Internal Colonialism

A new dam is being built in Ethiopia that has the potential to devastate the indigenous people who have lived there for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Government officials say that the dam will reduce flooding, and will benefit the people who live downstream from the dam. The thing is, the people who live downstream don’t want the flooding to be stopped or managed:

One of the senior community priests, Bargaeri, said although they were aware of the dam, they had heard nothing official.

“We will suffer because there will be no more floods,” he said. “I don’t think the government likes the Omo tribes. They are going to destroy us.”

The floods lie at the very heart of the dispute over the dam.

According to anthropologist Marco Bassi, of Oxford University, the tribes have developed sophisticated agricultural techniques that have allowed them to live comfortably and sustainably for centuries.

Each wet season, the riverside communities retreat to higher ground, waiting for the flood that inevitably comes.

Once the waters retreat, the communities move back to plant their crops on the damp and newly replenished soils.

Their cattle feed on the fresh grasses. The higher the flood, the more land is inundated, and the more becomes available to farm.

Even the highest of floods are necessary to replenish the outlying bush lands that the communities use to feed their livestock during the equally inevitable droughts.

“It looks very primitive from the outside,” Mr Bassi said. “But when you investigate it, you discover that they have a very intimate knowledge of the land and its fertility.

“Each family has maybe seven or eight different varieties of sorghum that responds to different conditions. And combined, the community has 20 or 30.

“They know how to plant in a way that guarantees enough food whatever happens through the year.”

Why is it that some African central governments believe they know what is best for the indigenous people? How is this any different than the actions of former European colonizers who took land away from the natives in Eastern and Southern Africa in the 19th century?

As far as these Ethiopian tribes are concerned, the actions of the central government are no different than 19th century European colonizers. The only difference this time is that the colonizers are their fellow countrymen: this is nothing but Internal Colonization.

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