Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pastoralists weigh in on Gibe Dam, land grabs

Two articles by Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

Ethiopia's Gibe III - A dam too far?
Published on : 20 December 2011 - 3:24pm | By RNW Africa Desk
(Photo : RNW)

Michael Irgiena doubts if his ten children will ever be fishermen like
him, or have any future living on the shores of the world�s largest
desert lake Turkana in the barren border region of Ethiopia and Kenya.
By Luc van Kemenade, Addis Ababa

Lake Turkana, in the barren border region of Ethiopia and Kenya, is
home to the Dasanech and Turkana tribes. Michael, a Dasanech
tribesman living in a small village in northern Kenya, has been a
fisherman for 26 years and, like his fellow tribesmen, he fully
depends on the salty lake for his livelihood.

The semi-nomadic desert tribes often fight bloody battles over the
region's scarce water and pasture which they use for fishing and
cattle grazing. Michael explains that the construction of an ambitious
cascade of dams along Ethiopia's Omo river may make life even more
challenging for nomads in the region.

�I was shocked when I heard the news about Ethiopia�s dam on the
radio,� he says while sitting on his bed in his dusky dome-shaped hut
at the shores of Turkana. �What came to mind very quickly was: what
about the lake I am fishing in? What about my children?�

In a push for development, Ethiopia is building one of Africa�s
largest hydropower dams in the Omo River that flows into Lake Turkana,
providing 90 percent of its water. The two billion dollar dam called
Gibe III is said to nearly double the East African nation�s power
capacity and transform its southern wilderness into highly productive
cultivated farm lands, irrigated by the dam�s regulated outflow.

According to the Ethiopian government, the dam will develop the region
and end a �backward lifestyle�, transforming its southern wilderness
into highly productive cultivated farmland, irrigated by the dam�s
regulated outflow. It says that domestic and foreign investors will
grow sugar cane and other cash crops on a large-scale in the south, an
area known for its numerous indigenous tribes.

Although Michael admits that development would be good for the tribes
of Lake Turkana - a drought-stricken area with no electricity and poor
infrastructure, he remains cautious and worries that water levels in
Turkana will drop. �The water will be too salty, so there will be no
fish living in the lake,� he says. �And all the animals we have, all
the cattle, will die. If there is no water, there will be no grass.�

For Michael, like many of his fellow tribesmen, loss of fish means
loss of work. He also fears that the dam will lead to further
bloodshed as the Dasanech and Turkana will be forced to move into
neighboring tribes� territory in search of water and pasture.

Drying up
While Ethiopia denies that its dam will reduce water levels, a group
of scholars from the United States, Europe and East Africa shares
Michael�s concerns.

In a 2009 study the Africa Resources Working Group estimated that
water levels could drop ten to twelve metres drying up fish stocks and
drinking water. The United Nations subsequently called on Ethiopia to
cease construction of the dam, fearing it would destroy Lake Turkana,
listed as a UN world heritage site.

But Ethiopia says there is �no way� that the project will be stopped,
claiming its own studies show that Lake Turkana�s water levels would
increase and the dam�s regulated flow would put an end to drought and

Like other members of the Dasanech, Michael fears that Ethiopia�s
decision to move forward with the project without informing its people
will have a negative impact: �If you do something without informing
people, you know it will have an effect,� he says. �It would be better
if we all sit together and negotiate about what they are going to do
for our people.�

Ethiopia tribesmen fear forced end to �backward� lifestyle
Published on : 21 December 2011 | By RNW Africa Desk (Photo: RNW
Africa/ Luc van Kemenade)

�We are a dying people,� says Gorgis, a cattle herder from the Bodi
tribe who lives in the bush near Hana town in South Ethiopia, home to
the semi-nomadic Mursi and Bodi tribes.

By Luc van Kemenade, Addis Abeba

Like his fellow tribesmen Gorgis moves around with cattle in search of
water and grasslands.

His family of two wives and eleven children grows crops along the
banks of the Omo River that flows through Ethiopia�s Lower Omo Valley,
a world heritage site and the territory of sixteen indigenous tribes.

Just outside Hana, Ethiopia�s state-owned sugar corporation has seized
150,000 hectares to set up a sugar plantation, annually sucking up
three billion cubic meters of water from the river and occupying its
fertile banks.

The plantation is part of a development plan that will transform the
uncultivated area into cash crop producing farmland, Ethiopia says.
Upstream the country is building one of Africa�s largest hydropower

The two billion-dollar dam called Gibe III will double Ethiopia�s
power capacity, it says. The dam�s regulated outflow will be used to
irrigate large plots of sugar farmland from a 150 kilometers-long

The push for development includes the resettlement of thousands of
tribesmen into permanent settlements where Ethiopia says they will
have access to health facilities and schools. The days of southern
tribes, popular among tourists and academics, �walking around naked�
and living a �backward� lifestyle are over, Ethiopia says.

�There are people who say they are concerned about pastoralists,�
longtime leader Meles Zenawi said in a speech earlier this year. �But
they want pastoralists to remain a tourist attraction forever. The
pastoralists don�t want to live as a tourist attraction. They want a
stable, improved life.�

Most of the Bodi around Hana say Ethiopian officials haven�t informed
them. �The government is already building new villages and wants us to
move there,� Gorgis says. �We haven�t been asked anything and our King
says they are thieves.�

� Ethiopia�s Lower Omo Valley
� Photo: RNW/ Luc van Kemenade -
� Duri Bela prefers a life of living in the bush to a modern life in
a permanent settlement
� Photo: RNW/ Luc van Kemenade -
� Lake Turkana
� Photo: RNW/ Luc van Kemenade -
� A Bodi man on guard at a sugar plantation under construction
� Photo: RNW/ Luc van Kemenade -




Rights groups have criticised Ethiopia�s dam and the United Nations
called for an immediate end to construction. The opponents say the dam
will forever alter the lives of hundreds of thousands indigenous
people depending on the Omo River. They fear widespread hunger and
conflict over water.

Duri Bela, a Bodi pastoralist wearing a red chequered toga, says he
never heard about the plans until bulldozers arrived in Hana to build
the plantation. Now �they have taken our land, use our water, and are
building on our fields�, he says. �We might grow hungry.�

Survival International, a rights group campaigning for tribal rights,
reported a crackdown on locals in Hana opposing the dam, saying �over
a 100� protestors had been arrested. People in the area wouldn�t
confirm the report, but said they are afraid to speak out against the

An expert in the region who asked to remain anonymous said there is no
doubt that the tribes will take up arms against the government: �A
revolt is going to happen.�

Ethiopian officials say this is �false propaganda� from
environmentalists trying to undermine their development agenda. It
says locals will benefit from new jobs and will be compensated for

But policemen in Hana detained Radio Netherlands Worldwide�s
correspondent for five hours after visiting the sugar corporation�s
local office, only to release him after a regional manager dashed into
town in his four wheel drive, showing little confidence about
journalists nosing around at the project site.

Duri Bela says he prefers living in the bush to a new life in a
settlement. �I need my children to be pastoralists,� he says. �When I
see the town, I see few people making money. They sleep on the streets
and beg. We don�t want to become beggars in a town. Pastoralists don�t

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