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Kidnapping, Torture, and Stolen Land: The Brutal Reality of Ethiopia's New Sugar Wars

March 27, 2020

Ethiopia's Mursi tribe says they were imprisoned and tortured to protect Chinese sugar plantations.

By Roc Morin

OMO VALLEY, Ethiopia — One night, in his village of 20 grass huts in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, Golonkiwo had a nightmare. As a komoru, or mystic of the Mursi tribe, Golonkiwo’s duty is to receive and interpret dream prophecies. It is a vital role, passed down from father to son in one of the world’s oldest surviving cultures.

“In my dream, I saw the government soldiers coming for us,” Golonkiwo stated. “They killed a lot of people.”

At that time, last October, rumors were already circulating in the villages about a massacre of nearby Bodi tribesmen. Government soldiers had come to disarm the Bodi, and the Bodi had fought back. “The crocodiles are still eating corpses,” a Mursi witness reported, after having seen security forces chase the Bodi into local rivers.

After Golonkiwo’s dream, several komorena had sprinkled cow’s milk on the roads to prevent, by divine magic, a similar tragedy befalling the Mursi. The komorena maintain that it worked: the government changed its tactics.

Instead of an assault, invitations came. The Mursi say the government had prepared a meeting, requesting the attendance of approximately 220 high-ranking tribesmen. When the men arrived, however, there was no meeting. The Mursi men were imprisoned in a compound, under ransom. The price of their release was set at 9,000 guns, to be extracted from a population of 7,000-11,500 Mursi.