Gambella People Their Oil Their Future

By Paul Tethloach Dak*


May 7, 2006 — It came to my attention after I had a talk with High Lander Ethiopian guy who discussed with me how progressively his country doing in terms of economics. He said this and I quote, “my country is going to be one of the richest oil producing in the world very soon”. “He kept saying this statement with exciting manner in the hope that his country will be out of ongoing starvation that has been in the country year after year. He was so impressed with the fact that the region where the oil has been discovered is located in nomads’ regions that are less educated and have little idea what the oil is all about. As a result, we the Ethiopians have the opportunity to explore this oil since the local people in the region have no clue about their energy potential benefits. The regional government has been informed about the positive implications of the oil but not negative impacts it may caused to their land”.

In fact, Gambella is one of the regions in Ethiopia which has full of natural resources ranging from irons, silvers, and gold. Its land is virgin as it receives depositional dead organic matters from high land, and those buried organic matters since the tectonic period are what make the region to be rich of oil today. As a person who grew up in Ethiopia, my chances of knowing the whole country are numerous. I had a lot of trips to every region except the far north and east and in the comparison, no region is resourceful like Gambella. Gambella is located in gorgeous plain area with charms annual rain falls. Most recently an Asian company wins the bids with the federal government to explore the region, and the result is Boom with “The Oil”.  Critics said that “it is estimated that there is 560 tcf oil reserves in- place”, but this is the initial evaluation stage, so it is not accurate data that has been collected to determine the region’s recoverable reserves.

Now, the question of the topic become does the government of Malaze Zenawe doing enough to guaranteeing the legitimate rights and prerogatives to the sons and daughters of the region to enjoy over their oil revenue rather than exploiting them as aliens. Therefore, the following are justifications to my “no” answers.

  1. The construction of Abobo Dam in 1992 is one of the mistakes that federal government has taken which has no benefit for Gambellians. First, there is no reason for building this dam since the region receives a rainfall that can supply irrigational need. As I mentioned earlier, Gambella receives a dillugeable annual rainfall which can make the plantation grow marvelously without being supplemented by the irrigational technology. In addition, if the Abobo project is for fisheries reasons as they intended such as marketing purposes, then where is the marketing income going to and what benefits are the local people getting from this project?, Given this fact, one would argue that this project has no support to the local people whatsoever.

  2. In 1998 when the war broke out between Ethiopia and its neighbor country Eritrea, Gambellians led the hand of the war by provided military might to defend the country and truly speaking they did it and resulted into the defeat of Eritreans at the battle of “Operation of the Sun set” or in Amharic, “Zemecha Sehay Giba” but after the war, these Gambellians military personnel were all forgotten and many people surprised about where these people gone without any gained about what they did as the heroes of the country?  There was no appreciation for them but sent back home to their family members with untreated wounds and no financial support to their families and love ones; so they were left with hunger and stress thinking of what they would do next as the citizens of  the country. Therefore, one would ask is this really reflect the unity of the country if some citizens serving the nation and were not getting what they deserved. This unity is only value in time of war which is good on paper and not practical when there is no war. Instead, we hated one another in time of peace as Ethiopians and needed each other only in time of war. In other words, Gambellians are the citizens of Ethiopia when they could contribute to the threat of the nation.

  3. The game of the oil politics:  To my understanding it seems the Gambella people are far left out of their resources. As people of the land, Gambellians need to know their logical rights that can let them possessing some of the revenues generated by oil. The regional government deserves the full right to own 25% out of the total oil revenue. This 25% share should remains independent with no question from federal government and Gambellians should spend their share on what ever they want and when to spend it.  This 25% share is to honor the Gambella people for allowing the country (Ethiopia) using their resources for development purposes in various aspects. The locals who are directly affected by the exploration and drilling process need also to be given some rights of compensations to deal with re-allocations and resettlements to new homes in case if their villages fall under the sites of the rigs and well bores. Local people are the most target when oil being transported, laying down the pipes and drilling out the oil and gas. Oil contains poisonous stuffs such as H2S and CO2 which can endanger the lives of the people close to the sites. So, this needs clear rules and regulations in place from the federal, Gambella government, and the company that running the business so these authorities have to be sure about how they should deal with unprecedented disasters, which occur during the course of oil operation and other protections that would ensure the safety of the people in the region in time of emergency. It is not only the local people who can face the negative consequences of the oil but also the wild animals, fish and domestic animals as well. Incase of oil spill in to the streams, lakes, and rivers, the life for those species would be in danger if no plan in place. And so, I cannot be sure for this safety topic but we can refer to the case of Bentiu (South Sudan) crises some years back. Another issue that we can bear in mind is that local people can be employed to the labor jobs such as pipe carryings, welding, and roughneck tasks and so on, but unfortunately, it was not the case because most of labor jobs are given to Ethiopian High Landers while the local people have no chance to for employment in the oil field. This comes down to the previous mentioned that local people are less educated and cannot able to pursue their rights even the oil is in their region. If that is the case, to my understanding as petroleum Engineering Student, there is no high qualification requirement for the people to do the labor jobs. The only thing is to give them some basic trainings such as WHMIS, Petroleum Safety Training (PST), and H2S Alive, that’s it. When those above trainings had been provided to them then there would be no doubt that they (locals) can run the rigs and others operation stuff like the back of their hands. The reason I am angry with this is that the local people are not given the chance into the making decision body that is why they were not getting job opportunity. For this reason, the refineries of the oil will not be done in Gambella because the local people are not going to know where it will be processed. This is why it is very important to give them chance for job opportunity and taste the cake before it gone a way from their land. After that the High Landers people will takeover the role and deal with the real world of engineering.

In conclusion,

 I am writing this message intending to urge the president of the region (Gambella), his vice- president and the regional executive board of the government to know their rights and privileges that their resources are naturally gifted to them, so their role in this oil politics is crucial and they have all the rights to make their own decision concerning this issue. Furthermore, their participation will strongly show their sense of belonging and will elaborate their arguments about the oil politics accordingly. Therefore, to make your own decision is what the politic is all about as it always reflects the goal of a democratic society as Ethiopia has been pursuing the last ten years and it comes to where it is now. In other words, democratic societies rely on dialogue between the parties and not usually aiming for defecting to opposition groups, but to result any given conflict between the parties. I do also urge whichever company running the project of explorations, seismic shootings and drilling tasks to abide and comply with the international energy safety rules and regulations to safeguard the local people from any disaster as well as environmental issues as I mentioned earlier. 

The writer of this article is a petroleum engineering student at Southern Alberta institute of Technology Calgary, AB, Canada. He can be reach by email: Paul.

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