May 1, 2006
Under a tree near Fantalle
There was the Kereyu pastoral group who were hosting the event near the base of their Gada Council of Elders. There was the Boran and Gabra groups from land along the often-troubled Ethiopia/Kenya border. And then the group from the heart of the Somali Region.
They had come to meet the leaders of all the main UN agencies in Ethiopia (WFP, UNDP, OCHA, UNICEF etc), the new United Nations Special Humanitarian Relief Envoy for the Horn of Africa Kjell Bondevik (former prime minister of Norway) and Addis Ababa's small press corps.
The meeting started and ended with prayers and was mostly made up of long, eloquent speeches and formal discussions. We head from Gada Boku, the 'Aba Gada' of the Kereyu, father of the Kereyu council, chief administrator and holder of the rules of the traditional government. Next was Nura Dida from the Boran group, who acted as spokesman for all Ethiopian pastoralists to prime minister Meles Zenawi at this year's Pastoralist Day.
Then there was Ibrahim Adano, from the Gabra group, "prominent pastoralist, owner of many camels, arbitrator in conflict issues and manager of natural resources", according to a briefing note. Then there was Abdi Adar Ahmed, spokesman for pastoralists from the central Somali region.
The main topics of conversation were the drought and the need for greater official recognition of all of Ethiopia's pastoralist groups. Apparently Ethiopia's last regime under Mengistu dismissed many of them as "wanderers", (maybe in the same way that Europe currently marginalises its 'gypsies' and 'travelers'). The current government was doing much better, they said. But some wanted still more - a minister of pastoralist affairs for example.
It was easy to get caught up in the exoticism. At one point, one of the pastoralist speakers said "Don't leave here and just tell people that you have seen lots of funny people sitting under a tree wearing lots of funny clothes." 'Damn', muttered all of the journalists. 'There goes our intro.'
It was also easy getting caught up in the romance of the situation - not least over the apparently open, democratic nature of the discussion. To counter-balance that it is worth noting that none of the rifles and knives everyone was carrying were there for purely ceremonial reasons. And the only women present were the ones handing out bottles of water and cups of coffee.
For me, the overwhelming feeling was of being a little out of my depth with a lot of background reading ahead. A good place to start may be the upcoming report 'Vulnerable Livelihoods in Somali Region, Ethiopia' by the Institute of Development Studies which was launched at the under-tree meeting.
Here is my first new pastoralism fact, garnered from the report's two-page summary. Many people think of pastoralists as poverty-stricken groups, struggling on from drought to flood to drought again. But what would you say was the annual turnover of just four of their livestock markets in Somali region? It is US$ 14 million.
Posted by aheavens at May 1, 2006 4:18 AM