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Anuak lady ornamented by jewelries A map of Gambella region, southwestern Ethiopia
made from beads and performing
Of late, Gambella hosted the third regional AIDS conference which brought all stakeholders working to conquer the spread of the epidemic under the same roof. Major national media ,including The Ethiopian Herald, covered the conference that discussed means to stop the rapid prevalence of HIV and AIDS at national level but through attaching due emphasis with the region that is said the worst hit in Ethiopia by the pandemic, Gambella. This travel memo, therefore, comprises the writer’s observations while he was in Gambella for attending the conference.
Flight to a scorching but an evergreen land
Our flight, with Ethiopian, to Gambella had been scheduled for quarter past one in the afternoon. All passengers arrived in advance as the checking process at the airport requires some time. Unlike most passengers expectations, the checking did not take long time. Though the guys at the checkpoints had carried out the jobs in less than thirty minutes, we were made to sit doing nothing for extended minutes, for unknown reasons. A colleague who sat beside me and I started discussing how we can pass time in Gambella. Obviously, we talked about the hot temperature and how to endure with it. It was my second experience to fly to the place, and I tried to describe some pictures of our destination for my colleague. In the meantime, a voice came out of the waiting room’s speakers requesting us to go down stairs, ushered by a security officer, to be on board and use the bus that took us to a plane- flight number one hundred thirty nine, Bombardier Q-400. Strikingly beautiful hostesses of the flight received us with warm welcoming face and we all took our seats. For a moment, I was taken by my thoughts. The airline industry prefers young and beautiful girls to be air hostess, I hope the telecom industry as well favours them as most preferable ones to work in call centres. What is the reason? I did not pursue with my thoughts. A briefing on some safety caution issues from the head hostess detoured my thought and soon the plane took off. The fifty-five minutes long flight that covers two hundred eighty miles to south-western part of Ethiopia-with an altitude of around twenty five thousand feet started. It was a short but an enjoyable flight crossing over various landscapes including Wonchi Crater Lake- a five hundred sixty hectares wide lake- which is seen being as small as a bowel of water on a plateau three thousand three hundred eighty six metres high above sea level. Except some few guys on board, most had got pleasure from the magnificent topography of South-western Ethiopia. People who suffer from altitude phobia, however, rather rolled their eyes on the airline’s magazine, Selameta.
‘Ladies and gentlemen you are requested to fasten your seatbelt for landing as we are approaching to Gambella air port-- a voice heard from the plane's speakers attracted our attention for a while and we complied with the Captain's order. Soon everyone who is stranger to Gambella started gazing down through the plane’s window in search for Baro River that crosses Gambella town. The widest river in Ethiopia looks like not larger than a line on a paper when flowing on the flat landscape of Gambella.
When the fifty five minutes was over Gambella air port received us with its hot breath, the temperature escalated as high as forty five degree centigrade that day. Located in Gambella national park, the air port serves to shorten the journey that takes two days by vehicles into less than an hour. I bet a rich guy who owns a private jet can take his lunch in Gambella town with his slim and tall girl, with amazing breasts that look as an aimed rocket, and can arrive on time for business meeting at eight in Addis Ababa. With great apology from feminists.
Gambella is indeed an evergreen land but with the highest temperature, causing schools, other private and government business to be closed from ten in the morning to three in the afternoon. It is surprising to see a densely populated forest in this land. Had there not been this forest, life could have become so challenging. In the peak hot hours, people sit around the shade of trees and cool themselves.
The green land, Gambella, is home to various rivers and wild lives. Baro River flows cutting the town into two. It is the only cross boarder river rendering sea transportation in Ethiopia. The Gilo River also flows from Gog to Jor , in a northwestern direction. And the Alwero River flows to the eastern direction, during Derg regime the Awereo dam had been constructed on this river. Now Lake Alwero is a hub for a huge supply of fish for Gambella region. Recently, Saudi Stars PLC- owned by Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Ali Al-Amoudi-has constructed a canal thirty kilometre from Alwero dam to its farm land, to irrigate a white rice farm.
Available evidences show that the low and flat landscape of Gambella has an altitude that ranges from four hundred to seven hundred metre above sea level. Gambella wildlife reserve is surrounded by; to the northern by Itang and Lare, to the northwestern, Jikawo and Jor to the southwestern and Abobo in the eastern. The park is home to a wide variety of wildlife and some of them include Buffalo, Giraffe, Taing (Topi), Waterbuck, Roan Antelope, White-eared Kob, Nile Lechwe, Burchell’s Zebra, Bushbuck, Reedbuck, Warthog and Elephant. It is also a habitat for at least three hundred bird species of which eleven are Sudan-Guinea Biome species. The rivers host healthy populations of Hippopotamus and Nile Crocodiles. Nile perch weighing up to hundred kilograms have been caught from the Baro River. You can see such fish in Gambella town in a village called Arat Kilo when fishers divide their catch, Nile perch, among themselves in a ceremony called Kircha.
Agro-climatically, Gambella is classified as Kolla and the climate is hot and humid high temperature is usually recorded just before the onset of rains in May elevated up to forty four degree centigrade. Nuer, Anuak, Mezenger, Apo and Como are the people living in various parts of the region. All have their own distinct, language, culture, tradition and lifestyle. The park area is home for the Nuer and the Anuak people.
Studies show that the region has around three point eight million hectares of arable land. But the people led a subsistence life in a fragmented way. Now the regional governments together with the federal government have set a three years communal programme. By now, around forty five thousand households have joined their new villages that are provided with the necessary infrastructural facilities. The communed people in various centres have ,therefore, started to lead better lives with a close assistance from agricultural and health extension workers. The communal programme is expected to be concluded this fiscal year. One can visit the villages which are found around eighty kilometres from the town. When the writer of this piece visited one of the centres called Chovokir centre a year ago, there has been an elementary school up to six grades, now it is upgraded to grade eight. Other communal villages as well have their schools. The students are too eager to learn and change the lives of their community. This programme need the backing of all development partners so as to grow into a town lives in the years to come. Today, the students no longer travel long distance to attend their schooling as the school itself has come to their premises. Nor the villagers travel long distance in search for potable water, or clinics as both are living with them.