Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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Immo EULENBERGER, Max-Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

There has been mounting criticism and concern regarding the approach to development taken in South-western Ethiopia. This paper seeks to take a different tack by presenting a positive vision of what development in the agro-pastoralist regions of South Omo and adjoining parts of Bench-Maji, South Sudan and Kenya could look like. Building on a decade of study and fieldwork in and on the region, using both qualitative and quantitative methods, and multiple recent projects across the research-practice divide, it looks at the vast potential of cross-border cooperation and coordinated efforts across sectors (academia and policy making, governments, donors, NGOs and local communities) for responsible and equitable development. It focuses specifically on under-explored uses of the irrigation potential entailed in the construction of the Gibe III dam, aquifer development in the neighbouring plains and the integration of cross-border resource sharing and peace building. It sets out how the expertise accumulated by the region’s communities, academic knowledge and the capacities of modern economies and forms of organisation can be used in synergy. The paper refers specifically to the conditions and opportunities of the wider South Omo-Turkana interface by outlining the ways in which people and organisations with diverging socio-cultural and economic backgrounds can best learn from one another; how old and new forms of communication can best contribute to this; how sustainable resource management can be guaranteed and improved cooperatively across boundaries; how the productivity and resilience of socio-ecological systems can be increased simultaneously and equitably; which concrete measures, efforts and technologies can be employed to that end; which specific stakeholders could play which part; how social disintegration and ecological degradation that often accompany large-scale interventions can be avoided while strengthening local livelihoods and, at the same time, increasing extractable revenue that can be used to support Ethiopia’s ambitious modernisation efforts. It argues that Ethiopia has a unique chance to use its ecological, cultural and economic diversity to generate innovative examples of efficient and responsible development by integrating the complementary capacities and agency of the different actors already involved (or ready and willing to contribute) productively and smartly.