South Sudan: Poor Gambella! So Far From Addis Ababa, So Close to South SudanPublished Posted on | By TZTA News
BY WILLIAM DAVISON
An influx of South Sudanese Nuer into Gambella in Ethiopia could destabilise the region, but the impact on long-term development is likely to be more significant.
It’s a wild ride returning from rebel-held territory in South Sudan to the region of Gambella in western Ethiopia. Bush fires dot the plains, with flames from the largest edging dangerously onto the road. A Nile crocodile scuttles between swamps. As our truck clatters towards them, families of antelope freeze before prancing into grasslands.
These are white-eared kob, around half a million of which leave the Sudd wetlands of South Sudan and travel a hundred kilometers across open country to graze in Gambella before seasonal rains come in July.
This year, alongside what is believed to be Africa’s second-largest annual animal migration, humans are also moving east and en masse across these porous borders.
After over half a century of frequent war and displacement, a new conflict has broken out in recently independent South Sudan, leading to a further wave of migration of ethnic Nuer people to Ethiopia. So far, in four months of fighting between the government and the primarily Nuer rebels, over 90,000 people have sought refuge in Gambella at makeshift camps. More than 70,000 refugees were already present after fleeing violence during South Sudan’s war for independence and, more recently, ethnic strife in Jonglei state.
For Gambella – part of Ethiopia’s low-lying hinterland, historically, economically, and ethnically apart from the temperate highlands – the conflict and the influx look likely to prolong its stagnation. Due to the war, plans to construct highways, oil refineries and railways linking South Sudan and Ethiopia will be delayed, and with them Gambella’s chances of becoming more closely integrated into the region’s economy. Instead, as in decades past, the cross-border traffic will continue to be aid workers, essential goods, refugees, and rebels.
Support for Machar
The Nuer have been migrating to Gambella for over a century, with the trend accelerated by civil war in southern Sudan. They are mostly members of the Jikany sub-group and have become the Gambella’s most populous ethnic group.
Most of the community seem to support the objective of South Sudan’s former vice-president Riek Machar, a Nuer, whose rebel forces are currently at war with those of President Salva Kiir, a Dinka.