Ethiopia: Fight for Land in the Lower Omo Valley

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OMO VALLEY, Ethiopia - Citizens of the Lower Omo Valley are competing with the government for their land. The government is eying the land for cash crops such as sugar and palm oil. The indigenous population consists of thirteen tribes who rely on the verdant land and rich soil for food and to graze cattle. An estimated 200,000 locals will be pressured to relocate and countless more will be affected indirectly.

The Omo River is an important tributary of southern Ethiopia. Its course is entirely contained within the boundaries of Ethiopia, and empties into Lake Turkana on the border with Kenya. (Source: Wikipedia)

There are thirteen interrelated ancient tribes that live in the valley and Kenya. The Ethiopians who inhabit this region adorn their bodies with colorful designs and often incorporate flowers and other plant life as part of their habiliment. The Daasanach, Hamar, Karo, Kwegu, Mursi, and Suri are some of the most recognizable peoples of the Omo Valley. They have successfully maintained their culture and traditions unchanged for centuries; that is until now.

Government-ordered construction of the Gilgel Gibe III Dam on the Omo River will be absolutely destroy the culture and lifestyles of these indigenous peoples. The sugarcane that the government wants to plant is both invasive and will siphon massive amounts of water to fill irrigation canals. As a result of this diversion, there will be as much as a 72-foot drop in Lake Turkana, leaving a meager 30-feet of water. Seasonal flooding, also known as "flood retreat agriculture," which has been used for centuries by farmers across the world, will all but disappear.

This type of farming relies on the annual flooding cycle to deposit a layer of nutrient-rich silt which acts as a natural fertilizer thus making the land productive. The damming of rivers have in every instance decimated the indigenous farmers living along the banks, as in the case of the Aswan Dam in Egypt which reduced the flow of the Nile Rive to such a point that farmers who remained now have to rely on man-made fertilizers.

The Gibe III Dam is sure to have the same, if not worse effect, as the people of the Omo Valley have remained unchanged and seemingly untouched by the modernization that much of Africa has undergone. Now the smaller agricultural yields of local crops, no replenishment of grazing areas and a reduced fish population will increase inter-ethnic conflicts. The cattle which some tribes amass as a sign of wealth and prestige, but which is also used for food, clothing, and to provide as dowries for brides will also be impacted. Cattle require free access to clean water and unrestricted grazing land. The inevitable government restrictions will deprive local people of food, income, and tradition.

The Ethiopian government has stated that they are not insensitive to the needs of these people and have designed a relocation plan known as "villagization." They promise government-sponsored villages complete with schools, clinics, and a viable infrastructure. However, it would require a major lifestyle shift from a pastoral-nomadic to a sedentary one. Additionally, the move would not be voluntary as it can only be achieved using subtle or overt elements of intimidation and violence.

It is legally required for the government to consult with and obtain free and informed consent from the local population before interfering with their lives, and more so when the proposed changes are going to be drastic and irrevocable. Yet to date, the Omo Valley population has neither been informed nor have they consented to the ongoing changes the Ethiopian government engages in as it prepares to build Gibe III.

Follow Sarah on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @SJJakubowski

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Melkam Addis Amet 2014 | Happy Ethiopian New Year!

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 00:00 AM EDT, 09 September 2014

Young Ethiopian Girl with Flower, Photo by Tiffany

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – The Ethiopian New Year, which in Amharic is called Enkutatash, commences on 11 September 2014.  The name of this festival harkens back to the revered Queen of Sheba, who upon her return from Jerusalem where she visited King Solomon, brought with her a wealth of gold and precious stones.

In addition to these gifts, she received jewels from the Ethiopian priesthood to celebrate her safe return. These jewels are known as ‘enku’ hence the eponymous name of the holiday.

The spring festival has been celebrated since Queen of Sheba's times, as it marks the end of the rainy season and the rebirth of the year.  Like the blowing of the Shofar which is a powerful symbol of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, which translates as the ‘head of the new year’ and begins about two weeks following; bouquets of yellow flowers symbolize Enkutatash as a holiday that marks springtime and renewal.

The rituals of both holidays include prayers and sermons, but also warm family celebrations replete with food, singing, and joy.

Ethiopia still retains the Julian calendar, in which the year is divided into 12-months of 30-days each and a 13th month of 5 days and 6 days in leap year. The Ethiopian calendar is 8-years behind the Gregorian calendar from January to September and 7-years behind between September 11 and January 8.

Though Enkutatash originated as a primarily religious festival celebrated over a period of three days, and was predominantly characterized by spectacular religious processionals; it is no longer an exclusively religious holiday. Today’s Enkutatash is also the season for exchanging formal new year greetings and cards among the urban professionals, though some in the Diaspora still exchange the traditional bouquet of flowers.

For those travelers able to visit the country during this festival, it is an experience not soon forgotten, especially if invited to celebrate in the Entoto Mountains, which is the region of the country that is resplendent with yellow flowers which have come to symbolize this holiday.

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor-in-Chief: @ayannanahmias

Looking Forward: Prosperity in Growing African Economies

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Jessamy Nichols, Africa CorrespondentLast Modified: 16:08 p.m. DST, 29 January 2014

China President Xi Jinping Delivers Speech in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania - March 2013

AFRICA - There’s no doubt that the continent of Africa is plagued by the common misperception and overarching reputation of being poor, downtrodden, corrupt, unsafe, unstable, and a list of other discouraging adjectives.

However, the world is not far away from having to look at Africa in a totally different light, where African countries are equal business partners overflowing with lucrative business opportunities.

A large portion of the world’s emerging economies hail from Africa, including South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania, Uganda, as well as others. (Source: Center for Global Development)

As economic expansion tends to do, this has also led to internal reforms that are beneficial for the overall population beyond just GDP. For example, earlier this month, Nigeria rolled out their new mortgage refinancing program, similar to the American Fannie Mae reform, to make housing more accessible for citizens. For the first time, Nigerian citizens will be able to utilize mortgages and quality housing through an affordable and reasonable system.  Not only will this greatly improve the standard of living, but it puts more money into the economy and is also estimated to add over 300,00 jobs to the economy.

Coinciding with these economic improvements, the Nigerian power sector reforms have led to indications of incoming and ongoing investments. According to the Oxford Business Group (Daily Trust), the power sector will garner major investment, even compared to Nigeria’s vast oil and gas, banking and manufacturing sectors.

Other examples of expansive and impressive economic accomplishments include Ethiopia’s vast enhancement of its industrial zone, the Eastern Industry Zone, on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. Through these improvements, over 20 foreign companies have already secured factories at the site, including big businesses from China, Taiwan, South Korea, Pakistan and India. To expand the success even further, the World Bank is believed to be working to help Ethiopia gain more funds for the influx of foreign direct investment. (The Reporter)

Moving farther south in Africa, Tanzania is also following the economic growth train. South Africa’s robust business community has shown much interest in expanding into Tanzania, particularly in the infrastructure, mining and agricultural sectors. In order to facilitate these opportunities, the Tanzanian government is encouraging local businesses to create and build relationships with their South African counterparts, while providing an ever more conducive environment for business expansion. (Tanzania Daily News)

Outside of meaningful economic reforms and advancements, there are also other vital changes and partnerships being created to support a continent that is more stable, prosperous and successful than ever before. For example, at last week’s World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, HarvestPlus and World Vision signed a partnership to tackle hunger and help improve nutrition for hundreds of millions of people. (International Food Policy Research Institute ) Partnerships such as these will be key to supplementing economic growth, because without food security, solid education, stable political situations and adequate healthcare, the economies will be stunted.

As the world searches for the next big economic opportunity, there is no doubt that Africa should top their priority list. The continent is no longer stagnant and economically stunted, and increased foreign direct investment and business partnerships will only enhance the improving image as well as drastically boost the quality of life for many African nations.

Follow Jessamy on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Africa Correspondent: @JessamyNichols

Ethiopian Christmas Jan 7, 2014 | Melkam Gena!

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 20:00 p.m. DST, 04 January 2014

Christianity in PalestineADDIS ABBA, Ethiopia - Towards the end of each year, Jews, Muslims, and Christians begin to prepare for their holiday seasons.

During the last week of November until the beginning of the New Year on the Gregorian calendar, Christian families across the world prepare for cultural, regional, and national holidays that honor the best ideals of who we seek to be as humans.

In America, the end of the year is consumed with activities focused on preparing for holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and finally New Year’s Eve, which concludes the annual calendar of major festivals.

Throughout the calendar year, running sometimes in synch, and at other times not close, are the major Muslim and Jewish holidays which are celebrated in accordance with the lunar calendar.

The Ethiopian calendar, also called the Ge'ez calendar, is the principal calendar used in Ethiopia and also serves as the liturgical calendar for Christians in Eritrea and Ethiopia belonging to the Orthodox Tewahedo churches, Eastern Catholic Church and Lutheran Orthodox Church.

It is a sidereal calendar based on the older Alexandrian or Coptic calendar, which in turn derives from the Egyptian calendar. A seven- to eight-year gap is created by the difference between the calendars results in an alternate calculation of the date of the Annunciation of Jesus. (Source: Wikipedia)

Thus, this year, the Ethiopian Christmas will be celebrated on January 7, 2014 on the Gregorian calendar. The Ethiopian holiday is not known as Christmas, but Lidet. Other names include Gena and Qiddus Bale Wold. As part of the tradition of celebrating the birth of Jesus, Ethiopian tradition holds that one of the Wise Men who visited Jesus came from Ethiopia.

Christmas Eve features prominently in Ethiopian celebration, just as it does with all followers of Jesus. One difference is that Ethiopians fast on the day before Christmas, and then at dawn on the morning of Gena, the Ethiopian name for the holiday; people arise and dress in white.

Women wear dresses called Habesha Gemis, while the men complete their attire with a type of shawl called Netela, worn by both men and women. Then the entire family attends the early morning mass that starts at 4.00 a.m and officially commences the days events.

Following the mass, families go home to celebrate the holiday and participate in traditional festivities to break the fast. Similar to the American holiday, the Ethiopian Christmas is filled with happiness, the presence of family, food, and songs. But most of all, it is a time to reflect and thank God for all that He has done for us and will through His beneficent kindness, continue to do for us throughout the coming year.

Melkam Gena!

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Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias

Israel Plans to Deport African Migrants to Third Country

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Alex Hamasaki, Student InternLast Modified: 01:10 a.m. DST, 26 June 2013

Israel-Egypt border near Netafim, Photo by Vad LevinJERUSALEM, Israel - The Israeli plan to send its over 60,000 African migrants to an unidentified third country has received elicit criticism for the potential harm to the migrants.

Over the past eight years, thousands of African migrants, mostly from Eritrea or Sudan, have entered Israel through Egypt. Some of these migrants were fleeing repressive regimes or seeking job opportunities.

Israel has attempted to stop the influx of migrants by building a fence on the Israeli-Egyptian border. Additionally, since last summer, Israel has been imprisoning new arrivals in order to determine if they meet the criteria for refugee status. Israel also offered cash to migrants if they would leave the country voluntarily.

The Washington Post and the Associated Press allude that many Israelis feel some sort of “natural responsibility” toward the migrants from Africa because of the Holocaust. However, other Israelis worry that Israel’s Jewish character will be threatened with the arrival of the migrants.

Fears for the migrants safety from mistreatment in the third country sparked criticism toward Israel’s plan.

Israel has yet to announce the details of the plan and the country they plan to send the migrants to. According to the Washington Post, court documents show that Israel has an agreement with one country to take on some migrants, and is currently in talks with two others. It is not known what these countries would receive in return.

Under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, states cannot send refugees to countries where they will face physical or political danger reports the Associated Press. It is unclear if Israel will be monitoring the well being of the migrants when in another country.

Follow Alex Hamasaki on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Student Intern: @aghamasaki

Israel Admits to Sterilizing Ethiopian Jews

Some people who read this post may believe that it is impossible for this to happen in 2010; however, I can attest to the veracity of one aspect of this story. Recently my mother attended a school sponsored event in Potomac, Maryland. Upon her arrival the hostess glanced at her and imperiously informed her that the kitchen was in the back. My mother with aplomb, informed the lady that she was attending the event on behalf of her grandson who was a student attending the school. Upon hearing this, the woman grudgingly accepted my mother's proffered hand before stepping aside to let her pass. As my mother entered, the woman wiped her hand on her dress.

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