Oil Extraction in Gambella Region May Raise Future Armed Conflict

By Gugo O. Kwot
July 27, 2006


Ethiopia is just beginning to develop oil and gas resources from the Gambella and Somali regions. This poor nation needs revenues from oil and gas in order to reduce poverty and also to expand its domestic economy to improve the lives of its people. Oil and gas bring money, but on the other hand they bring long-term political, economic, cultural and environmental problems that may raise a new-armed conflict in Gambella region in the near future. Hence, the aim of this article is to suggest the course of action to prevent future armed conflict that may raise from oil extraction. 

Although oil extraction in Gambella is about to start in the next few years, civil society and government in Ethiopia haven’t started working together to develop mechanisms to guarantee Gambella participation in the process and to ensure that the revenues are used to benefit the Gambella people as well. If the oil extraction benefit and its disadvantage solutions are not addressed to Gambella people clearly and properly, the armed conflict that have devastated the region will further deteriorate the situation on the ground.

Skyview of constructed road to oil Extraction area in Gambella

The presence of oil in any part of the world has significant social and environment impacts: from accidents and routine activities such as seismic exploration, drilling, and generation of polluting wastes. Pollutants are known to be causative for many diseases, including cancer, lupus, immune diseases, allergies, and asthma; other pollution-related respiratory diseases are also very common. Pollution will also cause many women to have problems with childbearing. The pollution resulting from petroleum activities will have negative effect on agriculture and will practically bring an end to fishing in streams, rivers and lakes. Oil Extraction area will be impacted by oil spills, gas emissions and the release of other substances into the atmosphere, causing acid rain. This will endanger the cultivating of corns and sorghums, which are the only system of production and commercial activity in the Gambella region. Other negative impacts on culture are the high cost of living in the areas where there will be many internationals working for the oil and gas companies, which will weaken the existing traditional hierarchies. The use of armed soldiers to protect oil and facilities will lead to many human rights violations, killings and rapes. 

Futures of indigenous people of Gambella at great risk

Indiscriminate petroleum extraction without care and concern to preserve human and environmental well being, will lead to conflict like what is happening in Ogony land in Niger Delta, Nigeria. The environmental damage, the secretive and unaccountable policies of Petroleum Companies and the State and Federal governments, as well as the corruption and anti-democratic traditions that permeate the political life of Gambellan, will put to the test the physical, mental, and social resistance of the indigenous people of Gambella. The Conflict also will arise, if authorities repress Gambellan instead of offering solutions aim at addressing the difficult roots of their problems. Given the conditions that deny their political and human rights, and putting their social and economic futures at great risk, Gamella people in the petroleum zones may opt for the path of peaceful civil resistance, even though the costs of the struggle make their lives even more difficult.

However, concerned Gambella people need to address Oil Extraction question in a peaceful ways, instead of general annotation like “Oil in Gambella is a Gambellan resources, so Ethiopia government should not extract it”. Actually, resources in Gambella region are belong to Gambellan, but Gambella is a part of Ethiopia, so the resources. Instead of raising question like this kind that may mislead those who hardly understand things, it is a wise idea to explain the question.

One of the most essential parts of saving the future conflict attributed to oil extraction in the Gambella region is to keep an open line of communication between all parties and involve the Gambellan into the benefits of the oil. Communication from all parties, including indigenous peoples, local populations, business interests, governments, scientists, and conservationists, is the key to understanding how to approach a balancing conservation with development. The information gained from conferences can be used to help devise a plan that will be acceptable to all parties. No group should be excluded or misrepresented and every effort should be made to keep conferences open and non-threatening. Conferences should meet regularly and have some legislative muscle so that decisions can be implemented. However, so far no such ideal conference has taken place, even if the Ethiopian government started road construction to lead to the Oil extraction areas; and the Petroleum Companies have done area survey and started wells drillings.

To prevent the future-armed conflict arising from Oil extraction in Gambella, the Ethiopian government should:

  1. Fulfill the economic, social and cultural rights of the minorities and indigenous peoples of the Gambella by providing adequate basic infrastructure and social services such as hospitals, communities’ educations, schools and other facilities related to oil extraction problems.
  2. Develop effective mechanisms to ensure the representation and participation of minorities and indigenous peoples in policy- and decision-making at all levels including development projects and programs.
  3. Establish a coordinated community development fund, managed by people of the highest reputation, freely chosen by members of the community, to execute the minority groups' and indigenous peoples' collective priorities, as regards the use of payments by oil companies to compensate for damages to community-owned properties.
  4. Any question regarding oil extraction activities such as oil refinery location need to be addressed in formal and peaceful way
The author of this article resides in the United States and can be reached at kwotg@hotmail.com.



























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