Ethiopiaï¿½s Indigenous Excluded from Rapid Growth
By Ed McKenna
OMO VALLEY, Ethiopia, Nov 11 2013 (IPS) - As the construction of a major
transmission line to export electricity generated from one of Ethiopiaï¿½s
major hydropower projects gets underway, there are growing concerns that
pastoralist communities living in the region are under threat.
The Gibe III dam, which will generate 1,800 megawatts (MW), is being
built in southeast Ethiopia on the Omo River at a cost of 1.7 billion
dollars. It is expected to earn the government over 400 million dollars
annually from power exports. On completion in 2015 it will be the
worldï¿½s fourth-largest dam.
"We are being told to stop moving with our cattle, to stop wearing our
traditional dress and to sell our cattle. Cattle and movement is
everything to the Mursi.ï¿½ -- Mursi elder
But the dam is expected to debilitate the lives and livelihoods of
hundreds of thousands of indigenous communities in Ethiopiaï¿½s Lower Omo
Valley and those living around Kenyaï¿½s Lake Turkana who depend on the
The Bodi, Daasanach, Kara, Mursi, Kwegu and Nyangatom ethnic communities
who live along the Omo River depend on its annual flooding to practice
flood-retreat cultivation for their survival and livelihoods.
But the semi-nomadic Mursi ethnic community are being resettled as part
of the Ethiopian governmentï¿½s villagisation programme to make room for a
large sugar plantation, which will turn roaming pastoralists into
sedentary farmers. The hundreds of kilometres of irrigation canals
currently being dug to divert the Omo Riverï¿½s waters to feed these large
plantations will make it impossible for the indigenous communities to
live as they have always done.
ï¿½We are being told that our land is private property. We are very
worried about our survival as we are being forced to move where there is
no water, grass or crops,ï¿½ a Mursi community member told IPS.
The Omo Valley is set to become a powerhouse of large commercial farming
irrigated by the Gibe III dam. To date 445,000 hectares have been
allocated to Malaysian, Indian and other foreign companies to grow
sugar, biofuels, cereals and other crops.
ï¿½The Gibe III will worsen poverty for the most vulnerable. The
government already has trouble managing hunger and poverty [among] its
citizenry. By taking over land and water resources in the Omo Valley, it
is creating a new class of ï¿½internal refugeesï¿½ who will no longer be
self-sufficient,ï¿½ Lori Pottinger from environmental NGO International
Rivers told IPS.
Top global financiers, including the World Bank and the African
Development Bank (AfDB), have committed 1.2 billion dollars to a 1,070
km high-voltage line that will run from Wolayta-Sodo in Ethiopia to
Suswa, 100 km northwest of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The transmission
line, powered by Ethiopiaï¿½s Gibe III, will connect the countryï¿½s
electrical grid with Kenya and will have a capacity to carry 2,000 MW
between the two countries.
According to the AfDB, it will promote renewable power generation,
regional cooperation, and will ensure access to reliable and affordable
energy to around 870,000 households by 2018.
Although the latest U.N. Development Programme Human Development report
ranks Ethiopia 173rd out of 187 countries, Ethiopia, Africaï¿½s
second-most populous country, is one of the continentï¿½s fastest-growing
According to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Ethiopiaï¿½s economy is
set to maintain a growth rate of 11 percent in 2014. Fully exploiting
its massive water resources to generate a hydropower potential of up to
45,000 MW in order to sell surplus electricity to its neighbours is
central to Ethiopiaï¿½s Growth and Transformation plan, a five-year plan
to develop the countryï¿½s economy.
The Horn of Africa nation currently generates 2,000 MW from six
hydroelectric dams and invests more of its resources in hydropower than
any other country in Africa ï¿½ one third of its total GNP of about 77
According to a World Bank report published in 2010, only 17 percent of
Ethiopiaï¿½s 84.7 million people had access to electricity at the time of
the report. By 2018, 100 percent of the population will have access to
power, according to state power provider Ethiopian Electric Power
ï¿½We are helping mitigate climate risk of fossil fuel consumption and
also reduce rampant deforestation rates in Ethiopia. Hydropower will
benefit our development,ï¿½ Miheret Debebe, chief executive officer of
EEPCO, told IPS.
The Ethiopian government insists that the welfare of pastoralist
communities being resettled is a priority and that they will benefit
from developments in the Omo Valley. ï¿½We are working hard to safeguard
them and help them to adapt to the changing conditions,ï¿½ government
spokesperson Shimeles Kemal told IPS.
However, there are concerns that ethnic groups like the Mursi are not
being consulted about their changing future. ï¿½If we resist resettlement
we will be arrested,ï¿½ a Mursi elder told IPS.
ï¿½We fear for the future. Our way of life is under threat. We are being
told to stop moving with our cattle, to stop wearing our traditional
dress and to sell our cattle. Cattle and movement is everything to the
The importance of ensuring that benefits from Ethiopiaï¿½s national
development projects do not come at a price of endangering the lives of
hundreds of thousands pastoralists is critical said Ben Braga, president
of the World Water Council. Braga decried governments that failed to
compensate communities like the Mursi as displacement of surrounding
communities is always an inevitable consequence of major dams that need
plenty of advanced planning to avoid emergencies.
ï¿½How can we compensate these people so that the majority of the country
can benefit from electricity? There is a need for better compensatory
mechanisms to ensure that benefits are shared and that all stakeholders
are included in consultations prior to construction,ï¿½ he told IPS.
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