News / Africa

    Tracing the Source of Ethnic Clashes in Ethiopia's Gambella Region

    FILE - Children displaced by fighting in South Sudan wait to be registered into the Kule 1 and 2 camps for Internally Displaced People at the Pagak border crossing in Gambella, Ethiopia, July 10, 2014.
    FILE - Children displaced by fighting in South Sudan wait to be registered into the Kule 1 and 2 camps for Internally Displaced People at the Pagak border crossing in Gambella, Ethiopia, July 10, 2014.

    Ethiopia is facing renewed ethnic conflict along its Western border. Since late January, what began as a dispute over land rights between the Nuer and Anyuak ethnic groups has spread, claiming dozens of lives.

    The clash is, in part, a result of the influx of thousands of ethnic Nuer who have been displaced in the civil war in South Sudan and were forced to move into the Gambella region of Ethiopia.

    Some of the displaced Nuer allegedly brought arms across the border, destabilizing an already tense region.

    According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are about 280,000 South Sudanese refugees in the region. About 84 percent live in six refugee camps, and 16 percent live in host communities within the Gambella region.

    A refugee child from South Sudan feeds on food supplements at a health center at the Kule refugee camp in Ethiopia's Gambella region, April 1, 2015.
    A refugee child from South Sudan feeds on food supplements at a health center at the Kule refugee camp in Ethiopia's Gambella region, April 1, 2015.

    Obang Metho, executive director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, a nonprofit organization promoting change in Ethiopia, said more than 50 people have died in the fighting.

    ‘Revenge after revenge’

    He believes it began with a dispute over land rights between an Anyuak who is the driver of the regional leader and a Nuer who is the deputy chairman of a local university. Metho said the Nuer man shot and wounded the Anyuak man, causing some university students of both ethnicities to fight.

    "That tension was very hard to control and, as a result of that, there were some Anyuak who heard this and that their family members were killed, and in other rural areas there were Anyuak who revenged on the Nuer," Metho said. "And this really became revenge after revenge."

    Getachew Reda, Ethiopia's communications minister, said the violence escalated when armed people — including local police and some who were part of the regional government — tried to take advantage of the crisis for personal gain.

    "Now, upon the request of the regional government, the federal government has intervened with the national defense forces, disarming members of the special police forces," he said. "So, yes, dozens of lives are lost, but the situation is totally under control now."

    The ethnic tension comes on the heels of a protracted dispute with the Oromo ethnic group over a plan to expand the municipal borders of the capital, Addis Ababa.

    FILE - A woman and her children displaced by fighting in South Sudan sit outside her tent at the Kule camp for Internally Displaced People at the Pagak border crossing in Gambella, Ethiopia, July 10, 2014.
    FILE - A woman and her children displaced by fighting in South Sudan sit outside her tent at the Kule camp for Internally Displaced People at the Pagak border crossing in Gambella, Ethiopia, July 10, 2014.

    The Anyuak people have also complained of mistreatment, alleging that the Ethiopian government used World Bank funds to push farmers off their land in Gambella.

    Getachew, however, rejected the notion that Ethiopia has a larger problem with ethnic divisions.

    "Ethnic clashes are the result of people, or government officials, not being able to address governance issues at every level, and what normally is a political problem ends up becoming [an] ethnic problem," he said.

    "The overall solution for this challenge is not so much to write off the reality that there are so many ethnic groups, but to make sure that our development records actually benefit all aspects of society and, of course, all ethnic groups in this country should see a light at the end of the tunnel because the development dividend, the growth dividend, should equally benefit all our people."

    Fallout from South Sudan

    Movement across the South Sudan-Ethiopia border is not a new phenomenon.

    Close ties and tensions between the Nuer and Anyuak date back centuries, and the modern border between the two nations does not delineate where either group lives.

    The civil war in South Sudan between Nuers and Dinkas is now having a cascading effect on the region, leading to instability in Gambella, where most Nuers have fled, Metho said.

    FILE - Flooding is seen after heavy rains at the Lietchuor refugee camp in the Gambella region of Ethiopia.
    FILE - Flooding is seen after heavy rains at the Lietchuor refugee camp in the Gambella region of Ethiopia.

    "I think some of the Anyuaks feel threatened by the refugees, and the United Nations also didn't [handle its] responsibility because some of the refugees — they came carrying their guns with them, and usually the refugees are not supposed to have guns," he said.

    Thowat Pal, the chairman of the Ethiopian Patriotic Front, an opposition group working to change leadership in Ethiopia, blamed South Sudanese leaders for destabilizing the region.

    "The instability of South Sudan is the cause of these illegal arms because when [former opposition leader and present South Sudanese Vice President] Riek Machar was mobilizing people, he was mobilizing tribal youth to fight for the interest of a plan which he has concocted in order to capture power by force," Pal said.

    Pal fears that too many disputes in both Ethiopia and South Sudan fracture along ethnic lines.

    "There's regionalization which is based on ethnicity," he said. "Some Ethiopians, nowadays, after the fall of the Derg, they don't consider themselves as Ethiopians. They consider themselves as ethnic communities of their own areas."


    Salem Solomon

    Salem Solomon is a journalist and web producer at Voice of America’s Horn of Africa Service, where she reports in English, Amharic and Tigrigna. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Poynter.org, Reuters and The Tampa Bay Times. Salem researches trends in analytics and digital journalism, and her data-driven work has been featured in VOA’s special projects collection.

    You May Like

    Video Obama Remembers Fallen Troops for Memorial Day

    President urges Americans this holiday weekend to 'take a moment and offer a silent word of prayer or public word of thanks' to country's veterans

    Upsurge of Migratory Traffic Across Sahara From West to North Africa

    A report by the International Organization for Migration finds more than 60,000 migrants have transited through the Agadez region of Niger between February and April

    UN Blocks Access to Journalist Advocacy Group

    United Nations has rejected bid from nonprofit journalist advocacy group that wanted 'consultative status,' ranking that would have given them greater access to UN meetings

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora