Ethiopia: Fight for Land in the Lower Omo Valley

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OMO VALLEY, Ethiopia - Citizens of the Lower Omo Valley are competing with the government for their land. The government is eying the land for cash crops such as sugar and palm oil. The indigenous population consists of thirteen tribes who rely on the verdant land and rich soil for food and to graze cattle. An estimated 200,000 locals will be pressured to relocate and countless more will be affected indirectly.

The Omo River is an important tributary of southern Ethiopia. Its course is entirely contained within the boundaries of Ethiopia, and empties into Lake Turkana on the border with Kenya. (Source: Wikipedia)

There are thirteen interrelated ancient tribes that live in the valley and Kenya. The Ethiopians who inhabit this region adorn their bodies with colorful designs and often incorporate flowers and other plant life as part of their habiliment. The Daasanach, Hamar, Karo, Kwegu, Mursi, and Suri are some of the most recognizable peoples of the Omo Valley. They have successfully maintained their culture and traditions unchanged for centuries; that is until now.

Government-ordered construction of the Gilgel Gibe III Dam on the Omo River will be absolutely destroy the culture and lifestyles of these indigenous peoples. The sugarcane that the government wants to plant is both invasive and will siphon massive amounts of water to fill irrigation canals. As a result of this diversion, there will be as much as a 72-foot drop in Lake Turkana, leaving a meager 30-feet of water. Seasonal flooding, also known as "flood retreat agriculture," which has been used for centuries by farmers across the world, will all but disappear.

This type of farming relies on the annual flooding cycle to deposit a layer of nutrient-rich silt which acts as a natural fertilizer thus making the land productive. The damming of rivers have in every instance decimated the indigenous farmers living along the banks, as in the case of the Aswan Dam in Egypt which reduced the flow of the Nile Rive to such a point that farmers who remained now have to rely on man-made fertilizers.

The Gibe III Dam is sure to have the same, if not worse effect, as the people of the Omo Valley have remained unchanged and seemingly untouched by the modernization that much of Africa has undergone. Now the smaller agricultural yields of local crops, no replenishment of grazing areas and a reduced fish population will increase inter-ethnic conflicts. The cattle which some tribes amass as a sign of wealth and prestige, but which is also used for food, clothing, and to provide as dowries for brides will also be impacted. Cattle require free access to clean water and unrestricted grazing land. The inevitable government restrictions will deprive local people of food, income, and tradition.

The Ethiopian government has stated that they are not insensitive to the needs of these people and have designed a relocation plan known as "villagization." They promise government-sponsored villages complete with schools, clinics, and a viable infrastructure. However, it would require a major lifestyle shift from a pastoral-nomadic to a sedentary one. Additionally, the move would not be voluntary as it can only be achieved using subtle or overt elements of intimidation and violence.

It is legally required for the government to consult with and obtain free and informed consent from the local population before interfering with their lives, and more so when the proposed changes are going to be drastic and irrevocable. Yet to date, the Omo Valley population has neither been informed nor have they consented to the ongoing changes the Ethiopian government engages in as it prepares to build Gibe III.

Follow Sarah on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @SJJakubowski

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Life-Changing Water Found Below Kenya's Surface

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Jessamy Nichols, Africa CorrespondentLast Modified:12:28 p.m. DST, 23 September 2013

African Child Drinking Clean Water, Photo by The OptimizersKENYA, Africa - The Lake Turkana region of Kenya is known for the skeleton found in the region that dates back to 1.5 million years ago, making it one of the suspected origin locations for humans.

Over the eons of cradling human civilizations, the Turkana region has gradually become more and more arid over time to become the drought-stricken area it is today.

However, there has been a recent discovery by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that revealed that below the region's surface, there is 200 billion cubic meters of freshwater reserves in an underground aquifer. Furthermore, this vast supply can supply the entire country's population of 42 million people for 70 years!

This statistic is an unbelievable figure, as this water source has the potential to completely change the livelihoods of Kenya's 17 million citizens who lack access to safe water.

Despite this highly welcomed news, it is imperative that the Kenyan government assures that the water is managed and distributed in an equitable, appropriate manner. The supply has grand economic potential, but the country's leaders should instead look to the human rights potential and ensure that the masses have access to it. Fulfilling people's right to clean water could completely change the lives of millions and improve the standard of living.

This is a crucial opportunity for Kenya and the following decisions about the aquifer could play a huge rule in the country's trajectory.

Follow Jessamy on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Africa Correspondent: @JessamyNichols

Kenya Reneges on Promise to Election Violence Victims

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Jessamy Nichols, Africa Correspondent
Last Modified: 00:31 a.m. DST, 10 September 2013

Victims of 2007 Kenya Post-Election Violence, Photo by Martin NduguKENYA, Africa - At the close of 2007, Kenya held Presidential elections between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga that resulted in months of atrocious violence and mass chaos. The eruption of killings resulted from the ethnic cleavages between the two candidates, as Kibaki is from the Kikuyu ethnic group and Odinga is from the Luo group. Once Kibaki was declared the winner despite widespread electoral fraud and manipulation, opposition groups revolted at the results and chose to make a stand.

However, this resulted in citizens, mostly of opposition Luo ethnicity, targeting Kikuyu citizens and brutally killing hundreds of them. Eventually, some Kikuyus retaliated and murdered citizens of Luo and Kalenjin descent. The few months of violence resulted in over a thousand deaths, and around two hundred thousand displaced persons. This is still a huge issue for the country today as thousands of citizens continue to live in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps that lack proper shelter, running water and basic education and healthcare.

One such example is an IDP camp called Jikaze that is in the Great Rift Valley and is about a twenty minute ride from Limuru. I've visited and worked in the camp twice, and have met the most wonderful, loving people who despite having their lives turned upside down, continue to be hopeful for the future. One couple in the camp owned a hotel before the 2007 election, but had it burned to the ground in the violence and went from being well-off to having nothing. Another family went from having acres of fertile land and a profitable farming business to running for their lives and starting from scratch. Some members of the camp lost family members in the violence and will never be able to return to their old home.

Now, imagine these Kenyans who have spent over five years healing and rebuilding their lives, to now find out that the Kenyan government will not fulfill its promise to face justice and seek justice for the victims of the post-election violence. This week, the Kenyan Parliament voted to remove themselves from the Rome Statute that would ensure that the national government sought justice and reparations for the hundreds of thousands of victims of the violence. Although it has been many years and many citizens have found a new way forward, they still deserve the justice and help that the government owes them. Without fulfilling their promise, not only are they abandoning their citizens again, but are setting a disappointing precedent for government accountability.

On a similar note, the Parliament also voted this week to remove themselves from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in order to avoid many of their prominent leaders' indictment and trials. Considering Kenya's growing economic and regional power potential, it is a nasty setback that the government is moving backwards in reneging on international standards and human rights laws. The international community, including the US, has released statements urging Kenya to fulfill their commitments and remain accountable to its people.

Follow Jessamy on Twitter
Twitter: @nahmias_report
Africa Correspondent: @JessamyNichols

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