Turkana under threat due to damming of River Omo in Ethiopia


(eTN) – Protests took place in Nairobi last weekend aimed at the Gibe III dam Ethiopia is constructing on their territory but which is said to have an immediate and massive impact on Kenya. The only major river, the River Omo, emptying into Lake Turkana in Kenya is being dammed, and the reduced water flow is going to affect the already critical water situation of the lake and the Turkana herdsmen.

The water levels have, in past years, shrunk at the lake, due to both drought and reduced inflow, and the shores receded deep into what used to be the Jade Lake, called after its colors.

This has deprived a previously thriving fishing industry of much of its potential catch, with plants closed and fishermen out of work now hardly able to find enough daily catch to feed their families and make a half-way decent living of it.

Herdsmen also depend on the river’s water, more so in the face of constant droughts, and even boreholes have started to dry up as the water table keeps falling.

On the Kenyan side of the border, major investments for up to 1,000 MW of wind power production are planned, and attempts by the Kenyan government and civil society to have the Ethiopian government scale down the plans have fallen on deaf ears.

Environmentalists and conservationists alike – the Turkana area is also home to archaeological digs undertaken by the Leakey family with finds of early mankind – have criticized the plan, but in spite of a growing chorus, the government in Ethiopia has not found it necessary to engage on a larger front with critics and seek joint mitigating measures. Friends of Lake Turkana – with a growing movement on Facebook – marched to the Chinese Embassy where they delivered a petition for the government in Beijing to stop working on such environmentally- and highly-controversial projects and withdraw subcontracted firms from the dam brought onboard by main contractor Salini – of 3 years overdrawn Kampala Northern Bypass fame – which was awarded the deal without any apparent international bidding. This immediately opened the door for more allegations over shadowy practices.

An article last year on this subject in eTurboNews drew sustained comments from Ethiopia, giving the clear impression of a concerted and managed effort with the language used, adding to concerns that government and its blinded supporters could and would resort to literally anything to get their way. This has fallen hard also on the communities in Ethiopia who will be displaced by the new dam and power plant, and their representatives have often been harassed, even arrested, for daring to speak up against the roughshod fashion their interests are being treated by the government in Addis Ababa.

Suggestions, therefore, that these communities were the primary or principal beneficiaries are hollow and largely baseless, as they are being displaced, and the traditional way of life is being taken from them. Very likely in the future, they will be condemned to live in shanty towns and urban slums. It remains to be seen if Addis responds at all to this strengthening sentiment and movement against the dam, and considering the growing unrest in parts of Africa, the regime in Addis would be well advised to avoid any further hotspots of discontent than they already have.