Analysis: Border clashes, political unrest tower over drought in Fentalle woreda; Karrayyu community accuses local officials of obstructing aid as retribution for dissent

Photo by Roba. J.

By Natnael Fite @NatieFit

Addis Abeba: The residents of Fentalle woreda in the East Showa zone, Oromia region said that prolonged drought is affecting the community and that the government turned a blind eye to their plights. Several members of the Karrayyu community told Addis Standard that the impact of the drought is worsening due to the encroachment by armed groups from the neighboring Amhara region coupled with the political instability that followed the killing of members of the Karrayyu Gadaa Michilee leaders in December last year. The residents who detailed the continued crackdown on the Karrayyu community also disclosed that the local administration said, “There will be no aid activities until you all are put in line.” 

A resident of the woreda who did not want to be named for security reasons, told Addis Standard about the complicated dilemmas of the people, “This drought is different, it took a lot out of us. Currently, four Kebeles including Haro Qarsa and Ilala are fully devoid of their residents. The severity of the drought has caused many people to flee to the neighboring Boset woreda in search of fodder.  Some search fodder at Matahara sugar factory in case they find sugarcane branches.”  

“People used to regard Abba Gadaas as keepers of their cattle. After the killings, the government accuses us of being terrorists, and causes people to live in fear and flee the area.

a resident

According to residents, the drought lasted for more than 5 months and there is a shortage of rain, causing serious concerns. “This is a tough season, the sun is scorching and our cattle have nothing to eat. We buy fodder for our cattle but people have nothing to buy and eat. Additionally, irrigated villages are also affected by this drought, even though relatively they might be better off. We will not give up hope on God, but we don’t think the upcoming rainy season will bring us rain and heal our cattle, he said.

Another resident of the Fentalle district, Fayisa (name changed for security concerns), said that this year’s drought was not like the one that happened in 2002 He explained that this is a pervasive drought that has affected all 18 kebeles in the woreda. People are fleeing the Fentalle district and going to the Dongorre area in Bosset woreda, even facing more difficulties there as they are forcefully conscripted into the military. 

Another resident whose name was withheld for purposes of security reasons said, the border clashes between the Karrayyu community and armed groups from the Minjar Shenkor woreda of the North Showa zone in the Amhara region have worsened the drought and its effects. He detailed, “Haro Qarsa,Tututi, and Ilala kebeles including the village of Qorke land were claimed by the Minjar Shenkor community. They have all been abandoned by residents who used to live in them, for over three months. The cattle are dying despite the presence of water and grass in those places which are now inaccessible to our community.  There  is a correlation between drought and border conflicts.” 

Similarly, Feyisa stated that the instability between the boundaries of the Amhara region and Afar has worsened the drought. Speaking in detail, he said, “Militants operating under the name ‘Fano’ crossing over from the Amhara region, into the Qorke area, have prevented from moving freely and allow their cattle to graze grass and drink water causing the people to flee to Matahara sugar factory. This problem is overwhelming and difficult to estimate.’’ 

Roba Ibrahim, whose name was also altered for security reasons, lives in Matahara town, Fentalle district. Conversing with Addis Standard on how the deaths of the Abba Gadas exacerbated the drought, he said, ‘’People used to regard Abba Gadaas as keepers of their cattle. After the killings, the government accuses us of being terrorists, and causes people to live in fear and flee the area.’’  

“Militants operating under the name ‘Fano’ crossing over from the Amhara region, into Qorke area, have prevented us from moving freely and allow our cattle to graze.”

a resident

Roba went on to say that following the killings, the government’s attitude vis-a-vis the people has changed and adversely affected the response efforts to mitigate the drought. “After the deaths of the Abba Gadas, the national politics has become insufferable for the Karrayyu. Recently, Oromia Special forces took away 5 children under 18, children who were herding cattle in the neighboring Bosset Woreda. It has become common to recover bodies in the woods,” he continued, “We don’t know where these children are. Children who are not old enough for politics were taken and killed by special forces. We buried the dead, but till now, we don’t know the whereabouts of these missing children.”

Fentalle’s residents commented that there is a clear lack of aid delivery for the Karrayyu community. Roba said that at this moment in time, there has not been any help reaching the people suffering from the consequences of the drought. “There isn’t a single person offering water. No person has brought food for the cattle. There isn’t a single person who said I want to stand beside you in such troubling times. The government doesn’t speak, aid organizations also have abandoned us. The people are suffering in solitude,” he exclaimed. 

Phtot by Roba. J.

“The administration of the zone, relating things with the political issues, has denied access to aid organizations. They call the elders in the city and lie to them by saying we are with you and deceive the people in the rural areas,” Roba added. He stated that for this reason,” The government has restricted access for non-governmental organizations to enter. If the government fails to bring grass from other areas, NGOs that used to operate in the area in the past, namely the Gudina Tumsa Foundation, which requested for Labata Fentalle project which was stopped because of instability, to have the road reopened so that the cattle could be rescued, but they were given negative responses in return.’’

Like Roba, Fayisa said that there has been no response from the government as well as from individuals. He recalled, “During the drought in 2002, the government provided support in the form of grass, water, and sand to the people. However, there is not one single form of assistance now, except for small offers of water. Except for organizations trying to provide water through tankers, there has not been any organizational support either. Even the company that is trying to help can’t reach many people due to insecurity, that’s all we know thus far.”

An official from the Bureau of Disaster and Risk management in the Fentalle district, Talila Gebeyehu, said that after the drought that lasted from October till February, the local administration supplied the byproducts of the Metehara sugar factory (burnt sugar cane)  for the cattle. “Right now, the factory can’t provide burnt sugarcane, that was our only option, now 18 villages are in big trouble. We worked with property owners to mitigate this problem by providing some amounts of the factory’s byproduct until recently, however, lately, there has been nothing that was given to the cattle,’’ he said. 

“We are waiting on the response of higher officials after informing them the situation is beyond our capacity.”

local official

“Besides this, we have written letters to relevant regional and zonal offices and different governmental offices as well as NGOs detailing that the drought situation is extremely worrying and that we need an immediate solution, explained the official. “We are waiting on the response of higher officials after informing them the situation is beyond our capacity, ‘’ he said.  Additionally, he said he was not in possession of the stats regarding the number of people and cattle affected by the drought. 

In January, the former head of the Disaster and Risk Bureau, Gadisa Barcho, stated that the drought had affected all eighteen kebeles in Fentalle woreda and even started spreading to the remaining villages across the Awash River. He told Addis Standard at the time that many cattle are struggling to gain access to grass and water, and even dying in some places. 

Attempts by Addis Standard to contact the administration of the Fentalle woreda, as well as the Commissioner Garamu Oliqa of the Disaster Risk commission of the Oromia region, were not successful. AS  

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