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The People of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley May Not Survive This Time Around

By:  Narissa Allibhai
The diverse indigenous ethnic groups of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley may have made it past severe threats to their survival during decades of occupation by Emperor Menelik, but the current land grabs for industrial plantations, spurred by construction of the Gibe 3 Dam, may spell the end of life as they know it, according to Will Hurd, Omo Basin researcher, activist, and director of small NGO Cool Ground.
Members of the Karo ethnic group by the Omo River Marc Veraart on Flickr
Members of the Karo ethnic group by the Omo River
Marc Veraart on Flickr
In his recent paper “Surviving the Second Conquest: Emperor Menelik and Industrial Plantations in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley,” Hurd describes two conquests of the Omo Valley, the first from 1896 to 1936, and the ongoing one that started discreetly in 1996. He begins by outlining the importance of the Omo Basin, which is believed to be the origin of humankind, and is home to unique indigenous ethnic groups whose traditional livelihoods are attached to the land and annual flooding of the Omo River.
In 1896, after the Italians tried and failed to seize Ethiopia, Emperor Menelik took over southwest Ethiopia in order to keep it out of European hands. Thus followed a series of trials and tribulations for the tribal peoples of the Omo Valley, who had long been out of reach of the settled society of Ethiopia’s highlands. The rinderpest infestation of cattle that was introduced by the Italians devastated pastoralist Africa. The subsequent tsetse flies infestation and associated sleeping sickness spelt death for humans and cattle. Menelik’s troops added to the lethal effects of the epidemics, and not all ethnic groups survived to tell the tale. The slave trade for domestic and Arab markets, especially of farmers in the region, led to more turmoil and disruption, forever changing the area’s dynamics. This turbulent period came to an end in 1936, when the inhabitants of the Omo Valley were left alone once more.
In 1996, the Ethiopian government quietly commissioned the Omo-Gibe Basin Masterplan, whose principal components included the construction of a large dam for both energy production and to facilitate irrigated agriculture. The world knew nothing of this mega-dam until major construction since 2006 of the dam that would come to be known as Gilgel Gibe III. The dam has a planned hydropower capacity of 1870 MW and will disrupt seasonal river flows, but of greater concern are the associated sugar plantations that could consume up to 50% of flows that will never reach downstream. Despite international outcry over environmental and human rights concerns, construction of Gibe III continued apace and the reservoir began filling last year.
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One year after completion, effects of the dam are already being felt: the annual floods (necessary for flood-recession agriculture and fish breeding cycles) have stopped. The land has been taken from local people and national parks, inhabitants of the land have been forcibly resettled, and food insecurity and extreme hunger have begun to set in. This is just the start of troubles to come. The Omo River provides Kenya’s Lake Turkana with 90% of its water. It is predicted that abstraction of water for the plantations could cause the lake level to fall by up to 22m. Fish numbers will dwindle and the lake’s water will be completely undrinkable. These events will exacerbate resource conflicts among the local communities.
Solutions to this unfolding disaster are difficult, but Hurd and anthropologist David Turton have a few suggestions for the Ethiopian government:

  • Carry out additional independent investigations of the project. International standards require a comprehensive, independent assessment of the cumulative impacts of the dam and association irritation, accounting for adequate resettlement and compensation for affected communities, and an operating regime selected that would guarantee critical ecosystem services downstream are maintained.
  • Make the impact assessment of the sugar plantations public
  • Implement the “three Cs: communication, consultation, and compensation” – better late than never
  • A significant livelihood reconstruction program that integrates existent livestock herding with irrigated agriculture
  • Allow the people of the Omo Valley to keep their cattle and increase the size of agricultural plots promised to them
  • Drastically scale back plantation areas
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The local people have taken the lead in starting off initiatives that accommodate various interests. They have been trying to develop a Community Conservation Area (CCA) and tourism project since 2008, integrating conservation and tourism. However, government approval is essential for this project to succeed. There is potential for compromise and arrangements that can be mutually beneficial. As things currently stand, however, unless something drastic is done, “there seems little hope of the local ethnic groups recovering from this second conquest of the Omo Valley, as they did from Menelik’s conquest of 100 years ago.”

Source: http://www.internationalrivers.org/blogs/450

14 Comments

  1. IT IS NOT A LAND GRAB BUT ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION AND ADVANCEMENT.
    The people need to be civilized,educated and must able to get out of poverty bound cycle of agrerian backward life style into industrial economy.

  2. IT IS NOT A LAND GRAB BUT ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION AND ADVANCEMENT.
    The people need to be civilized,educated and must able to get out of poverty bound cycle of agrerian backward life style into industrial economy.

  3. The issue at hand now is: Are the Tigrayans responsible for problems of good governance in South OMO and corruption in different Ethiopian regional states? Categorically No; they are solely responsible for Tigray and for particular positions within the Federal government so long as they have individually (not collectively!) failed much like any other elite from other ethnic groups represented in similar positions of power. And it is an established fact (not withstanding unfounded noisy allegations, prejudices and hasty generalizations) because all other regions are being governed by local people speaking the region’s official language and sharing the people’s culture and psychological makeup. Are people dissatisfied with the federal and regional power systems? Yes, the Tigryanas are even more disillusioned with corruption and bad governance; but callous politicians and extremist “distance politics” leaders trying to scapegoat on Tigrayans are increasingly distorting the reality of Ethiopian body politics and one of externalizing their “distance political leadership” deficits on any strong and proud Ethiopian communities. And that will not fix the problem. As anywhere else from amongst Ethiopian ethnic entrepreneurs, there could be individual Tigrayans who may be held accountable for their own excesses; but that does not mean the Tigrayans as a whole are responsible for such individuals, as other ethnic groups are not responsible for crimes perpetrated by individual members of their communities. Part II will try to begin by giving an introduction as to how blaming the Tigrayans had incidentally started and how it continued to this days.
    Selam Yiheyis (PhD), Canada

  4. The issue at hand now is: Are the Tigrayans responsible for problems of good governance in South OMO and corruption in different Ethiopian regional states? Categorically No; they are solely responsible for Tigray and for particular positions within the Federal government so long as they have individually (not collectively!) failed much like any other elite from other ethnic groups represented in similar positions of power. And it is an established fact (not withstanding unfounded noisy allegations, prejudices and hasty generalizations) because all other regions are being governed by local people speaking the region’s official language and sharing the people’s culture and psychological makeup. Are people dissatisfied with the federal and regional power systems? Yes, the Tigryanas are even more disillusioned with corruption and bad governance; but callous politicians and extremist “distance politics” leaders trying to scapegoat on Tigrayans are increasingly distorting the reality of Ethiopian body politics and one of externalizing their “distance political leadership” deficits on any strong and proud Ethiopian communities. And that will not fix the problem. As anywhere else from amongst Ethiopian ethnic entrepreneurs, there could be individual Tigrayans who may be held accountable for their own excesses; but that does not mean the Tigrayans as a whole are responsible for such individuals, as other ethnic groups are not responsible for crimes perpetrated by individual members of their communities. Part II will try to begin by giving an introduction as to how blaming the Tigrayans had incidentally started and how it continued to this days.
    Selam Yiheyis (PhD), Canada

  5. CORRECTING NEFETEGNAS (Showa Amharas) ignoble mess.
    The Nefetegna (Showa Amhara) dominated governments for the 100+ years had made Ethiopians and Ethiopia the most impoverished country in the world.
    Now the question is, Can the present government of Ethiopia correct and fix Nefetegnas 100+ years of ignoble mess ? ? ?
    Correcting and fixing Nefetegnas mess will take generation if not centures.

  6. CORRECTING NEFETEGNAS (Showa Amharas) ignoble mess.
    The Nefetegna (Showa Amhara) dominated governments for the 100+ years had made Ethiopians and Ethiopia the most impoverished country in the world.
    Now the question is, Can the present government of Ethiopia correct and fix Nefetegnas 100+ years of ignoble mess ? ? ?
    Correcting and fixing Nefetegnas mess will take generation if not centures.

  7. Who was the nefetegnas of showa Amhara can you give name one leader, you may not now the history of Ethiopia. never been Amhara leader, Go to school learn.
    ask any body who was the showa Amhara?

  8. Who was the nefetegnas of showa Amhara can you give name one leader, you may not now the history of Ethiopia. never been Amhara leader, Go to school learn.
    ask any body who was the showa Amhara?

  9. Author,
    Very interesting article. Thank you.
    Trying to reason with the criminal TPLF is a waste of time. They do not comprehend reason. Their irrationality is of the highest magnitude. They will only respond if they smell an imminent harm to their looting interest such as reduction of foreign aid and/or LAW SUIT.
    The criminal mafia TPLF gov is committing a genocide of the omo river valley and many other minority tribes in Ethiopia. While the omo people are dying of hunger, the TPLF elite and enriching themselves from the sugar plantation. This is very similar to what the European americans did to native American. The difference is the fact that white americans admit their crime while TPLF THUGS not only denying it but also brag about it. The only solution is for PATRIOTIC GINBOT 7 to kick the TPLF out of power by MILITARY force and replace them by a democratic government. Afterwards, close the sugar plantation and dam. PERIOD.

  10. Author,
    Very interesting article. Thank you.
    Trying to reason with the criminal TPLF is a waste of time. They do not comprehend reason. Their irrationality is of the highest magnitude. They will only respond if they smell an imminent harm to their looting interest such as reduction of foreign aid and/or LAW SUIT.
    The criminal mafia TPLF gov is committing a genocide of the omo river valley and many other minority tribes in Ethiopia. While the omo people are dying of hunger, the TPLF elite and enriching themselves from the sugar plantation. This is very similar to what the European americans did to native American. The difference is the fact that white americans admit their crime while TPLF THUGS not only denying it but also brag about it. The only solution is for PATRIOTIC GINBOT 7 to kick the TPLF out of power by MILITARY force and replace them by a democratic government. Afterwards, close the sugar plantation and dam. PERIOD.

  11. The genocide against the various Ethiopian ethnic groups is multi-faced, well designed and internationally sponsored phenomena. It is of course highly obscured. Development is the widely used cover up for the masked genocide crimes against Ethiopians. Land grab mainly by aliens/TPLF and fake local development works are to be blamed for the various genocides against Ethiopians.
    The land grab is mostly in the name of agricultural development and/or industrialization. These programs are foreign aid/loan sponsored. USA, UK and other EU countries are the principal sponsors of these programs.
    Thus, the aliens are part of the various genocides against Ethiopians at different times.
    The genocides against Ethiopians and all other destruct ions against the nation are sponsored by the powers and IMPLEMENTED by TPLF.

  12. The genocide against the various Ethiopian ethnic groups is multi-faced, well designed and internationally sponsored phenomena. It is of course highly obscured. Development is the widely used cover up for the masked genocide crimes against Ethiopians. Land grab mainly by aliens/TPLF and fake local development works are to be blamed for the various genocides against Ethiopians.
    The land grab is mostly in the name of agricultural development and/or industrialization. These programs are foreign aid/loan sponsored. USA, UK and other EU countries are the principal sponsors of these programs.
    Thus, the aliens are part of the various genocides against Ethiopians at different times.
    The genocides against Ethiopians and all other destruct ions against the nation are sponsored by the powers and IMPLEMENTED by TPLF.

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