of pulling out that would ensure that they are not underwriting human rights violations in Ethiopia. The Bank has safeguard policies that it has so far chosen not to trigger, which would hold the Ethiopian government accountable to respect the rights of its citizens in the planning and implementation of villagization if that is the strategy it chooses for delivering basic services.
If these policies were applied, the Government would have to ensure, and the Bank would have to verify, that that the only villagization that occurs in Ethiopia is truly voluntary and that people’s lives are restored and indeed improved after relocation. Forced resettlement for the purposes of providing resettlers with services is unacceptable under Bank policy or by any reasonable standard.
The question remains then why doesn’t the Bank just demand that Ethiopia comply with its safeguard policies in relation to the Villagization Program. One answer may be because the government would balk and Ethiopia is too important a client of the Bank’s to ruffle its feathers. If the Bank admits it is necessary to apply its safeguard policies to the villagization program, it would challenge the whole flawed structure of aid to Ethiopia, which is predicated on the myth that the EPRDF government is an honest broker that can be fully entrusted to deliver services to its population on a fair and equitable basis. Any truths that might stand in the way of that structure are just too inconvenient to investigate.
For international donors like Germany, the UK and the European Commission, Ethiopia is a too-big-to-fail aid recipient. They have invested too much for too long to admit to their taxpayers that things have gone horribly wrong. And so denial has been the fallback position.
That is why the World Bank Inspection Panel report is so important. The Panel undertook a preliminary investigation into the Anuak complaint to determine whether it was eligible. Unlike the Bank’s management, the Panel traveled to the region and interviewed Anuak refugees who had fled villagization to seek asylum in Kenya and South Sudan. The Panel found that the Bank’s view that villagization is not directly or significantly related to PBS 3 is “not a tenable position.” The Panel determined that there is a plausible link between PBS and the Villagization Program and it recommended to the Board a full investigation in order to make definitive findings.
The Panel’s eligibility report and recommendation should have been approved by the Board on a no-objection basis within two weeks from its submission on February 8. However, Ethiopia’s representative on the Board has stymied approval of the investigation. A meeting to discuss the Panel’s report scheduled on March 19 was postponed due to resistance from the Ethiopian government, which is vying to set the terms of the investigation.
The Inspection Panel was established as an independent body that people harmed by World Bank lending practices can access in order to hold the Bank to account. Bank managers and member states are not supposed to interfere in the process. The rules governing the Inspection Panel process are clear that the Board should authorize an investigation if the Panel so recommends without making any judgment on the merits of the case. Any Board discussion should only relate to the technical criteria for eligibility of complaints to the Panel.
However, in recent years Bank Management and certain members of the Board have become increasingly aggressive in challenging the Inspection Panel, questioning its judgments and asserting that it is going beyond its mandate. In a recent complaint about threatened evictions stemming from a municipal water supply project in Lebanon, the Board asked the Panel to defer its recommendation for an investigation so that Management could devise an action plan to address the issues raised in the complaint.
In this case, the Bank has stridently denied that it is contributing to villagization and it doesn’t even acknowledge the forcible nature of villagization, so without unequivocal findings to the contrary from the Inspection Panel the Bank just doesn’t believe there are any issues that it needs to correct.
The Bank’s president, Jim Yong Kim, should stand up for accountability and tell the Board to let the Panel do its job. The truth that will come out of this investigation may be inconvenient for the Bank and an important client government, but it will be a rare measure of justice for the Ethiopian people.
 Human Rights Watch, “Development without Freedom,” October 2010, p. 12.
 Human Rights Watch, “Development without Freedom,” October 2010, p. 14 and 15.
 Human Rights Watch, “Development without Freedom,” October 2010, p. 4.
 For example, see DAG Secretariat, “A Profile of Development Partners in Ethiopia: Official Development Assistance,” 2010; and the World Bank, “Country Assistance Strategy: Ethiopia 2008 – 2011.”
 See, for example, Jeffrey Gettleman, “Ethiopian Leader’s Death Highlights Gap Between U.S. Interests and Ideals,” The New York Times, August 21, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/22/world/africa/zenawi-exemplified-conflict-between-american-interests-and-ideals.html?pagewanted=all.
 Development Assistance Group ETHIOPIA (DAG), “ODA to Ethiopia,” January 30, 2010, http://www.dagethiopia.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=21&Itemid=36
 For example, see Human Rights Watch, “Targeting the Anuak: Human Rights and Crimes against Humanity in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region, March 24, 2005.
 Human Rights Watch, ”Development Without Freedom,” October 2010, p. 6.
 World Bank, Project Information Document (PID), Ethiopia PBS Project, 2006, p. 1.
 World Bank, Project Appraisal Document (PAD), Ethiopia PBS Phase II Project, 2009.
 World Bank, Project Appraisal Document (PAD), Ethiopia PBS Phase II Project, 2009.
 World Bank, Project Information Document (PID), Concept Stage, Ethiopia PBS Program Phase III Project, April 2012, p. 4.
 World Bank, “Project Information Document (PID) Concept Stage, Ethiopia Protection of Basic Services Program Phase III Project (P128891),” April 2012.
 Project Information Document (PID), PBS Project, 2006, page iv.
 Project Information Document (PID), PBS Project, 2006, page 3.
 Project Appraisal Document (PAD), PBS Phase II Project, 2009, at para 36.
 DAG Secretariat, “A Profile of Development Partners in Ethiopia: Official Development Assistance,” 2010, p. 9.
 Confidential communication from United States Embassy in Addis Ababa, Subject: Party patronage and foreign assistance in Ethiopia, November 25, 2009, http://www.cablegatesearch.net/cable.php?id=09ADDISABABA2809&q=ethiopia%20pbs
 Gambella Peoples’ National Regional State, Villagization Program Action Plan (2003 EFY), August 2002, page 1.
 Gambella Peoples’ National Regional State, Villagization Program Action Plan (2003 EFY), August 2002, page 1.
 See, Letter from Minister of Federal Affairs Shiferaw Teklemariam to HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, December 2011 reprinted in HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, “Waiting Here for Death: Displacement and “Villagization” in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region”, 2012, Appendix IV.
 See, Human Rights Watch, “Waiting Here for Death: Displacement and “Villagization” in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region”, 2012 pages 25 to 30.
 See, Human Rights Watch, “Waiting Here for Death: Displacement and “Villagization” in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region”, 2012 pages 29.
 Inclusive Development International, “Request for Inspection by the World Bank Inspection Panel, Annex: Policy and Legal Analysis of the Ethiopia PBS Request for Inspection,” September 24, 2012, para 23.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Aboba woreda, May25, 2011, reported in Human Rights Watch, “Waiting Here for Death: Displacement and “Villagization” in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region”, 2012 p. 45.
 Human Rights Watch interview with a resident of Abobo woreda, May 2011, reported in Human Rights Watch, “Waiting Here for Death: Displacement and “Villagization” in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region”, 2012 p. 25
 Finnmap, “Socio-economic baseline study and assessment of the impact of villagisation”, (Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland), 2 May 2012, page 56 and 67.
 Finnmap, “Socio-economic baseline study and assessment of the impact of villagisation”, (Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland), 2 May 2012, page 56.
 William Davison, “Ethiopia plans ambitious resettlement of people buffered by East Africa drought,” Christian Science Monitor, August 1, 2011, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2011/0801/Ethiopia-plans-ambitious-resettlement-of-people-buffeted-by-East-Africa-drought, (accessed October 3, 2012).
 See Oakland Institute, “Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa: Ethiopia”, 2011.
 Human Rights Watch interview with a former regional government official, Dadaab, Kenya, June 18, 2011, first reported in Human Rights Watch, “Waiting Here for Death: Displacement and “Villagization” in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region”, 2012 p. 54.
 Finnmap, “Socio-economic baseline study and assessment of the impact of villagisation”, (Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland), 2 May 2012, page 57.
 Project Appraisal Document (PAD), PBS Phase II Project, 2009, page 20.
 Project Appraisal Document (PAD), PBS Phase II Project, 2009, page 3.
 Robert C Randoplh and Buli Edjeta, “Study on Strengthening Grievance Redress Mechanisms for the Protection of the Basic Services (PBS) Program in Ethiopia,” 30 September 2011, page 9.
 Meeting between the World Bank, Human Rights Watch and Inclusive Development International, Nairobi, September 14, 2012.
 Inclusive D9evelopment International interviews, South Sudan, September 17, 2012.
 World Bank, “Management Response to Request for Inspection Panel Review of the Ethiopia: Protection of Basic Services Program Phase II, Additional Financing (P121727) and Promoting Basic Services Phase III Project (P128891), para. xix
 DFID, USAID, UN and Irish Aid, “Multi-agency ‘Villagization’ Mission to Gambella Regional State, Ethiopia Report,” June 3-8, 2012, p. 2.
 Ibid, pp. 14-20.
 World Bank, “Management Response to Request for Inspection Panel Review of the Ethiopia: Protection of Basic Services Program Phase II, Additional Financing (P121727) and Promoting Basic Services Phase III Project (P128891), para. 58
 Ibid., para 60.
 Recording of meeting at the World Bank office in Nairobi, September 14, 2012, at 2:50-2:51.
 World Bank Inspection Panel, “Report and Recommendation on Request for Inspection, Ethiopia: Protection of Basic Services Program Phase II Additional Financing (P121727) and Promoting Basic Services Program Phase III project (P128891), para. 84.
 See “Clarification of the Board” (1999), available at: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTINSPECTIONPANEL/Resources/1999ClarificationoftheBoard.pdf