• Indigenous peoples in Ethiopia

    Indigenous peoples in Ethiopia

    Ethiopia is home to a great diversity of peoples speaking more than 80 languages. Still, Ethiopia has no legislation that protects or address the rights of indigenous peoples.
  • Diversity

    80 languages are spoken in Ethiopia
  • Rights

    No national laws protect indigenous peoples
  • Climate

    500,000 indigenous people in the Omo valley threatened by water insecurity


Ethiopia does not have national legislation that protects indigenous peoples. Ethiopia has not ratified ILO Convention 169, nor was it present during the vote on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.

The obligations of Ethiopia under the international human rights mechanisms that have been ratified, p. the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination - remains unfulfilled.

The indigenous peoples of Ethiopia represent a significant proportion of the estimated population of 95 million people in the country. About 15% are sedentary pastoralists and farmers living in the lowlands. The hunter-gatherer communities include Majang (Majengir) who lives in the forest and the Anuak agro-pastoralist people who live in the Gambella region.

In Ethiopia, more than 80 languages are spoken, and the greatest diversity is found in the southwest. Two-thirds of the population speak Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya and Somali.

Main challenges for indigenous peoples in Ethiopia

The pastoralists of Ethiopia live on lands that, in recent years, have become the subject of great demand from foreign investors. It is believed that Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa, a large part of which is concentrated in pastoralist communities that live on land that, in recent years, has become the subject of high demand from foreign investors ( land grabbing). This land grab, a government policy that leases vast fertile land to foreign and national companies, continues to negatively affect indigenous peoples.

The government considers that its land investment policy is important to maximize the usefulness of the land through the development of "underutilized" lands in the lowlands. However, the selected lands are the source of sustenance for some 15 million indigenous peoples: pastoralists, small farmers and hunter-gatherers, whose customary rights over land are constantly violated.

Ethiopian village policy, a policy for the resettlement of people in designated villages, has also forced indigenous peoples to relocate. Although villagization is designed to provide "access to basic socio-economic infrastructure" to people who relocate, the resources provided by the government have proved insufficient to sustain people in the new villages. The access of indigenous peoples to medical care, as well as to primary and secondary education, remains inadequate.

Indigenous peoples in the Gambela regions and the lower Omo valley have been affected by the policy of foreign investment and land lease and the government's village program.

Conflict in Gambella

Since the mid-1990s, the Gambella region in Ethiopia witnessed factional fighting and inter-communal violence between the Anuak and the Nuer, mainly for resources and for socio-cultural reasons.

The increase in ethnic tensions between the Anuak and the Nuer is fueled by the porous border between South Sudan and Ethiopia. Gambella already shelters some 330,211 refugees from South Sudan, due to the ongoing conflict in the country, which continues to displace people inside the country and forcing them to enter neighbouring countries. Ethiopia is currently the second largest refugee receiving country in South Sudan, the vast majority of which have found refuge in Gambella.

Along with the increase in the Nuer population, tensions and violence have intensified with the Anuak communities over traditional land claims and access to jobs. Land use rights in Gambella remain controversial.

The Indigenous World 2021: Ethiopia

The Indigenous Peoples of Ethiopia make up a significant proportion of the country’s estimated population of 110 million. Around 15% are pastoralists and sedentary farmers who live across the country but particularly in the Ethiopian lowlands, which constitute some 61% of the country’s total landmass. There are also several hunter-gatherer communities, including the forest-dwelling Majang (Majengir) and Anuak peoples, who live in the Gambella region.

Ethiopia is believed to have the largest livestock population in Africa, a significant number of which are in the hands of pastoralist communities living on land that, in recent years, has been under high demand from foreign investors. Such “land grabbing” has only emphasized the already tenuous political and economic situation of Indigenous Peoples in Ethiopia. Indigenous Peoples’ access to healthcare provision and to primary and secondary education remains highly inadequate.

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Indigenous World 2019: Ethiopia 2019

The indigenous peoples of Ethiopia make up a significant proportion of the country’s estimated population of 95 million. Around 15% are pastoralists and sedentary farmers who live across the country, particularly in the Ethiopian lowlands, which constitute some 61% of the country’s total landmass.

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The Ethiopian government forcibly displace indigenous pastoralists

Government security forces are violently forcing indigenous peoples to leave their traditional lands to make way for extensive development plans. Government officials have carried out arrests, beatings and detentions against residents of the Lower Omo valley that questions or resists the development plans. A new report from Human Rights Watch shows hoe the Ethiopian government is forcibly displacing pastoralist communities in Ethiopia’s lower Omo valley without any form of compensation or consultation. The displacements are being made to make way for state-run sugar plantations that are state-run. The government plans for the Omo valley includes the construction of the controversial Gibe III hydropower project that will supply downstream sugar plantations with water through irrigation canals. The Human Rights Watch report shows how plans for these canals and sugar processing factories will cover 100,000 hectares of the land in the Lower Omo valley that is home to pastoralist communities. Land that the pastoralists depend on for food security but also land that is connected to the traditional pastoralist way of life and identity.

Ethiopia's plantations are killing vital waterway

The flooding of the Omo River feeds the rich biodiversity of the region and ensures tribes such as the Bodi, Mursi and Dassanach can feed their cattle and produce beans and cereals in the fertile silt left behind. In addition to this indigenous communities are also suffering from violent human rights abuses, as plans are implemented forcibly to resettle those who stand in the way of the government's plans, and to take away their cattle.

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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