The Omo Valley Tribes


The Lower Omo Valley in South West Ethiopia is a beautiful location with an assortment of ecosystems ranging from volcanic outcrops, grasslands and pristine riverine forests supporting a diversity of wildlife. Due to the region’s semi-arid climate, annual flooding of the River promises food security for the 8 different tribes whose population is approximately 200,000 and have lived here for centuries.  These people of wealthy land practice flood retreat cultivation which is when the rich silt residue is deposited along river banks during the annual flood; allowing them to nurture vital food crops. However what the future holds for these tribe’s lies in the hands of international companies who intend to construct dams, plant biofuels and cash crops such as cotton, maize and oil palm on tribal home land.

Currently, a large hydro-electric dam called Gibe III is being constructed on the Omo which when completed will destroy the livelihoods and natural environment of the tribes who are deeply attached to the river and its annual flood. In 2006 an Italian company began construction on the Gibe III with contributing funds from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and the World Bank. However, in 2011 the Ethiopian government removed its request for aid credit from the government of Italy which caused great concern amongst Italian NGOs who disagreed in the support of building this controversial dam. Regardless of this, more than 50% of this dam has already been constructed leading to catastrophic consequences on the tribes of the Omo River who were neither informed nor consulted. Along with this, in 2011 sections of fertile land in the Lower Omo province were being leased out to Indian, Korean and Malaysian companies who began plantation of cash crops and biofuels. This caused tribes such as the Mursi, Bodi and Kwegu to evict from their land in order for developments such as the Kuraz Sugar Project which would ultimately cover 245, 000 hectares of land.

The cherished cattle grazing land on which these tribes depend upon for their livelihoods have been diminished and a number of individuals have been raped, beaten and thrown in jail for raising their voices in opposition. Due to the reallocation of tribal land, competition for scarce resources has increased resulting in inter-ethnic disputes. Not a single social or environmental impact assessment of plantations and irrigation systems has been carried out and despite the abuse of human rights on these tribes both the UK and USA have failed to examine these allegations.

Whilst tourists have the full authority to hunt on tribal lands, the tribal people themselves are barred from hunting leading to intensification in malnutrition. This is a prime example of land exploitation where the development agendas of international powers disregard the detrimental effects of such projects on local inhabitants. The profit of multinational companies is mutely murdering natives of the Lower Omo Valley generating a clear group of losers in today’s globalised world.

Shaafi Sayed


3 thoughts on “The Omo Valley Tribes

  1. It is such a shame as there are so few real tribes left in the world and so few places at one with nature……… Who can or will protect the rights of the powerless accross the world before its too late and for many it already is????????
    Zoe Laker

  2. Totally agree with Zoe, their way of life and culture is being destroyed and they are being forced out. All because multinational companies are looking to make profit over their land, and these tribes without protection they are very much powerless. the future looks incredibly bleak for them.

    Paloma-Nicole Dias Dos Santos

  3. It seems so absurd that the emotional and physical development of these tribes is totally disregarded when it comes to the economic development of a nation through foreign companies (who are so called members of corporate social responsibility schemes). I don’t think enough attention is being paid by NGOs towards such issues as a universal culture of economic growth is being enforced by powerful nations and influential multi national companies.

    Shaafi Sayed

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