THE NUERS IN ETHIOPIA ARE NEITHER REGUGEES NOR CONFLICT INSTIGATORS: A Response to Anywaa bloggers
A concerted campaign by the Anywaa extremists has been launched against the Nuer people in Ethiopia alleging that the Nuer are” Refugees” from South Sudan and they are the ones causing insecurity in the Gambella Regional State of Ethiopia. While all communities residing in Gambella, including most of the Anywaa civilians know very well that this is a white lie, many Ethiopians elsewhere may fall into this extremist propaganda unless facts are put right.
The Anywaa extremists wherever they go would like to depict themselves as the owners of Gambella and that the Nuer are “Refugees” usurping the region. But the historical facts tell different. Gambella and its people were formally incorporated into the Ethiopian State following the 1902 Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty for delimitation of the Ethio-Sudanese boundary.
That Treaty divided the Nuer and the Annywa into two- putting the majority Anywaa under the Ethiopian State, while leaving the majority Nuer as British subjects. Out of the 12 major Nuer Tribes only the Eastern Jikany Tribe is partially incorporated into the Ethiopia State. So both the Anywaa and the Nuer lives on both sides of the border. Despite this the Nuer forms the majority (47%) ethnic group in Gambella Regional State, while the Anywaa only 21.17% of the regional population of 306,216, according to the 2007 Population Census.
Before the formal incorporation into the Ethiopian State, the area which is today known as Gambella was inhabited by the locals built around different livelihood and governance. Despite the incorporation into the Ethiopian State, however, contact between the State and the local people remained limited. Up until 1930s contact with the local people were largely confined to what was known as pacification campaigns, which were actually thinly disguised slave raids.
This led to several bloody conflicts between the State and the local peoples. For instance, the conflict between the Nuer and the Government in 1912, killed 150 from the Government side and more than 100 killed and another 100 captured from the Nuer side. A serious uprising by Anywaa under King Akway Cham in 1911 was only brought under control in 1916 after hundreds lives were lost (see Shumet Sishagne, 1985 and Dereje Feyissa, 2006).
Another historical facts, is that both the Nuer and the Anywaa migrated long ago from Western side of the White Nile River. Both ethnic groups belong to the group known by Anthropologists as Nilotic which originated along the Nile. The Anywaa migrated to the eastern side between 17 and 18 Centuries and the Jikany Nuer followed between 18 and 19 centuries. That east ward movement has continued since then with the Anywaa acquiring Dima Woreda in the last 40 Years or so.
As you can see from the above historical facts the Eastern Jikany Nuer Tribe was there when Gambella was incorporated into the Ethiopian State following the 1902 Treaty. Moreover Greater Jikawa and Abobo Woredas (District) were there during Haile Selassie regime and are known to be largely inhabited by the Nuer and so leveling the Nuer as recently arrived refugees is just a propaganda which can only fool the uninformed and the gullible.
Coming to the allegation that the Nuer are the one causing insecurity in Gambella Regional State of Ethiopia, this is laughable, because even the Government and the Ethiopian people they are trying to hoodwink know the facts. All the people in Gambella including people that are collectively referred to as high-landers (Oromos, Amahara, Tigrareans, Kembata, Adiya, Gurage …….e.c.t. know very well that all insecurities in Gambella were and are still caused by the blood thirsty extreme Anywaa Gun Men because every community has suffered under these thugs. Let me just enlightens only a few facts, for fear of becoming too long:
- The Anywaa gun men under the Gambella People Liberation Front (GPLM) led by Agua Alemu massacred more than two thousands innocence Tigreans and kembata in Okuna Kijang in Abobo Woreda following the fall of the Degue in 1991.
- Several hundred educated and non-educated Nuers were murdered in cold blood in and around Gambella Town and Itang between in 1991 1nd 1992. Some of the victims were well known Government employees who remained in Gambella Town following the EPRDF takeover. This pogrom climaxed when these blood thirsty group fired a Rocket Propel Grenade (RPG) at the house of their leader, Agua Alemu, killing him instantly.
- In December 2003 there was a massacre of Anywaa civilians by the high-landers in Gambella Town. But this was preceded by two events instigated by these blood thirsty Anywaa Gun Men. Six month or so before, the Anywaa had locked horn with the Nuer. The conflict started in Itang Woreda and spread to Gambella Town. Many innocent people lost their lives unnecessarily. One of the sad even was when the Anywaa gunmen threw a hand grenade at a lorry carry the Nuers in Gambella Town, killing three and wounding many others. But six months down the line, these Anywaa gun men turned their guns against the highlanders blaming them of siding with the Nuers. With this false claim, the Anywaa Gun Men started killing innocent unarmed civilians. Among some of the first victims were six engineers working on the road in Abobo. Every now and then one or two corpses would appear in the town and the Anywaa led Regional Government did not bother to investigate. This went on for some time and the climax was reached when a group of high-landers from Administration for Refugee and Returnees Affairs (AARA) led by a popular man called Biniam was ambushed along Itang Road by the Anywaa Gun Men killing eight of them. This sparked the Anywaa civilian massacre in Gambella Town by the high-lander civilians in collaboration with some elements from the Army and the Federal Police Forces. Despite falling victims to these Anywaa Gun Men only six months before, the Nuer in New Land Area of Gambella Town showed incredible humanity saving many Anywaa victims by hiding them in their homes. But because of the Anywaa hatred of the Nuers, they don’t want to admit this fact.
- Last year in June 2022, Gambella town was attacked and partially occupied, albeit briefly, by the Shene Rebels (Oromo Liberation Army-OLA) and Gambella Liberation Front (GLF). The attack was repulsed by the combined Federal and Regional Security Forces. But as usual the Anywaa Gun Men went on killing spree of innocent Oromo Civilians for the next two days. There are pictures and video that show how the Oromo civilians were massacred by the Anywaa speaking Gun Men and Women. The cruelty with which these Anywaa Gun Men and women showed during the killing was unprecedented and perhaps equal, if not more, than how the Hutus killed unarmed Tustis in Rwanda. Incredibly, the official supporters of these killers first denied any killing, but later turned around and said the order to kill was given in Nuer language, thereby implicate the Nuers in the killing. Nobody can buy this nonsense as the killers in the video spoke clear Anywaa, while the official language in the regional police force is Amharic, not Nuer. One character that people should know about these Anywaa Gun Men is that they are fond of killing unarmed innocent civilians to brag about, while their success in conventional war is very limited at best. Anyone who wants to see these killing pictures and videos can access them through the Ethiopian Human Right Commission’s and the Gambella Contemporary Issues websites.
- Last but not least, the current conflict between the Anywaa and the Nuer started with coordinated and unprovoked attacks on several Nuer settlements. On the evening of Saturday May 20, 2023 a Christians woman group praying in a Church was attacked in Matar Town of Wanthoa Woreda killing 11 including a child and wounding 13. In same night a household in the suburb of Nyinenya Town, the seat of the Nuer Zone, was attacked with one person killed and two wounded. As a tactic of divergence, both attacks were quickly attributed to Murle youth group from South Sudan by the Anywaa led Regional State Government. But as we know the mode-of-operation of the Murle, this is not true. Murle Gun Men can’t kill woman praying in Church and certainly don’t kill children, because their aim of attack is usually to abduct children and cattle, as well as, acquire guns. None of these were available at the times of attacks and the attackers took nothing from the scene. The next day Pul- Deng and Pul -Khotah villages in Itang Special Wereda (District), as well as, several places in Gambella Town were attacked in broad day light, in a well-coordinated manner. Even now these Anywaa Gun Men still shot sporadically at Nuer settlements and burn houses in the middle of the night. So on the only factor which prevents all-out war now is the presence of the National Army in Gambella Town and Itang Woreda.
These are few examples showing the Anywaa Gun Men are the one causing insecurity in Gambella as a whole. They spare no one in their violence even the peaceful Majangir people were attacked in Abobo at one time. The problem is their obsession of exclusively owning Gambella. They want to chase out everybody from Gambella and the current conflict with the Nuer is because of that. But will not end there, if they succeed they will proceed to the high-landers.
We are hearing that the Anywaa Diaspora are now collecting money for training of their Gun Men possibly in Pochalla, South Sudan. If this rumor is true this will mark a dangerous escalation of the conflict and the Federal Ethiopian Government needs to pay serious attention as it can jeopardize the security of the Country.
As to the other nonsense accusation of the Nuer trying to annex Gambella to South Sudan, this is a jock. The Nuer at home and those in the Diaspora have never entertained such an idea. Even the GLF which took up arms against the Government has never talked about such an idea and in my opinion the group which posted the map, if it’s real, has no legitimacy of entertaining such an idea.
Some Anywaa bloggers have declare that they will clear what they called their ancestor land from Nuer “parasite.” Apart from declaring war on the Nuer, the statement is similar to what was used by the Hutus’ genocidal against Tutsis. As a Nuer who believes in peaceful co-existence of people, we have no such hatred against the Anywaa people. But when it comes to self-defense, the Nuer are very resourceful and can defend themselves even with sticks and stones and any such attempt will be met with equal force.
The Anywaa gunmen who are terrorizing the region at the moment are organized and sanctioned by some Anywaa regional Government officials. Most of them are members of special Police Force who refused to be disarmed and still hiding at their home with full knowledge of these officials. Others are GPLF member who returned from Eritrea four years ago and still not disarmed. The officials don’t want to disclose their numbers, neither do they want to identify them and disarmed them like their Nuer counterparts. This is what is prolonging the conflict and creating uncertainty in Gambella at the moment.
In conclusion, the Nuer are not Refugees in Ethiopia, they were there when Gambella was incorporated into the Ethiopian State following the 1902 Anglo-Ethiopian Treaty to delimit and subsequently demarcated the Ethio- Sudanese boundary. Moreover, insecurity in Gambella Region is always instigated by the Anywaa extremists who claim to exclusively own the Gambella Region. They are hostile to every community including the high-landers and what they are doing now to the Nuer is ethnic cleansing to form an Anywaa Kingdom. All communities need to be aware because any of them can be the next victims of these extremist Anywaa Gun Men.
Thank you for reading this information which I beleieve is significant for your understanding on the situation in Gambella
The Author is John Binen Wang, a lecturer at Virginia State University in the faculty of law and Humanitarian