Organic rage

ETHIOPIA: Could modernity have sprinkled some small blessings on people groups in Nobel laureate Abiy Ahmed's homeland?

Omo Change
Author: Fausto Padovini
PhotoEvidence Press, USA

The wooded Omo Valley, flanked by semi-desert, winds through southern Ethiopia on its way to the river's outlet in Lake Turkana, the largest lake in the area. In the Omo Valley live a handful of small groups of people - karo, mursi, hammer, daasanach - and they feed on animal husbandry, agriculture and fishing. They would not have been there without the river, which leaves a nutritious sludge when it is rainy season in the highlands and it floods.

Those who make a living by the River Omo, the protagonists of Fausto Padovini's book Omo Change, basically has nothing to do with Ethiopia, and Ethiopia is of little interest to them. They were incorporated into the state under Emperor Menelik II in the late 1800s, when the territory of the state grew enormously due to the conquest of Ogaden and Oromia. Overnight, millions of Somalis and oromos became Ethiopian subjects. The classic Ethiopia, known from the legend of King Solomon's mines and the queen of Sheba, was in the north. This is where the Coptic Church was established in the 300s, and here the Amharic alphabet was developed. The ancient city of Aksum was also located here. First it was the tiger rulers who led, and later the Amharas took over. Emperor Haile Selassie, cultivated by Rastafarians as an African Messiah, was the last representative of a dynasty dating back to the European Middle Ages.

The people in Padovini's book have little to gain from the so-called development.

No one had asked the hammer people if they thought they would be Ethiopians, but for a long time it mattered which state they happened to be in. The small, stateless peoples along the river are not only related to each other, but also to groups the Kenyan side of the border and has little standing with the state.


However, the state is a greedy master. Ethiopia has long planned to aim for economic growth. Plans are being put in Addis Ababa while they are being implemented in other parts of the country. It is no coincidence that Ethiopia has a central place in James Scotts Seeing Like a State, a book on how central planning brings about a series of unintended consequences that primarily go beyond the ones on which they make plans on behalf. In Ethiopia, millions of people were moved from arid areas to the lush highlands. In a country that had its last…

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