Hailemariam promotes ‘villagization’ in Ethiopia’s Somali Region

Pastoralists in eastern Ethiopia (Credit: EU/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie)

Prime Minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn is encouraging pastoralists in the country’s eastern Somali Region to accept a “sedentary” lifestyle under an ongoing villagization program, saying this will give them better access to services and avert drought-related shortages.

State-run Ethiopian News Agency quoted Hailemariam as saying, “Villagization key in averting vulnerability to drought.”

The state media explained, “Areas rich in underground and surface resources are considered in the villagization programs meant to promote sedentary lifestyle among the pastoral community who favor scattered settlements.”

Hailemariam’s remark came during the 16th Pastoralist Day Festival hosted by the Somali Regional State in Jigjiga yesterday. The premier was the guest of honor at the occasion.

In an effort to make a sedentary lifestyle more attractive, the Ethiopian government is building roads, power lines, telecom and airports in pastoral areas, according to Hailemariam. “Strengthening the special support system to pastoralist areas is vital as it helps in expanding education and training opportunities that create skilled manpower in the areas,” the premier stressed.

Villagization is a policy with a long history in Ethiopia throughout the 20th century. It has been applied in the Ethiopian highlands due to overpopulation and in lowland provinces due to drought. But it has not been without controversy, with human rights groups claiming that villagization has sometimes been coercive.

Jijiga town (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Yet the benefits are also being pushed by the Somali Regional State. The program claims to offer resettled pastoralists one hectare of land each to cultivate crops and animal fodder, also pointing to infrastructure developments like like veterinary and medical services.

Also speaking at the event yesterday, Minister of Federal and Pastoralist Development Affairs Kassa Tekleberhan said that “corruption and poor governance” are hurdles in realizing the villagization program. He said that reforms are needed within institutions to improve participation by pastoral communities.