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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
“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
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.
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
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
That’s been enough to bring the wrath of their governments upon
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