Ethiopia | Gambella state elects ethnic-Nuer President

(Daniel Berhane)

Ethiopia’s western region, Gambella, changed its long-serving President Umod Ubong, it was learnt. Umod Ubong (also spelled as Omot Obang), ethnic-Anuak, held the top post for the last 13 years. He doubled as chairman of the region’s ruling party – Gambella Peoples’ Democratic Movement (GPDM) – since September 2005.

The State council elected Gatluak Tut Koat, ethnic-Nuer, as President in an extraordinary session held on April 16, 2013.

Gatluak Tut Koat, ethnic-Nuer, has been deputy President since January 2012, following to the sacking of Guaner Yer from the post.Zones of Gambella region state - Ethiopia

The regional state council also approved a new cabinet, though it is not clear how many of the 13 Bureau heads had been replaced and whether there was a restructuring.

However, reports indicate head of agriculture bureau Engineer Olero Opiew, ethnic-Anuak, was elected as vice President of the region.

Engineer Olero Opiew has also assumed the Chairmanship of  the regional ruling party GPDM replacing Umod Ubong.

The circumstances of the change in leadership is not clear yet.

There are claims that Gatluak Tut Koat is an accidental President who was the least-likely nominee but got elected because votes were divided due to multiple Anuak candidates vying for the Presidency. Others contest the account and claim the change was a pre-planned one engineered by the EPRDF, the ruling party of the Federal government.

Some reports claim the out-going President Umod Ubong will be assigned to a federal government post.

Background:Flag of Gambella region
According to the 2007 Census, the population of Gambella region was around 307 thousand. The ethnic composition of the region shows that the Nuer make up 47% and the Anuak consist 22% of the population. The rest belong to several ethnic groups including Amhara 8.42%, Kafficho 5%, Oromo 4.83%, Mezhenger 4%, Shakicho 2.27%, Kambaata 1.44% and Tigrayan 1.32% . Protestant Christians make-up 70% of the region’s population, followed by 16.8% Orthodox Christian.

GPDM is a coalition party founded in 2003 by the merger of the Nuer People’s Democratic Organization, the Anyua People’s Democratic Organization, and the Majanger People’s Democratic Organization.

Anuak and Nuer compete for regional political power, while both are uneasy with any role assumed by non-indigenous communities – especially the Amhara, Oromo and Tirgrayans – most of whom resided in the region due to the re-settlement programs of the previous governments of Addis Ababa.

Though the Nuer make up of the majority at regional level, the Anuak reside in most of the weredas of Gambella. Unlike the Nuer who has heavy presence in South Sudan, the majority of Anuak live in Gambella region Ethiopia. The Nuer are primarily pastoralists, while farming is the basis of Anuak’s livelihood – which is the source of conflict between the two communities.

Current day power contests, however, are explained in a a paper published in 2007 by Prof. Medhane Tadesse as:

“the Anuak claim to own the regional state or at least aspire to be the sole deciding political force in the regional government. Various bases of entitlement are forwarded to justify this claim: current settlement pattern (area of influence or land size), history (being indigenous) and contribution to the regime change and degree of connection with the highlands and/or the national centre. Indeed, in the competition for power, the Anuak elites defined their Nuer counterparts as foreigners.

On the other hand, the Nuer invoke their own socio-cultural arguments to justify their claim. They argue that they have the right to stay in the area and acquire Ethiopian citizenship, partly because, according to written sources (Dereje 2003), the time frame for localisation as provided by Nuer culture is shorter and very flexible. Moreover, according to Nuer culture, ultimately natural resources belong to kwoth (God).”

The state of Gambella is believed to have oil reserves. Its sparsely populated fertile land is the prime destination of domestic and foreign aggro-investors.


Daniel Berhane

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