Abstract

This paper examines the process by which the poorest of the poor in Ethiopia's food insecure regions are made invisible through their very participation in a programme whose explicit aim is to help deliver them from vulnerability. Those targeted for support progressively lose their status and agency as ‘people of concern’ to governmental welfare bodies as well as international humanitarian organizations as they are resettled in a scheme that renders many people more needy than they were before they left their areas of origin. Inadequate planning and resourcing of resettlement on a massive scale and rushed timeframe, blocking of NGO and other independent monitors’ access, and careful control at the federal level over information relating to conditions in settlement areas makes it possible for this space of invisibility to be created, into which an estimated one million people have already been moved since 2003. Invisibilization occurs through coinciding processes of forced recruitment and displacement as well as false and misleading representations of the resettlement programme, but also through a limited degree of voluntary engagement that enables government and international agencies to brand the operation voluntary—hence less a matter of concern—and thus to look away from a population that is far from self-sufficient. Based on fieldwork conducted in 2003 and 2004 in sending and receiving sites, I argue that invisibility is a function of governmentality in Ethiopia that has enabled inaction on the part of a wide range of stakeholders.

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