East Langano Land Issues

The toppled roof of a destroyed house in East Langano

One of my goals of this past week was to coordinate with the communities about some upcoming business planning activities. This went well in Lepis and Ziway. However, in East Langano the situation was more precarious.

There are three communities in East Langano that are located in a protected forests. Although the area has been legally protected for many years, the forest was never  properly managed. This means that communities have settled on this land despite the fact that agriculture and settlements are not allowed. Recently, the government decided to begin a more thorough management of the forests. This is ultimately good since the forest serves as an important buffer for erosion and eventual siltation of Lake Langano. However, since the communities have been there for years, there is a feeling of ownership over the land.

When we visited the area is it was almost completely empty. The majority of the houses were destroyed (to discourage people returning) and the crumbled thatched roofs of the traditional huts were scattered the landscape. It was a difficult thing to witness. Some people had started to rebuild their houses just outside the forest boundary and were angry at the resettlement. These were the lucky ones. The ones that had enough money to rebuild. There are many more though that were moved back to their family lands outside the forests and will not have proper houses for the coming rainy season.

This battle of land is found everywhere and is a particular issue in tourism development. On the one hand, the communities were living illegally on this land which needs to be protected for the sustainability of surrounding ecosystems as well as the livelihoods of the people. On the other hand, the communities that have been living there for decades feel a sense of ownership and are attached to this land as the place where they grew up and where they imaged their children living.