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10 - State-building, Market Integration & Local Responses in South Omo, Ethiopia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 January 2023

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Summary

Conflict, violence and other forms of struggle are often associated with the extension of centralised state power at the pastoral margins. The South Omo region of southern Ethiopia is one such place, where large-scale investment in hydropower and commercial agriculture has been part of a broader push by the state to transform pastoral environments and livelihoods. Large-scale state investments have entailed the increased presence of state security, if not the use of outright force against local populations. Pastoralists and agro-pastoralists have been displaced and pushed into alternative livelihoods that are more ‘legible’ to state power. Yet violence and resistance is not the end of the story of state-building in Ethiopia’s southern pastoral margins. Closer inspection reveals a more mixed picture of transformation happening at different speeds, with varying degrees of support by local populations, and diverse outcomes for livelihoods, food security and state–society relations.

This chapter reviews the diverging pathways of expanding and deepening state power in two parts of South Omo: Benna-Tsemay and Salamago districts (see Map 10.1). Although they are geographically close, processes of state-building and responses by local populations are distinct. The state has arrived with a bang in Salamago through the establishment of a large estate by the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation, occasioning resistance by local Bodi herders. By contrast, the state’s presence has extended gradually in Benna-Tsemay through the deepening of political administration, road-building and improving transport links to larger towns and markets in the region. These diverging pathways are associated with very different livelihood prospects and ‘security’ as experienced by the region’s pastoral and agro-pastoral inhabitants.

The chapter draws from long-term fieldwork stretching back to 2012. The most recent data, collected in 2018, included participatory group exercises, interviews with district- and zone-level government officials and other community leaders and livestock traders, and systematic observations.

Background to South Omo

Situated in Ethiopia’s far south-western margins, South Omo takes its name from the Omo River that bisects the region from north to south as it flows towards Lake Turkana across the border in Kenya. Much of the region lies to the east of the river; Nyangatom district makes up the area west of the river up to the border with South Sudan. The Woito River cuts across the region’s eastern flank as it flows southwards into Chew Bahir, a large swampland and basin straddling the Ethiopia–Kenya border.

Type
Chapter
Information
Land, Investment and Politics
Reconfiguring Eastern Africa's Pastoral Drylands
, pp. 122 - 133
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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