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A Dagger to the Heart: The Killing of Indigenous Oromo Leaders

11 min read.

A coalition of Oromo advocacy and human rights calls for the investigations into the killing of Oromo leaders on the orders of Ethiopian ruling party officials.



A Dagger to the Heart: The Killing of Indigenous Oromo Leaders

On the evening of 1 December 2021, 14 respected, experienced and culturally venerated leaders of the Karrayyuu Oromo community of 100,000 in central Ethiopia were killed within minutes by Oromia Special Police and Federal forces operating on the orders of ruling party officials sitting a hundred kilometres away in Adama city.

The murdered men were located at Fantalle district, East Shewa Zone of the Oromia regional state in Ethiopia. They were killed execution-style at 7p.m. far from the village where they were abducted when Prosperity Party bosses gave the go-ahead signal via cell phone message to waiting members of the special forces. The murdered men had just finished conducting Waaqa Kadhaa, a sacred indigenous prayer ceremony held at a special site designated for that purpose. In the close-knit iconic livestock-rearing culture of the Karrayyuu people, this was an unthinkable atrocity.

We, a coalition of Oromo advocacy and human rights groups operating internationally consider that this horrifying series of events indicate the intentionality and destructiveness of Abiy Ahmed’s government against the Oromo and other southern and marginalized peoples who do not support his direction for the country. We urge the international community, in particular those concerned with justice, peace, stability and human rights, to take note of what has happened in Karrayyuu. Those who were deeply committed to spirituality and to democratic principles above all, were brutally massacred with lightning speed, an act that sends an ominous warning to the populace that no one is safe right now in Ethiopia.

Historic, political and economic contexts 

The shocking massacre was carried out amid an ongoing brutal war between the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and the Tigray Defence Forces in the north of the country, and with the Oromo Liberation Army in the south. The site of the killing is in the Karrayyuu camel-rearing, pastoral grazing and watering lands located close to coveted trade routes for lucrative commodities in a cash-strapped economy. This valued territory has become a target of territorial expansionism by Amhara militias emboldened by the failure of Abiy Ahmed’s government to protect vulnerable populations like the Karrayyuu.

In the days leading to the event, Karrayyuu Oromo community leaders had resisted allowing young people to leave their homeland to be conscripted into the ENDF in the north. Among Oromo communities throughout Ethiopia, the Karrayyuu are well known and esteemed for their consistent practice of the principles of the time-honoured Gadaa system of socio-political organization that encompassed all Oromo before their incorporation into Ethiopia at the turn of the 20th century.

These and other factors make the December tragedy resonate with the entire population and account for the sense of threat and foreboding among other vulnerable groups in the country.

The brutality against of the Karrayyuu Oromo, and their displacement, has historical precedent in Ethiopia. The Karrayyuu have been historically and repeatedly dispossessed of their pastoral land. They lost more than half of it when the government of Haile Selassie established a massive sugar cane plantation at Metahara and when the Awash National Park in the Awash valley was carved out of Karrayyuu territory 200 kilometres east of Finfinnee/Addis Ababa. Jobs at the sugar factory did not benefit the Karrayyuu but instead went to labour imported from other areas. Over the years, substantial contraband trade elsewhere in Ethiopia became extremely lucrative. The routes to the outlets for contraband goods in Djibouti and Somaliland – and therefore the flow of wealth and power – meet at Awash, just east of Fantalle, before running directly through Karrayyuu territory.

Karrayyuu land has been encroached upon by residents of the neighbouring Amhara Region for a number of reasons. They seek territorial expansion for farmland and control/influence over strategic trade routes, and have set their sights on the grazing lands of the Karrayyuu pastoralists. Since the regime of Abiy Ahmed came to power, Amhara Region militia have proceeded to encroach on adjacent Karrayyuu land, clearing vegetation and razing Oromo pastoral structures to the ground and moving signposts without any pushback from government forces who would be expected to enforce the law and protect established legal boundaries.

These aggressive moves by the militia are followed by the arrival of settlers who construct houses and begin farming. Before 2018, there were territorial disputes but “there was balance”, according to residents. Now a sign reading “Welcome to Amhara Region” has been erected 45 kilometres deep into Karrayyuu land, crossing the vital supply routes to Djibouti and Somaliland. The sign was dismantled eight times by Karrayyuu and nine times reconstructed by Amhara militia, until the Prosperity Party dispatched an armed pickup truck to support the Amhara in this struggle over the boundary marker by safeguarding the sign.

Local people interpret such actions as an indication that the Abiy Ahmed government is reviving the imperialistic and assimilationist policies of previous Ethiopian regimes. Actions such as these foment ethnic conflict and justify the use of violence in favour of one ethnic group over the rest of Ethiopia. Such policies invite greater instability in Ethiopia and in the region, as the wars in the north and the south attest. The Fantalle territory is currently a significant prize for Amhara expansionism at the expense of the Karrayyuu. The Abiy Ahmed regime is allowing and condoning this overt land grab.

The massacre and its aftermath 

What is known about the Karrayyuu massacre is that Prosperity Party leaders sitting in Adama ordered the execution in cold blood of the Abbaa Gadaa and thirteen other individually selected Gadaa leaders in Fantalle district on the evening of 1 December.

Members of the Michile Gadaa, currently halfway through its eight-year term of office, were present in Motoma, the seat of the Gadaa, a sacred village within the loose collection of hamlets that comprise the area of Karra. They had met on the morning of 1 December 2021 for a prayer ceremony, Waaqa Kadhaa, and had returned to their huts when five vehicles arrived, several of which had mounted machine guns, carrying about 20 Ethiopian government “security forces” — described as a mixture of Oromia Special Forces, Federal soldiers and police.

Local people interpret such actions as an indication that the Abiy Ahmed government is reviving the imperialistic and assimilationist policies of previous Ethiopian regimes.

These “security forces” called out from their homes several dozen people who had attended the ceremony and read out the names of 40 individuals. All forty Gadaa leaders, including their overall leader, the Abbaa Gadaa, Kadiro Hawas Boru, and Gadaa Councillor, Jiloo Didoo, came forward and peacefully submitted after discussing among themselves about the consequences of complying.

Traditional weapons which were worn for the ceremony, and rifles owned by about 20 of the men were removed from their homes and piled before them. Once their weapons had been taken, they were subjected to verbal and, increasingly, to physical abuse.

When the men asked the government forces what they had done to deserve such treatment, the Abbaa Gadaa advised everyone to keep calm, saying there was nothing to fear because they had done no wrong. He informed the soldiers that Abiy Ahmed had visited the area twice and spoken with him personally. Kadiro showed the soldiers a gift he had been given by Abiy Ahmed to prove this claim. (It appeared to be a sort of key fob.) 

The forty Gadaa leaders were taken to Anole, an isolated arid area about six kilometres from the village, where they were divided into two groups. Sixteen, including the Abbaa Gadaa, Kadiro Hawas Boru, and Jiloo Didoo remained in Anole where, according to two eyewitnesses who later escaped, they were forced to lie face down on the ground and beaten. The Abbaa Gadaa was separated from the group several times during the day and beaten within earshot of the others. There were many screams of pain but the witnesses were lying face down and unable to see what was happening most of the time.

Throughout the day, there were phone calls between the commander of the soldiers holding the detainees and Prosperity Party headquarters in Adama to discuss the fate of the detained. According to the two escaped leaders, members of the Oromia Special Forces spoke with government officials in Adama to receive instructions and orders to kill the Karrayyuu elders.

Finally, after dark, around 7p.m., the 16 men were lined up and their heads were covered before execution. When the firing started, one of the soldiers threw his gun down and shouted, “I cannot kill Oromo. I cannot kill Karrayyuu!” Hearing this, two of the 16 Gadaa leaders seized the opportunity to run off and escape. The fate of the reluctant soldier is not known. His body was has not been found, although the witnesses reported that he was sharply rebuked by his fellows as the witnesses escaped.

The Abbaa Gadaa advised everyone to keep calm, saying there was nothing to fear because they had done no wrong.

Villagers had heard prolonged shooting during the night and, tipped off by the eyewitnesses, located the killing field later in the morning of 2 December. A soldier guarding the corpses tried to prevent community leaders from taking the bodies but he was chased away. The 14 bullet-riddled remains of the Gadaa leaders were taken back to Karra for burial. Their bodies had already been attacked by wild animals when they were found.

The government’s initial response was to announce that the killings were carried out by “Shane” (Oromo Liberation Army, OLA), a claim that had no credence or evidentiary basis and has since been contradicted by senior officials of the Prosperity Party themselves who have claimed that the Oromia Regional Government is responsible.

Local informants believe that only a disagreement between members of the security forces on 1 December prevented all forty men from being executed in Anole.

The other 24 Gadaa leaders were driven 55 kilometres southwest to a military camp at Wolenchiti, where they were detained and tortured for six or seven days before being transferred to a secret location in Mojo, 28 kilometres on the other side of Adama, along the road to Finfinnee/Addis Ababa. The beatings and torture continued.

Local informants believe that only a disagreement between members of the security forces on 1 December prevented all forty men from being executed in Anole.

One of the detainees, Jiloo Boraya Hawas, who was in his fifties, died from his injuries on 8 December in Mojo. His body lay in the cell with the other detainees for 24 hours before being moved to a container next to the cell where it stayed until Karrayyuu elders tracked down the detainees and confronted their captors on 10 December. The body of Jiloo Boraya Hawas was taken back to Karra where he was buried on 11 December.

Other detainees received hospital treatment before being returned to detention. Six were released to return home on 31 December. The others remain in custody. The presence of these detainees in Mojo and the testimony of the two leaders who escaped the massacre and lived to share their eyewitness accounts, have prevented further claims that the killings were the work of OLA.

The implications for the Karrayyuu

The speed and ferocity of this attack on the sacred and revered Gadaa institution have shocked Oromo communities across the world. The Gadaa is more than a religious institution: it is the core of Oromo identity, the basis of law-making, morality and ethics, civil conduct, and the foundation of a democratic ethos shared by Oromo and other Cushitic peoples of Ethiopia.

Oromo democracy, which predates any western equivalent by several centuries, and includes more checks and balances, is grounded in the Gadaa. The Karrayyuu killings are of enormous significance to all Oromo – whether followers of Waaqefata (traditional monotheist Oromo religion), Christianity or Islam.

Although Prosperity Party officials have been known to spread false information in the past, it is worth noting that they have stepped forward to offer this information, which contradicts earlier government statements that falsely accused OLA “Shane” of the brutality. A leaked one-page letter containing reports of the Karrayyuu massacre written to the Oromia Police Commission and the Attorney from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission also confirms, “The order to commit the killing was given from above.”

The persecution of Karrayyuu Oromo had intensified prior to the massacre. Those found in urban areas, buying goods or seeking medical attention, were liable to face beatings and imprisonment. Local estimates are of 200 persons detained, including women and the elderly. They cannot be reached by relatives bringing food and are kept incommunicado. Since the atrocity on 1 December, movement has been further curtailed. Karrayyuu pastoralists are prevented from taking their animals to essential water and pasture. They are now forbidden to carry arms that have been essential to their livelihood, protecting their camels. Now they are arrested or shot if seen carrying rifles.

When the firing started, one of the soldiers threw his gun down and shouted, “I cannot kill Oromo. I cannot kill Karrayyuu!”

Within a few weeks of the massacre, the sacred Gadaa village at Motoma was razed to the ground by Amhara Region Militia. The Karrayyuu who resisted are accused of supporting OLA.

We call for a thorough investigation of the Karrayyuu massacre that will identify the perpetrators, and confirm who ordered and who performed the executions, so that the entire chain of command can be held accountable. Such a disclosure will reveal the nature of the regime in power and provide insight into the mechanisms by which impunity prevails in Oromia.

We call for the Karrayyuu community’s territories to be respected. Amhara militia should be instructed to evacuate the areas immediately. Federal military forces need to return to their barracks. Traditional and ceremonial arms should be returned so that the Karrayyuu may restore their lives and livelihoods. Confiscated camels should be returned to their owners. Funds should be provided for the rehabilitation of a community that has lost its leaders and the families of the executed men.

If the government officially admits the chain of events and holds the perpetrators accountable, this could open the door to reconciliation between the Karrayyuu and the government. Otherwise, the current climate of confrontation between the community and government soldiers sends an ominous message to all Oromo and other marginalized indigenous peoples and bodes ill for the entire region, setting the stage for another catastrophe.

For Oromia and the wider south

The Karrayyuu experience is what Oromo see as the fate of countless other vulnerable communities if protections are not put in place. Indeed, the events in Karrayyuu are a microcosm of what is happening in communities and villages everywhere in Oromia; the harassment and persecution directed at all groups considered, rightly or wrongly, to be adversaries of Abiy’s government. Unfortunately, reports have not been getting out about atrocities taking place in the centre and south of the country due to communication blackouts and travel restrictions.

The UN Human Rights Council has resolved to establish an independent commission of experts to investigate human rights abuses throughout Ethiopia, and not just the violations in the Tigray and Amhara Regions. This is most welcome. An independent verification of egregious abuses in Oromia and other regions of oppressed and marginalized peoples of Ethiopia, who constitute the vast majority of the population of the country, will likely strengthen calls for thoroughgoing changes to the political and power structure of Ethiopia.

An independent investigation will also demonstrate the intentional removal of Oromo, Gumuz, Agaw and Kemant people from Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz and Oromia Regions by Amhara Region militia.

If investigations go forward, it will become clear that a solution to Ethiopia’s structural problems will not be found in negotiations among northern belligerents alone but must include accountability issues and voices from the wider south and from marginalized peoples.

Democratic forces in Ethiopia and finding inclusive solutions 

Investigations will also confirm that forces of democracy have been under attack for three years, since late 2018, starting with attempts to eliminate members of Qeerroo, the Oromo prodemocracy student movement. After four years of peaceful protests and at the cost of thousands of young lives, this group brought an end to EPRDF rule in 2018. The Oromo youth were intent on implementing the principles of democracy in Ethiopia. Their hard-won opening of the democratic space was, however, systematically sabotaged by Abiy Ahmed who had already identified the Qeerroo as his “biggest threat” upon arrival in office.

It should be noted that currently the Ethiopian regime accuses Western countries of “imperialism” and “neo-colonialism”, yet this same Ethiopian regime is spearheading systematic suppression and attacks on indigenous African ways of life and indigenous institutions and leaders within its own boundaries. Abiy Ahmed employs “pan-African” rhetoric claiming “Africa for Africans” on the international stage, while allying himself with notorious dictators and totalitarians around the world. His regime is empowered by this foreign assistance to crush indigenous Oromo people’s aspirations for local autonomy and democracy. Are the Oromo, who aspire to revive an indigenous form of democratic governance, less “African” than the ruler who aspires to destroy ancient ways of life in order to institute authoritarian rule?

Within a few weeks of the massacre, the sacred Gadaa village at Motoma was razed to the ground by Amhara Region militia.

We support any efforts to reach a ceasefire between Ethiopian government forces (including Amhara Region militia and embedded Eritrean troops) and Tigrayan forces. However, we recommend genuinely inclusive negotiations, inclusive of forces represented in Oromia and the southern and marginalized peoples as well, in order to seek a countrywide and lasting solution. The underlying stresses and fault lines in Ethiopian society will not be addressed if negotiations are either influenced or dictated by the government or limited to and controlled by the forces that created the current war.

The oppressed and marginalised peoples together constitute 70 to 75 per cent of the Ethiopian population. At over 40 million, for example, the Oromo alone are twice the population of the average African country. These now-silenced peoples must – with international support and mediation – be central to the conduct of any impartial, independently convened dialogue intended to navigate a way to stable forms of democracy and peace.

Media contacts: 

Bonnie Holcomb, Oromo Advocacy Alliance, Washington DC,, +1 301 523 5565 Dr Trevor Trueman, Oromia Support Group, UK +44 1684 573722

Coalition of Advocacy and Human Rights Groups – Signatories 

Advocacy 4 Oromia
Melbourne, Australia
Baro Tumsa
Institute Greenbelt, MD, USA

Oromia Support Group
Malvern, UK
Melbourne, Australia

Oromia Global Forum
Tacoma Park, MD, USA Oromo

Advocacy Alliance
Washington DC, USA

Oromo Human Rights Defenders
Minneapolis, MN, USA

Oromo Legacy Leadership and Advocacy Association
Falls Church, VA, USA

Oromo Professionals Group
Washington, DC, USA

Union of Oromo Communities in Canada
Ontario, Canada

World Oromo Congress
Washington, DC

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Drought Management in ASAL Areas: Enhancing Resilience or Fostering Vulnerability?

Rather that jumping from project to project in search of a short-term response, there is a need to embrace practical and proactive long-term solutions to the challenges of recurring drought in the ASALs.



Drought Management in ASAL Areas: Enhancing Resilience or Fostering Vulnerability?

Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) occupy 80 per cent of the country’s landmass and are inhabited by nearly ten million people who rely on livestock rearing and seasonal small-scale farming for their livelihoods. ASALs are known for the variable environmental conditions that result in periodic drought, floods, animal disease outbreaks, and social instability due to conflict and historical marginalisation.

In the 1970s, ASALs experienced periods of prolonged drought nearly every four years, with the government and donor agencies developing various programmes through international and local NGOs to address the crises. The focus was on humanitarian aid to enhance food security through food relief aid to vulnerable populations. But due to the temporality and inefficiency of food aid, these agencies promoted farming as an alternative to livestock production and as a means of ensuring food security.

In Isiolo County, irrigation schemes were introduced along the Waso River and in other small centres such as Malka Daka and Rapsu. However, the projects failed largely due to flooding, and also because pastoralists re-invested the proceeds from farming in livestock and abandoned farming altogether.

Irrigation scheme at Rapsu

Irrigation scheme at Rapsu

Humanitarian interventions and the food security approach were dropped in favour of livestock development projects in the 1990s. These involved the development of water infrastructure such as boreholes and water pans, the establishment of grazing blocks and the implementation of livestock restocking programmes following periods of severe drought.

Between 1990 and 2000, the Arid Lands Resource Management Projects (ALRMP) emerged as the scaffold for the management and development of the drylands. The projects ranged from water infrastructure development and rehabilitation, to early warning bulletins, contingency planning, range re-seeding, livestock feeds, and vaccination.

The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) took over from Arid Lands Development Projects in 2005. The NDMA’s focus is predominantly on the early warning bulletin, drought intervention, contingency policies, and capacity building. Although the NDMA is not oriented towards development projects, key policies such as Ending Drought Emergencies (EDE) form a significant segment of the NDMA’s work.

Drought Response Program in Isiolo

Drought Response Program in Isiolo

Between 2009 and 2019, social protection programmes based on cash transfers—such as the Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) and livestock insurance—made their appearance. The HSNP was initially implemented in Marsabit, Mandera, Turkana, and Wajir. In 2019, the programme was upscaled to include four other pastoral counties: Isiolo, Samburu, Garissa and Tana River.

In 2010, Kenya became the first African country to implement KLIP, an index-based livestock insurance programme where the government purchases the policy on behalf of the beneficiary and disburses the pay-out as a safety net to cushion against drought events. The government first piloted the programme in Marsabit County and by 2016 had expanded the scheme to Isiolo, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Kajiado, Turkana, Tana River and Samburu counties.

The paradigm shifted from livestock development to enhancing “resilience” through programmes such as the Drought Resilience and Sustainable Livelihoods Programme (DRSLP), the Regional Pastoral Livelihoods Resilience Project (RPLRP) and the Resilience and Economic Growth in Arid Lands (REGAL-AG) project. “Resilience” projects aimed to accelerate economic growth by promoting the development of livestock market facilities and regulatory frameworks, developing the capacities of individual and community enterprises and promoting investments in livestock value chains in five pastoral counties (Marsabit, Isiolo, Garissa, Wajir and Turkana).

Finally, the Kenya Climate-Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP, 2017-2026) has recently taken the lead. The implementation of KCSAP in ASAL counties enmeshes improving water systems (boreholes), livelihood support, contingency emergency response, and value addition in agriculture.

Cattle watering at Dogogicha borehole (Range water infrastructure development project)

Cattle watering at Dogogicha borehole (Range water infrastructure development project)

In the period between 1970 and 2020, massive investments were made to mitigate the effects of drought in Kenya’s ASALs. What I have presented here is simply a snapshot of the billion-dollar investments made in drought management. Although some of these projects have contributed to improving the resilience of pastoralist communities, others have increased their vulnerability and inequality because of the manner in which droughts and related catastrophes are handled. Following the severe drought that affected the entire Horn of Africa, including Kenya, in 2011 a policy framework was developed to end drought emergencies. But can these continuous policy shifts and the massive investments in drought management end drought emergencies in Kenya?

End drought emergencies by 2022?

Ending Drought Emergencies (EDE) is a policy framework developed to strengthen drought management institutions and infrastructure. It emerged from the regional drought and disaster resilience summit held in Nairobi by IGAD member states and regional actors. The conference aimed to respond to the drought cataclysm that had affected the entire region resulting in an estimated US$12.1 billion in drought-related losses between 2008 and 2011.

Although some of these projects have contributed to improving the resilience of pastoralist communities, others have increased their vulnerability and inequality.

In Kenya, EDE is a distinct part of the Vision 2030 sector plan for drought risk management with the stated aim of ending drought emergencies by 2022 (MTP III). EDE aims to prioritise inclusive economic growth and reduce poverty by integrating various pillars of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Regional Drought Disaster Resilience and Sustainability Initiative (IDIRSI). However, in September 2021, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the ongoing drought a national disaster and called for local and international interventions.

Is Kenya’s roadmap for ending drought emergencies realistic? Can Kenya achieve its vision of ending drought emergencies by 2022? The same development visions and plans that aim to integrate ASAL areas into the broader economic transformation continue to push pastoralism to the periphery. Mobility is central to how pastoralists exploit variable range resources. However, insecurity, restricted park and conservancy enclosures, and mega-development infrastructures impede pastoral mobility, fostering vulnerability among the pastoralist communities rather than enhancing their resilience.

Which way forward

Despite the massive investments in humanitarian aid, pastoral development projects, resilience building and “climate-smart” approaches to drought mitigation, pastoralists remain susceptible to shocks and stresses brought on by droughts. There are remarkable discrepancies between the value of the investments made and the results achieved in attempting to end the drought emergency.

The same development visions and plans that aim to integrate ASAL areas into the broader economic transformation continue to push pastoralism to the periphery.

Both failures and successes are evident, but there is an urgent need to close the gap between the levels of investments in drought management and the impact on vulnerability and resilience. As one research participant commented, “stop subsidising failures” and instead focus on supporting the existing institutions and infrastructures that have been put in place to counter drought events. One example is the livestock market facilities and abattoirs in the rangelands, which, according to some of my research respondents, have created “drought millionaires” but have had a limited impact on the lives of pastoralists. These failures are due to a lack of a sustainable and favourable framework. To foster resilience—the ability to withstand climatic shocks and bounce back better—there is a need for a collaborative effort by all the actors, including the state, Civil Society Organisations, international actors and the pastoralists themselves. In summary, three points are essential to reflect upon.

Recognising failures and successes

The government and humanitarian organisations have developed numerous drought management policies, programmes and projects. Handling drought emergencies requires a process of un-learning, learning, and re-learning by revisiting historical interventions and policies. This will help to uncover successes, the ramifications of drought responses, and the unintended structural conditions created by such interventions. Drought response must include considering other factors such as seasonal stress, access to resource infrastructures, and the population’s social-economic dynamics that influence how drought is perceived and managed—all these help in recognising and embracing drought as a management failure rather than as a cyclical absence of rain.

Pastoralism as a reliable profession 

Pastoralists are “reliability” professionals acting in “real time” by galvanising different networks, solidarities and resources. Sometimes, reliability is generated by negotiated access to restricted areas such as parks and conservancy areas and through adaptive mobilities and collective solidarities in the form of a moral economy. Collective solidarities help pastoralists to deal with labour deficit, insecurity, and access to resources. Although these practices of collective solidarity are sometimes stratified between people with networks, wealth, and other resources, they remain central to how diverse livestock owners navigate dry periods. External projects that aim to enhance pastoral resilience must recognise the existence of reliable institutions that help pastoralists to manage precarious conditions such as drought. Recognising pastoralists as active managers of drought crises and real-time coordination between pastoralists, state and development NGOs will enhance reliability and adaptive containment of drought emergencies.

Proactive approach

Policies that deal with drought management—such as early warning and contingency planning—are sometimes linear, progressive, and reactive. In contrast, drought events are very much unpredictable and require considerable multiple knowledge and open-ended approaches.

To contain drought emergencies, there is a need to embrace the participatory, relational, and open-ended perspective. In the words of one of my research respondents, “there is a need to move from the ‘policy’ classroom to the ‘field’ classrooms”. For instance, livestock market infrastructure is in place in most parts of the rangelands, but unfortunately, some of it is derelict. Instead of jumping from project to project in search of a short-term response, there is a need to embrace practical and proactive long-term solutions. These could provide stability in the rangelands, especially during dry periods, to help pastoralists exploit unevenly distributed resources. One suggestion could be integrating pastoralists’ safety net and the moral economy with the social protection projects in pastoral areas.

There should be a “pause” moment to rethink and reflect on how to embrace the drought emergencies and build forward better by turning the drought crisis into an opportunity for sustainable and reliable livelihoods in the ASALs and beyond.

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China, Oil and the South Sudan Resource Curse

South Sudan remains heavily reliant on oil revenues but the extraction of this resource has resulted in major environmental damage and great human suffering.



China, Oil and the South Sudan Resource Curse

South Sudan is caught between a rock and a hard place, heavily dependent on the revenues generated by a resource whose extraction is having a negative impact on the country.

China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) operates the Dar Petroleum Operating Company (DPOC) and Greater Petroleum Operating Company (GPOC) consortia that produce all of the country’s oil. CNPC started operating in Sudan in 1996, long before South Sudan became an independent state in 2011, without putting in place proper waste management systems and undertaking environmental audits.

While oil production generates over 90 per cent of the government’s budget, the issue of waste management and accountability has been a continuing challenge. Major environmental damage has been reported in the oil fields, jeopardising the lives of those who live in the oil producing states.

“They don’t care about waste management and environmental protection. They want it cheaper, and the agreements are opaque so I don’t know what they signed, in terms of service delivery and environmental care,” said an analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The source also claimed that DPOC and GPOC are “sabotaging” the regulations developed by the Ministry of Petroleum to avoid their corporate social responsibilities towards the communities and the country. “They [DPOC and GPOC] don’t want the implementation of these policies and recently rejected a comprehensive environmental audit saying they are Western ideas, American ideas.”

In the 90s, aware of the impact that oil extraction would have on local communities, the Sudanese government took the draconian measure of ordering the Sudanese Army to evict the civilian population to make way for exploration and production.

“When South Sudan gained independence it was a new responsibility. The whole point of fighting was to do things differently from the old Sudan. The first thing would have been to change things, but the country couldn’t stop oil production. It was young and needed money to continue running its business, to provide basic services and continue with developmental projects,” said Dr Bior Kwer Bior, founding Executive Director for Nile Initiative for Health and Environment, a member of South Sudan’s Civil Society Coalition on Natural Resources.

Today, the decision to continue with oil production has come to haunt the country in terms of the impact on the environment and on the health of local populations.

“Whenever there’s oil extraction obviously there will be impact on the environment. Normally there are safeguards that are put in place to protect the environment. There should be a plan for protecting the environment, an accurate environmental management system, baseline assessment before you start production, and good ways of waste management,” noted Dr Kwer.

According to article 28 of the South Sudan Petroleum Act, contractors must submit an application to the Ministry of Petroleum for a permit to undertake exploratory drilling. The application must include an environmental and social impact assessment. Regarding transportation, treatment and storage, the Act requires that “detailed information on all relevant issues [. . .] including economic, technical, operational, safety related, commercial, local content, land use and environmental aspects of the project” be provided. The Act further clarifies that “The Ministry shall grant a license on the basis of an evaluation of the application, including the environmental and social impact assessment, and the technical competence, experience, history of compliance and ethical conduct and financial capacity of the applicant and the contractor, as well as safety related aspects.”

However, since its enactment in 2012, the provisions of the Act have not been fully implemented and the country continues to engage with the oil companies without proper environmental and social impact assessments having been undertaken.

Environmental impact

A report released by the Nile Initiative for Health and Environment, recorded that over 218 children were born with deformities as a result of oil pollution in the oil-producing states of Unity and Upper Nile.

The organization says it collected the data from the birth registries of the health facilities in Pariang, Unity State, and from media reports of cases in Upper Nile State. Its tally may undercount the true figure because of the absence of health facilities and road networks in the areas where oil fields are located.

Local populations lack awareness of the dangers of the chemicals and waste materials dumped on their doorsteps, which contaminate the water in the wells and ponds that are used by the communities.

“The topography of Pariang in Unity State is a low land. The water from the crude oil, the waste water, is dumped in local ponds, flows all the way to local streams and this is what is causing diseases,” Dr Kwer said. “As a consequence of oil production, waste is hazardously dumped in the areas, and the containers that used to contain the chemicals are in the hands of the communities being used for drinking water,” he continued.

The water discharged with minimal treatment contains toxins such as hydrocarbons that have had a negative impact on communities in the oil producing regions of Upper Nile State, Unity State, and the Ruweng Administrative Area, which by itself produces over 80 per cent of South Sudanese oil. “The impact is huge and negative, towards the communities, and the land, animals and the air. The processes were not satisfactory to us. First of all, the level of oil spills, in which pipe breaks spill crude oil into the soil [and] the containers of chemical materials which find their way to communities and are being used for domestic activities,” Charles Judo, Chairperson of the Civil Society Coalition on Natural Resources (CSCNR), said in an interview.

Judo observed that although oil production in South Sudan started on the wrong footing, “The government has now agreed to conduct an environmental audit, not only to assess the environment but the social impact of the oil activities. And as a member of the civil society I want to see in the future that all the processes are open and transparent to the public.”

Diplomatic impact

At its meeting in May 2021, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), renewed for another year the arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze imposed on South Sudan in 2018. The UNSC also extended for a further 13 months the mandate of the panel of experts tasked with overseeing those measures. The arms embargo prohibits the supply, sale or transfer of weapons, as well as the provision of technical assistance, training and other military assistance to the territory of South Sudan.

Having previously abstained, this time the Chinese government voted for the arms embargo. Economic analysts said that China’s vote was in retaliation against the decision taken by the government of South Sudan to put in place restrictive measures to improve accountability and transparency in the oil sector, in particular the undertaking of an environmental audit and the implementation of the human resource policies developed by the South Sudan Ministry of Petroleum.

The Chinese government had previously abstained but for the first time voted for the arms embargo.

“The Chinese companies recently have seen some line ministries as a threat, and there have been debates with the Ministry of Petroleum, saying they are not happy with the policies the government is trying to impose on the oil companies and that they should be treated exceptionally because they were supporting South Sudan even during the dark days,” said a source who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. “They said the environmental audit is expensive. They want samples only taken in one area while others should be skipped.” It is deeply concerning that the Chinese want to dictate what the country should do with its resources.

Contribution by the civil society

The role of civil society is to amplify advocacy efforts and share information to ensure that accountability and transparency are priorities.  “Issues to do with monitoring and evaluation of whatever is related to oil, starting from the signing of the contracts, starting [upstream] to downstream. Whatever agreements are about to be reached, civil society ensures there’s transparency,” Judo said.

Some of the concerns raised by citizens include lack of access to timely and reliable information. “The civil society should be empowered to create awareness about agreements reached by the government and other stakeholders, from exploration, production and selling. The role is to ensure the process is flexible and known to all the South Sudanese citizens,” Judo added.

It is deeply concerning that the Chinese want to dictate what the country should do with its resources.

The National Audit Chamber of South Sudan recently issued a report indicating that the 2 per cent share of net petroleum revenues have not been transferred to the oil producing states to finance service delivery and development projects as foreseen in the Petroleum Revenue Management Act 2013 and the Transitional Constitution 2011. The central government has instead reallocated the funds for other use.

“As civil society we are aware and concerned about all these issues. So far, we have been hearing about the processes of signing the agreements but we have never been involved, not only at the signing but also starting from the initial processes and negotiations. There was no transparency and we never had access to contracts to see and compare with other companies. We have never seen the contracts, but from the output, we are not happy about the agreements with the Chinese companies,” said Judo.

Community awareness

Outbreaks of unknown diseases, stillbirths, deformities in new-borns, miscarriages and infertility have been recorded among populations living in oil producing regions yet there is little awareness within these communities of the dangers they face.

The oil companies support development projects such as schools and hospitals but this is part of their corporate social responsibility and not enough. Communities in Pariang County in Unity State and in Paloich in Upper Nile State have held several demonstrations, accusing the oil companies of making empty promises. In August 2020, there was a demonstration over the lack of employment opportunities for local people that had been promised in the Memorandum of Understanding between the government and the oil companies. “They don’t keep their promises but only concede and don’t deliver. Communities need services to be provided to them and this remains key,” said a concerned citizen.

Resource curse

The reconstituted government of National Unity is tasked with the responsibility of reforming the sector and eventually joining the Extractive Industry and Transparency Initiative (EITI) to help the country control and manage well the revenues generated from its natural resources. In so doing, the needs of the communities living in and around the oil producing areas must be prioritised to ensure a do-no-harm approach. In particular, it is crucial that the issue of waste management is addressed as a matter of urgency. The government must also ensure that environmental audits are undertaken before production begins in new oil fields to avoid further environmental degradation.

Outbreaks of unknown diseases, stillbirths, deformities in new-borns, miscarriages and infertility have been recorded among populations living in oil producing regions.

There is also a need to establish accountability mechanisms to ensure that resources are used properly and that the communities in the oil producing regions receive their share of the oil revenues as stipulated in the law.

Further, the government and civil society organizations must educate the communities concerned about the benefits and the challenges that come with oil production activities in their regions, including how relocating to other regions can help them escape the health ordeals that they are currently facing.

It will not be easy to bring order to the sector, especially after more than three decades during which the oil companies explored and produced crude oil without proper government oversight. However, environmental degradation and human suffering must be put to an end as they negate the whole idea of producing oil to fuel development and render the resource a curse rather than a blessing for South Sudan.

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The Crisis in Ethiopia and its Implication for Marsabit County

A lengthy destabilization of Ethiopia’s regime reverse the gains made by security partners and countries in the fight against Al-Shabaab, and create a crisis that Kenya is ill-prepared to face.



The Crisis in Ethiopia and its Implication for Marsabit County

From southern Ethiopia to northern Kenya, scenes of euphoria broke out after the swearing in of Abiy Ahmed as Ethiopia’s new prime minister on 2 April 2018, when the incumbent Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned unexpectedly. Abiy came to power as the country faced civil unrest, particularly in the Oromia region. In his maiden speech, Abiy promised sweeping changes, from judicial reforms, to the establishment of high-level structured bilateral cooperation with Kenya to the signing of a peace accord with Eritrea to end 20 years of a frozen conflict. Eighteen years after its closure, the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia was reopened and siblings were reunited with parents and grandparents for the first time in almost a decade. Phone links were re-established.

A New Dawn

A new era seemed to have emerged in the Horn of Africa’s most populous country and largest economy following decades of civil wars, drought and famine. Ethiopian youths had high expectations of an improved economy and better working conditions under Abiy’s leadership. In particular, for the larger Oromo population, which had never had one of its own as head of government, the coronation of Abiy was laden with tremendous hope for this historically marginalized majority group. Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize after the peace settlement with Eritrea, electrifying the country and the region. Yet amid all the positive reforms, tensions were brewing within and outside Abiy’s administration as the northern Tigrinya region went to the polls against the federal government’s directives. Dissenting Oromo voices and opposition leaders were detained. Vocal local musician Hachalu Handessa was assassinated in broad daylight.

All these events happened in the blink of an eye, jeopardizing the developments initiated by Abiy in fewer than two years. Slightly over one year into the conflict with Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) insurgents, the intensifying hostility between the federal government forces and the Tigrinya political leadership has produced a dire humanitarian crisis, from malnutrition and food insecurity, the displacement of populations, disease outbreaks to restrictions in the delivery of food aid. The current volatile situation in Ethiopia will have a devastating ripple effect on the neighbouring countries, particularly Kenya, which borders Ethiopia to the south.

The spillover 

From the Italo-Ethiopia war, through the persecution of the TPLF to Ethiopia’s security operation in early 2018 targeting civilians, the ensuing refugee crises have been felt in the Moyale region of Marsabit County. The movement of people from Ethiopia to the Kenyan side of the border takes different forms, from human trafficking, displacement of people due to ethnic conflict or targeted government operations, to “flushing out” of local militia affiliated to Oromo in Ethiopia. The Moyale-Nairobi road has been the route for human trafficking and a smuggling hotspot for those seeking “greener pastures” abroad and those running away from political persecution.

Of the other countries that share a border with Ethiopia, the influx of refugees into Sudan has been the largest, with arrivals into countries like Somalia being modest. Conversely, with the escalation of ethnic fighting and the federal government fighting different factions in new fronts, the situation is fluid, and there is the possibility of people fleeing to Kenya to escape the growing conflicts. Northern Kenya already hosts two of the world’s largest refugee settlements, Kakuma to the northwest and Dadaab to the northeast. A protracted and bloody ethnic conflict causing a steady flow of displaced populations would likely have severe impacts on Marsabit County. The porous borders with Kenya would enable displaced populations to cross into Moyale Sub-County, putting pressure on a region that is already facing drought and resource problems. An influx of refugees from Ethiopia could increase pressure on the county’s scarce resources and provoke a humanitarian crisis that local authorities are not equipped to handle. This would put colossal pressure on public utilities like hospitals, increase food insecurity, cause disease outbreaks and a surge in COVID-19 infections.

The current volatile situation in Ethiopia will have a devastating ripple effect on the neighbouring countries, particularly Kenya, which borders Ethiopia to the south.

Kenya being the passage for Ethiopians seeking a better life abroad—in South Africa and elsewhere—the influx of people running away from the crisis will increase human trafficking, which will have a devastating impact on the rights of refugees. The people being trafficked usually pay colossal amounts of money to traffickers to get into Nairobi, transported either by lorry or by van like sacks of potatoes. Immigrants risk their lives in search of better lives and livelihoods and the influx of refugees might affect the rights of refugees as the human traffickers may take advantage of the vulnerable displaced populations. Additionally, the crisis has potentially serious effects on Kenya’s stability and security as it could weaken counterinsurgency efforts against the potent Al-Shabaab jihadist group. Kenya has taken a number of initiatives against terrorism and terror-related activities including security and political measures, and creating awareness and sensitization among the locals. These initiatives could be derailed if the militant group makes a comeback into the border counties.

The intensification of conflict and spill-over into Ethiopia’s other regions like Oromia and Ogaden may oblige Abiy’s government to withdraw Ethiopian forces from Somalia, severely weakening the AMISOM forces. This would splinter the containment model put in place by the Ethiopian government against Al-Shabaab. The security vacuum created will allow the infiltration of Al-Shabaab and other militant groups, and create conditions favouring local recruitment.  AMISON was officially scheduled to wind up its operations by the end of the 2021 but the international community has requested an extension of the term from the European Union. The deployment of Ethiopian military personnel remains a lynchpin of the AMISON mission in Somalia; retracting Ethiopia’s contingent could erase the gains made over the years in the fight against the terrorist group. The withdrawal of Ethiopian troops would also bolster the Al-Shabaab, enabling militants to spread their tentacles into the vast and volatile parts of Marsabit County.

An influx of refugees from Ethiopia could increase pressure on the county’s scarce resources and provoke a humanitarian crisis that local authorities are not equipped to handle.

The political crisis will exacerbate the ethnic and political situation in border counties like Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir and Garissa, among others. Marsabit County has in the past experienced severe ethnic conflict, from the Forolle massacre, the Turbi bloodbath, the Moyale clashes to the current ethnic clashes in Saku Sub-County. The primary triggers of the ethnic conflict revolve around land and boundary issues exacerbated by the influx of small arms and light weapons through the porous Kenya-Ethiopian border. The ease of access to light weapons will be further accelerated by the Ethiopian crisis, enabling a steady flow of guns and other armaments. This could inflame the already fragile situation in Marsabit County. Considering that electioneering in this region instigates ethnic conflict, the infiltration of light weapons might aggravate these ethnic clashes.

Given that Kenya and Ethiopia have several bilateral trade agreements and other trade arrangements at various levels, the crisis in Ethiopia is likely to affect trade between the two countries. Private firms and local traders on the Kenyan side of the border are likely to re-evaluate their business operations, which will affect income tax and cause layoffs. This will have direct bearing on the revenues generated by the state from the export and import of goods. On the flipside, there will be an inflow of illegal goods and products into Kenya, finding their way into the local markets and thus affecting the business environment in Kenya. Such a shadow market system distorts the local market and trade flows, and results in low sales as people shift to cheaper goods. An intensification of ethnic conflict implies disruption of transportation of goods along the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia corridor. Similarly, hard drugs like cannabis sativa could find their way into the lucrative drug market in Kenya.

In brief, a rapid de-escalation in the complex ethnic conflict is vital not just for reinstating equilibrium in Ethiopia, but also to ensure that Kenya is not destabilised. A lengthy destabilization of Ethiopia’s regime will reverse the gains made by security partners and countries in the fight against Al Shabaab, the most lethal terrorist group in the Horn of Africa as well as the economic achievements and bilateral cooperation between these two countries.  Should the de-escalation emerge as a result of political diplomacy leading to equitable power sharing, Kenya will not have to deal with a crisis it has not prepared for.

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