Ethiopian Development Puzzles

Omo

An African subject, for a second day in a row; thanks to Andrew McCarthy and the New York Times for this:

Up Close With the Tribes of Ethiopia’s Imperiled Omo Valley

Both dams and overtourism threaten the Omo Valley. But a sustainable travel initiative offers an intimate experience with local peoples.

…This southwestern corner of Ethiopia is home to seven primary tribes who coexist with varying degrees of peace. The land is largely dry savanna, with the Omo River cutting a nearly 475-mile-long swath down to Lake Turkana on the Kenya border. The discovery of human remains dating back nearly 2.5 million years prompted Unesco to dub the Lower Valley a World Heritage site in 1980.

But today the Omo is a region on the precipice. The Ethiopian government has recently completed the third of five proposed dams upriver. The dams threaten to alter the lives of the communities that have inhabited this valley for millennium and depend on the river’s moods for survival.

“This was the second year in a row that the flood crop failed,” Mr. Jones told me. “It is the only time anyone can remember that the river never rose.”

The area has also fallen victim to hit-and-run tourism — people driving down from Addis Ababa, storming into villages, cameras blazing, then leaving in a cloud of dust. I encountered one such scrum at a local festival. Witnessing the feverish pursuit for documentation of “otherness” reflected back at me my own motives for being there. It is an issue every traveler to remote or indigenous regions needs to reconcile.

“There is a circuit of exploitation here,” Mr. Jones told me. “It’s one of the reasons we cultivate relationships with the local people, trading with them, trying to create a mutually beneficial exchange. And it’s why we’re primarily using the river as our road. The river allows us access to villages inaccessible any other way.” In the six days we spent on the river we saw one other motorized boat — carrying supplies for an NGO downriver…

Read the whole article here.

 

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