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Friday, May 06, 2005

Desert of Death and Dreams

The Dida Galgalu desert is a good place to hide. Perennial drought and famine extract their daily toll here, where warring nomadic tribes battle over livestock and shifta (bandits) prowl the dead land in search of bounty from the odd supply lorry that chances over the twisted network of rough tracks.

The local Borana people call this arid moonscape “the Plains of Darkness”, after the piles of ancient volcanic rocks that lie like black skulls on the white, windswept earth.

Isolated northern Kenya is also a good place to die.

Somali warlords, ruthless in their quest for wealth, run guns across the shimmering plains. Daytime temperatures can top 50°C, and the nights are bitterly cold. Muddy wells provide the only water. And when the heat bakes them dry, man and beast perish, and sink into the sands to become bone.

And no one cares. Since colonial times, the authorities in Nairobi have ignored the desert and its dwellers.

That’s why Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) guerrillas, fighting for secession from Ethiopia for the southern ethnic groups of the country since 1993, have established bases in the vast Dida Galgalu.

Yet Kenya’s government denies their presence in its territory.

“We are invisible to the world. No one knows our struggle. They call us terrorists, but it is [Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles] Zenawi’s regime that is terrorist,” said Mega Yaballo, a rebel fighter in an OLF camp in a valley in Kenya’s desert.

At almost 40-million of a population of 63-million, the Oromo, of which the major clans are the Borana, Gujii, Walaga, Arsii and Hararge, are the multi-religious majority of Ethiopia.

But, being mostly illiterate nomads, they have little socio-economic power and Zenawi’s minority northern Tigray ethnic group, which forms Ethiopia’s political elite and controls the country’s resources, has ruled the Oromo since 1991.

Mail & Guardian

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