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The Guardian Reviews the Oakland Institute’s Findings: Indigenous Face Devastation in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley

June 18, 2019
Kara parent and child sitting along the bank of the Omo River. Copyright: Kelly Fogel

Kara parent and child sitting along the bank of the Omo River. Copyright: Kelly Fogel


June 18, 2019

Anuradha Mittal
[email protected]


Oakland, CA — The Guardian has reviewed and confirmed the findings of the Institute’s latest report How They Tricked Us, which exposes the devastation of the Gibe III Dam and associated sugarcane plantations on Indigenous communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley.

How They Tricked Us: Living with the Gibe III Dam and Sugarcane Plantations in Southwest Ethiopia details how local communities have lost essential farmland and grazing land as a result of these projects. Acute hunger is now common with the dam’s blockage of the annual flood — a natural event that the inhabitants of the valley have relied on for centuries for cultivation.

A recent trip by The Guardian to the Omo Valley confirms our report’s findings. Journalists interviewed several individuals who shared their own accounts of displacement and lack of services.

“Nalia, an elderly inhabitant [from Napusmoria, South Omo] said the government ordered her and her family to move to the new village in 2011. ‘They promised us services, like water, a health clinic and a plot of irrigated land,’ she said. ‘But apart from some food at the start there was nothing.’”

“Desalegn Tekle Loyale, a doctoral student at Addis Ababa University who grew up in the valley, said the government did not engage with local communities before commencing the project. ‘None of us have been consulted,’ he said. ‘We just heard the dam had already started — nothing else.’”

Asked to react to the report, several academics and experts concurred on the need to address this devastation. However, how the new government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, will respond remains to be seen.

At a recent conference on livelihood challenges in the Omo, a government minister admitted that “development interventions in the pastoralist areas … came with a cost,” particularly noting the Gibe III Dam. But Abiy himself told a crowd in fall 2018 that problems connected with the dam and sugarcane plantations had been “alleviated.” Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia’s Minister of Water, Irrigation, and Electricity, who is widely quoted in the Guardian article, flatly denied many of the report’s findings.

“Over the past year, Dr. Abiy Ahmed has demonstrated a commitment to human rights by making a number of important decisions in a country that, until recently, was known for widespread governmental repression and abuses. But changes have not reached the Indigenous communities of the Lower Omo Valley,” commented Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute. “The evidence of the devastation facing these communities is irrefutable. The Guardian article demonstrates widespread agreement amongst academics, policy makers, and think tanks like ours that the government must address this situation. It is now up to Abiy to decide whether he will be a true champion of human rights for all in Ethiopia, or whether he will continue with business-as-usual and abuse in the region. The choice is his.”