Situation Analysis Summary: Migration in the Omo-Turkana Basin

A summary of the migration implications of developments and environmental change in the Omo-Turkana Basin, from the Ambio situation analysis.

A frequently observed response to food insecurity and changes in availability of natural resources is increased mobility, as communities seek compensation in ‘‘buffer zones’’ or in the territory of neighboring groups. In the Lower Omo, movements by agro-pastoralists in search of grazing and farmland are currently occurring alongside three other kinds of migration: villagization programs that are aimed at sedentarizing the region’s pastoralist groups; government-planned resettlement of people from more densely inhabited regions of southern Ethiopia; and an influx of migrants from Ethiopia’s southern highlands in search of job opportunities.

Although the government originally envisioned resettling the entire agro-pastoral population of the South Omo zone in conjunction with the expansion of commercial farms, it has so far attempted to implement villagization only in the vicinity of the Kuraz Sugar Development Project, in Salamago Wereda and in Hamar. Following a campaign in which locals were informed of the villagization plan, settlers were induced to move into new villages in Salamago in 2012. Communities subject to villagization were allotted irrigated plots of 0.25–0.5 ha for production of maize, but the households who attempted to farm these plots struggled to feed themselves and remained largely dependent on food aid. Conflicts with members of other groups resettled in Salamago, and the withdrawal of food aid, subsequently led to the dissolution of villagization sites.

In 2004, a fertile area in Bodi land was chosen to resettle about 5 000 people form Konso, in the southern highlands. The arrival of settlers from Konso has increased population pressure and competition for farming and grazing land for the Bodi and have effectively closed off access to some of their most valuable territory for rain-fed farming. These pressures have been intensified by the influx of labor migrants in search of employment on construction projects and the sugar estates.

Bodi people resting under the shade during a work-party in the new treeless plots allocated to them by the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation

Population movements often lead to conflict. While conflict among the peoples of the Lower Omo and Lake Turkana predates colonial penetration of the region, conflict between the indigenous groups and the Ethiopian government has regularly erupted since the beginning of the resettlement drive in the Lower Omo in 2005, both because the government failed to endorse strict boundaries to contain the encroachment of Konso farms on Bodi land, and because the new economic interests of the government in the region seem to have motivated a one- sided response to the conflict. For example, in Bench Maji zone in 2012, government forces reportedly killed approximately fifty Suri people, following the deaths of three Dizi policemen marking land for the villagization of people who lost land to a palm-tree development. Adding to these tensions, local people have attacked townspeople and migrant workers near the new sugar estates, mostly in retaliation for the killing of their own people by fast-driving vehicles on the newly expanded road network.

Certain conflicts are being exacerbated by the ecological changes underway in the borderlands between the Ethiopian and Kenyan states. These conflicts have historically taken the form of raids and attacks in the delta and lake margins. Elimination of the Omo flood and the decline of the lake’s fish populations are projected to increase the intensity and frequency of conflicts.

For further information, see the recently published paper “”Do Our Bodies Know Their Ways?” Villagization, Food Insecurity, and Ill-Being in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley” by Drs. Jed Stevenson and Lucie Buffavand and ““The land does not like them”: contesting dispossession in cosmological terms in Mela, south-west Ethiopia” by Dr. Lucie Buffavand.

Dr. Jed Stevenson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Durham University. His research interests include child development, water and food security, and development-forced displacement.

Dr. Lucie Buffavand is a postdoctoral researcher of the Fyssen Foundation, affiliated with the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale, France, and research partner with the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Germany. Her research interests include the relation between social identity and place-making practices.

Did you find this article useful?

Other Articles in this Series