September 6, 2005

Another Darfur Victim: The Anuak of Ethiopia

By Doug McGill
The McGill Report

ROCHESTER, MN -- The genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan that has killed tens of thousands of Africans and displaced more than a million has claimed another unlikely victim – the Anuak tribe of western Ethiopia.  

On December 13, 2003, the Anuak tribe suffered a bloody chapter in a genocide of its own when uniformed Ethiopian troops attacked the Anuak capital city of Gambella, killing more than 425 Anuak and driving 10,000 of its tribe into exile in Sudan and Kenya. Numbering only 100,000 together, the Anuak tribe is now teetering on the verge of extinction as the killings continue to this day. 

But with the world’s attention fixed on Darfur, the Anuak genocide has been entirely overlooked by the international media as well as by the United Nations, humanitarian aid groups, and the interntional public at large. 

Darfur has sucked every last drop of the world's attention and, it seems, patience for African genocide, leaving not even a glance for the Anuak. Since December 13, 2003, the Anuak have not received even a minute of coverage on any of America's major TV networks or major cable channel news shows.

Same Problem

The oversight is doubly ironic as the two genocides are so similar. In both cases a sovereign power – one based in the capital of Khartoum, Sudan and the other in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – has attempted to wipe out a black African minority living in a remote yet coveted Western province.  

In addition, roughly a third of the Anuak live in eastern Sudan only a few hundred miles southeast of Darfur. The fortunes of the Anuak tribe for the past two decades have been vastly influenced by the Sudan civil war of which the Darfur massacre is but the latest chapter.

More than 100,000 Sudan war refugees, for example, were relocated to the middle of Anuak territory in Ethiopia in the 1990s, quickly igniting bloody clashes between the unarmed Anuak and the well-armed refugees, most of whom belong to tribes with longstanding tensions with the Anuak.

Once again, tragedy in Sudan is shadowing the Anuak.

"Darfur and Gambella are the same place to me, just the names are spelled differently,” said Obang Metho, an Anuak who fled Ethiopia to live in Saskatchewan, Canada. “It’s the same thing, the same problem.” 

Sick and Starved

In the single bloodiest attack against the Anuak in more than a decade of targeted massacres carried out against the tribe, several hundred uniformed members of the Ethiopian army drove in troop trucks into the western Ethiopian city of Gambella on December 13, 2003.  

According to dozens of eyewitnesses, the Ethiopian soldiers went from door to door in Gambella, calling out the names of Anuak men and boys. When they came into the street they were told to run and then shot in the back, or hacked to death with machetes by light-skinned Ethiopian citizens who carried out the military’s orders to kill Anuak.  

Similar massacres occurred in more than a dozen Anuak villages in the province of Gambella in late 2003 and early 2004, driving thousands of Anuak into squalid refugee camps in Pochalla, Sudan, and a Nairobi slum called Ruiru, where they still live today.  

Men, women, and children who lived normal lives going to work and school in Gambella have been living starved and sick in camps for nearly two years.  
While little-known internationally, the Anuak genocide has become big news in Anuak diaspora communities around the world, and also in Ethiopia, where the government’s attacks against the Anuak minority tribe became an issue in the 2005 national elections.  

Killing a Culture

News of the Anuak genocide in western Ethiopia first broke in Minnesota, where some 1,500 Anuak refugees live after fleeing earlier periods of ethnic cleansing against their tribe that were carried out by the Ethiopian army.  

Almost immediately after the December 13 massacre began, Anuak refugees in Minnesota started receiving telephone calls from their relatives and friends in Gambella. The Minnesota Anuak could hear gunshots and screams in the background of the phone calls and sometimes heard Ethiopian soldiers yell “Put down the phone!” before the line went dead.  

The Anuak and Darfur genocides share many similarities, besides their both being directed by sovereign governments against defenseless minorities.

Determined to wipe away the entire culture of their victims, the killers in both Darfur and Gambella not only massacred humans but also torched houses, crops, food in storage, seed stocks, and agricultural equipment and infrastructure. Entire villages in both cases have been flattened by fire.  

A key weapon in both genocides has been rape. More than a dozen Anuak women interviewed in the Nairobi and Pochalla refugee camps described to this reporter being gang raped and seeing many other women being gang raped by Ethiopian soldiers.
Dark Skin vs. Light Skin

The humanitarian agency Genocide Watch sent a research team to Gambella in January, 2004 and recorded similar accounts, including that Ethiopian soldiers often told the women as they raped them that “We are going to kill your men, so the next generation of Anuak will be produced by us.”  

Anuak women in refugee camps have begun to have babies fathered by Ethiopian soldier rapists, recent visitors to the refugee camps say.  

More than 1,200 Anuak refugees live in southern Minnesota, having arrived here in the middle 1990s after fleeing an earlier ethnic cleansing that took as many – if not more – lives as the 2003 and 2004 killings.

Some 7,000 Anuak refugees live scattered around the world in a diaspora that today is grieving the death in Ethiopia of their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends at the hands of Ethiopian soldiers.

The Anuak, like the tribes of Darfur, are black-skinned people of African descent. In Sudan and Ethiopia, the black-skinned tribes are shunned and oppressed by lighter-skinned tribes whose leaders hold national power. As in the case of the American Indian, in Darfur and Gambella the dark-skinned natives are sitting on oil fields that the light-skinned leaders want. 

Oil Troubles

“The government wants the land but not the people” in both Darfur and Gambella, Metho said. “So in both places, people are being killed by their own governments.” With only 100,000 Anuak still living, compared to 1.7 million members of the Fur and other African tribes of Darfur, the proportional damage to the Anuak culture is even greater than in Darfur.

Some Anuak leaders fear that the genocide of their tribe may already be functionally accomplished. With Anuak deaths from the recent government-led massacres totaling more than 1,200 since 2003, and 10,000 Anuak in exile as refugees, the birth rate may now have permanently dipped below the death rate, the threshold at which genocide becomes effectively a fact. 

With the Sudan peace agreement reached last December, and a fragile-but-holding ceasefire holding in Darfur, the Sudan-Ethiopia border at Gambella is sure to gain in strategic importance.  

The reason is that by virtue of oil in the region, as well as the fact that a half-dozen rivers make it both fertile and a potential transportation hub, the region is key to economic development for both countries.  

Bread Basket

In Ethiopia, government officials refer to Gambella as “potentially the nation’s bread basket,” and they actively court foreign investors interested in exploring and developing the oil fields there.  

In Darfur as well, the discovery of oil in recent years has attracted the interest of international oil companies and investors whom the Sudan government desperately wants to attract.  

There is, of course, only one problem in Sudan and Ethiopia. That is the Anuak who live in Ethiopia, and the Fur and other dark-skinned tribes of Darfur.

Neither tribe poses anything close to a military threat against the central government, or are pushing for full autonomy, but both have asked for a share in the bounty once oil exploration money pours in.
That’s been enough to bring the wrath of their governments upon them.

With local enmities so ancient and deep, the only hope for peace in both cases is for the international community to shake off its lethargy and bring pressure to bear on each of the governments to stop the killings.  

Yet that will only happen if the world knows what is happening in the first place – to the Anuak of Gambella, as well as the victims of Darfur.

Copyright @ 2005 The McGill Report