The History of Gambela Crisis

General facts of the ongoing genocide in Gambella

The state of Gambella since December 13, 2003 has been plugged into a deep political, social and economic crisis that seen a large population of Anuaks murdered mercilessly by the Ethiopia Army, other displaced internally and others sought safety places in the neighboring states.

The soldiers tied his (an Anuak) hands to his legs and put him on the road and then ran him over with a military truck

Eyewitness of the Gambella massacre (

  • Ethiopia has killed 1200-3000 Anuaks since December of 2003
  • Ethiopia has imprisoned in various prisons 2000 Anuaks
  • 60 former Anuak senior administrators and clerics’ imprisoned in Addis Ababa federal and Gambella prisons
  • The rest of Anuaks are jailed in Jimma, Gora, Gambella, Dimma and other locations
  • Ethiopia has destroyed more than 30 Anuak towns and villages, either all Anuaks were killed by the Ethiopia military or half of them.
  • As a result of Ethiopia actions Anuaks farmers have not farm since the genocide took place in December 2003. Many still in the forests waiting to return to their homes are either starving to death or have sought safety in Pochalla, Sudan.
  • As a result of Ethiopia actions half of the entire Anuak population originally lived in Gambella is refugees in various countries, where they still not recognized as refugees in meaningful way.
  • Ethiopian highlander doctors in Gambellans have poisoned to death over one hundred Anuak intellectuals, government’ officials and other professionals in Gambella Clinics
  • Ethiopian highlanders’ targeting one ethnic group, Anuak in this case, out of five natives and other four settlers is against international law. This targeting of one ethnic group qualifies Ethiopia’s actions as genocide under the United Nations’ Genocide Conventional under Article 2, which Ethiopia signed and obligated to follow.

Here are important studies some of the most respected international human rights institutions did on crisis in Gambella. Please, click each link you to read each document.

Today is the Day of Killing Anuaks” Source: Genocide Watch and Survivors Rights International Field Report – 16 February 2004

A Ferocious Attack Committed In Gambella Region” Source: Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) – 5 January 2004

Cultural Survival Quarterly ( has excellent reporting on Anuak issues since 981. (See Anuak Decimated by Ethiopian Government, Issue 5.3, 1981The Anuak – A Threatened Culture, Issue 8.2, 1984Ethiopia’s Policy of Genocide Against the Anuak of Gambella, Issue 10.3, 1986Resettlement and Villagization – Tools of Militarization in SW Ethiopia, Issue 11.4, 1987Anuak Displacement and Ethiopian Resettlement, Issue 12.4, 1988Oil Development In Ethiopia: A Threat to the Anuak of Gambella, Issue 25.3, 2001.) The 13 December 2003 massacre in Gambella has thus far gone unreported in the press, except for articles in the online McGill Report and IRIN.

Genocide watch: the Anuak of Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s Genocide of the Anuak Broadens to Women, Children, and Small Villages

by By Doug McGill

The McGill Report

Short Summary of the problem

On the morning of December 13, 2003, an unknown group in area approximately seventy miles outside Gambella City, the capital of Gambella state, ambushed the Government of Ethiopia’s team of inspectors dispatched to Gambella’s Odie area to survey the site for Sudanese refugees relocation. All, but one personnel, in convey, including one Anuak individual, were killed by the unknown gunmen. Team of travelers found the survival and reported their whereabouts to authorities in Gambella Town. Ethiopian authorities in Gambella town stationed dispatched a large number of their soldiers to check the site where the incident took place. Ethiopia army assigned to visit the the site of the incident transported bodies for the burial investigated and bought the bodies to the Gambella town but instead of transforming the dead bodies to the morale to have bodies await there for the burial, Ethiopia army paraded the dead bodies around the city in a large truck, indicating their intention to use the killing as a pretext to kill Anuaks.

An Anuak woman in Gambella stands in the rubble of a house burned in the December attack. Civilians from both sides of the conflict have told Oxfam that they are still living in constant fear of people from other ethnic groups, many of whom are their direct neighbors.

Shortly, thereafter, Ethiopia army accompanied by their settlers in the Gambella Town went door to door with a prepared list of Anuak civil servants, teachers, businesspersons and clerics. By 1:00 pm that day, over four hundred Anuak civil servants, teachers, businessperson and clerics coldly were murdered and their bodies buried a day later in several mass graves which Ethiopia Army forced Anuak police and civilians jailed earlier to dig as a part of their being exempted from the killing. Women and children escaped to churches compounds in the town were searched and many killed in the religious compounds by the Ethiopia army where they sought refuge. After all Anuak civil servants, teachers and businesspersons were eliminated in the town of Gambella, Ethiopia army carried out the same policy in other major cities of Gambella and villages.

In Dimma, one of major towns in Gambella State in approximately two hundred miles south, the Ethiopia Army killed mayor of the city and all city council members in the front of the town building after a meeting. After the Ethiopia army murdered Anuak town servants, they went to villages to disarm Anuak police personnel were issued weapons to protect themselves and citizens from bandits who have turned the region into a safe heaven for killing and looting. Confused about why the government of Ethiopia murdered their fellow Anuak civilians, officials in the government, and burning their growth crops, Aunak police officers resisted handing over their weapons and civilians fled Gambella. Many Anuaks fled to Nairobi, Kenya, Sudan cities: Pochalla, Juba, Pibor.

Ethiopia Military posts
With most Anuaks escaping to safety in various places inside their country and outside the country, Ethiopia highlander military have been establishing military camps where they terrorize Anuak civilians who have not been able to flee to safety. There are military posts in Psychdo, Tado, Garei, Tagoal, Abobo, Dimma and other less populated areas inside Gambella.

False Reasons
Since the genocide took place in December of 2003, the government of Ethiopia has been trying to mislead the international community and people of good well inside Ethiopia by constantly switching the reason it killed Anuaks.

First, the government of Ethiopia claims that Anuaks were killed by the two of its archenemies: Al Itthad Al Isalmia, Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). The government of Ethiopia alleged these three principal enemies killed the Anuaks to make the government of Ethiopia looks criminal to damage it image that could encourage the international community to condemn it and finally allow them to overthrow the government. For a while, the government continued to put forward this reason for the killing of Anuaks. Faced with clear evident some international human rights such Genocide Watch presented that excoriating the involvement of EPLF, OLF nor Al Itthad Al Isamia, the government begun to change its position to a new position.

In the new position, the government of Ethiopia started to argue Anuaks were killed by Nuers in their rivalry over dispute resources and political power. With a fighting ranging between the Nuer themselves contesting their internal border, the government of Ethiopia continues to argue and Nuer politicians thinking the government would award them for the government use their name kept silent. With news evident become available and pointing to Ethiopian highlander officials’ involvement in the genocide, the government introduced a new theory.

The government argued that the Anuaks, after all, were killed by the highlanders settling in Gambella in revenge to serious of indiscriminate killings of highlander settlers and civil servants such doctors, engineers, constructors, nurses and teachers by the Anuaks officials and civilians. This theory for a while resonances with the internal population of highlanders due to their falsity belief that the Anuaks were killing highlanders and therefore the genocide was a revenge, not inhumane acts by their government. Before too long, however, the international community begun to receive news of Ethiopia military involvement in the genocide and the international community started to ask Ethiopia to investigate the killings and accept responsible for the genocide.

Because the push to investigate the killings was extracted by the international community on Ethiopia to investigate, the new task fell on Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. According, Ethiopia Foreign Affairs sent some of its staff to Gambella City to come with a document that could show the international community and hopefully reduce the intensive pressure countries such the United States and the British extracted on the Ethiopia. As trained students of presenting the best images of their country to the international community, the staff the Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry assigned to go to Gambella came up with a document exactly intended to excoriated Ethiopia

The document entitled as an investigate report concluded that the problems that led to Anuaks being killed were three main reasons. First, Anuak opposed the new civil service reform which the government intended to promote the development of an effective, transparent, accountable, ethical and performance-oriented civil service. Second, Anuaks were unwilling to share regional power with settler highlanders’ generated hate that led the highlanders to kill Anuaks. Last, Anuaks claim that they owned the land of Gambella and therefore are the only people to rule the region generated hatred.

All of these falsely reasons the government of Ethiopia switch from one to another were all finally proved to untruth by different parties. Ethiopia own parliamentary committee set up to investigate the genocide came up with the findings that indicated clearly that members of Ethiopia military were involved in the genocide. In different occasions, Genocide Watch that has been documenting many mass killings of Anuaks in the past released report after report that indicated clearly that the government of Ethiopia was involved in ordering its military to eliminate Anuaks.

Real Reasons for Genocide

An Anuak man sits in front of his burned-out home, which he claims was one of many burned as part of a campaign against the Anuak in Ethiopia.
(Photo courtesy of Doug McGill)

Ethiopia has historically pursued a deliberate policy seeking to exploit the Gambella region’s oil and other natural resources. The strategy of eliminating Gambelans, mainly Anuaks, is part of this larger strategy of taking over the land and natural resources that the Gambelans, in particular Anuaks, occupy in Southwestern Ethiopia. The Gambelans are less than 5% of the Ethiopian population and the government thinks that they cannot effectively fight for their rights through the political process because they are underrepresented in the central government. The Ethiopian government has attempted before, under Mengistu Hail Mariam in the 1980s, to take away the Gambelan land, particular Anuaks, and natural resources. Mengistu’s administration relocated a large number of Tigrayans and other groups from Northern Ethiopia to Gambela and settled them in the Anuaks’ cities and villages. These settlers set up roadblocks and restricted movement by Anuaks in their own land. The aim was to instigate unrest among the Anuaks to use as a pretext of imprisoning or eliminating them from the region altogether.

Because of their lack of representation in the political process, the Gambelans, mainly the Anuaks, endured daily humiliations by the settlers. Even when the Ethiopian government decided to supply settlers with guns and prevented Gambelans from gun-ownership, the Anuaks still endured the discrimination. Eventually, Gambelans, mainly Anuaks, left Ethiopia in large numbers and joined hands with the then Ethiopian opposition movement in the Sudan with the hope that a change in government would bring them more protection and less discrimination. Gambelans, mainly Anuaks, in the Sudan played a major role in the liberation of Ethiopia from Mengistu’s dictatorial government.

With the change of Mengistu’s dictatorial government in 1991, the structure political in Gambella was restructured favoring Gambellans. Anuaks as the people who have played determining role in the overthrown of Mengistu’s dictatorial government and as the majority ethnic group in Gambella took over most of the responsibility in the new regional government.

Highlander settlers as the people who subsequent regimes appointed as administrators of the region in the past regretted the new structure of the regional government where the Gambellans play key roles in governing like natives all regions were doing. In aiding the highlander settlers in Gambella, the officials in Addis Ababa used several tools available to them to undermine the regional in Gambella. First, officials in Addis Ababa disarmed the regional armed forces that fought along them against Durg. Second, officials undermined regional authorities by directly appointing governors of the region, putting aside the election and autonomous all together promised in the constitutional. Facing resistance by Anuaks who fought also along them, the government commissioned a census in 1994 that under counted the Anuaks and made Anuak minority in an attempt to divide Gambellans.

Meanwhile, as the local highlander settlers were regretting the new government structure in Gambella, highlanders in the central government in Addis Ababa started to ask the Gambellan leaders to have Oil be explored. At the same time the government of Ethiopia was asking Gambellan leaders for rights to explore Gambellan oil, the government made deals with Canadian oil companies, Malayian oil companies and some others from countries to explore oil. Before Gambella leaders could response to the highlanders’ central government, the government announced, without consulting Gambella leaders or population of their views where their oil be produced, that its intended to have the oil produce in Jimma where the people who benefited most of the oil could be highlanders. Sensing correctly that this was a plot, Gambellans both at home and the abroad started opposing their oil exploration benefiting highlanders. Many Gambellans abroad wrote letters to the Canadian companies and government and companies under extreme pressures disinvested in the Gambellan oil, they decided not participant in both explorations and investments.

These three reasons –Gambellans took power, oil exploration and Ethiopanizing Gambella – all were the main reasons the government of Ethiopia and its local highlander settlers in December of 2003 killed Anuaks, introduces massive highlander resettlements in Gambella and escalated oil exploration by building roads to Gambellan oil fields.

Ethiopian Genocide Killer Officials and Their Gambellan Accompanies in Genocide

The ongoing genocide in Gambella have been administrated by some individuals in Gambella state and central government. The individuals who are administering the genocide which all international human rights have documented are:

  1. Almayeu Almer is responsible for Security and democratization within the Ethiopian Minster of Foreigner affairs.
  2. Dr. Gebrhab Barnabas was the architect of December 13, 2003 genocide. Mr Barnabas bears personal responsibility and draws the appropriate personal conclusions arising out of the defects revealed with regard to the manner in which he discharged the duties of his office.
  3. Tsegaye Beynene was the Ethiopian Defense forces Commander in the Gambella region. He was responsible for disarming Anuak police officers to prevent any resistance and he was the one who give the order to Ethiopian forces and settlers to kill the Anuaks. According to the testimony of an Anuak who survived the genocidal attacks, Mr.Beynene was the one who told his troops to say, “Kill them. No one will find you accountable or arrest you.
  4. Tadese Haile Selassie was the Head of Gambella Regional Police who disarmed the Anuak polices and arrested intellectuals Anuak a year early. He was the one who brought the mutilated bodies into Gambella city and took them directly to the provincial government head office. When he arrived at the head office he asked the security guards: where is governor Okello? We want him and the Anuaks to bring our dead people back to live” and when he failed to get the governor at his office, he and over 50 highlanders civilians took the dead bodies into the Polices station and then into front Gambella Hospital where he joined by Commanders Mr. Tesegaye Beynene, displaying mutilated bodies to other highlander civilians, inciting some of them, who then together conducted frenzied massacres of 424 unarmed Anuak civilians during the next three days. Hundreds were buried in a mass grave and this was witnessed by the government-appointed governor of Gambella.
  5. Abai Tsehaye: He is the Minister of Federal Affairs who blamed the Anuak genocide on the Nuers and makes it as conflict between the Anuak and the Nures. He is the man who said that “no need to investigate the crimes”
  6. Omot Olom is the security chief in Gambella, who helped Ethiopia in violence against Anuaks.

Global Response
After less then satisfaction of the international community in the initial phase of the genocide in Gambella in December of 2003, many countries and international key players in the human rights arena started to response more meaningfully way to the situation.

The United States of America demanded that the government of Ethiopia immediate investigate the claims of right abuses in Gambella. The British government did the same afterward that the government of Ethiopia should investigate the killings.

Genocide Watch which documented mass displacements of Anuaks earlier in 1980s, did some field reports and delivered astonishing documents that clearly established evident of Ethiopian highlanders and their officials in Addis Ababa ordered genocide of Anuaks.

Apee Ojulu prepared this piece for

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