An Equity That Could Turn into Liability in Gambella’s Future

By Tsegaye Hailemariam
September 29, 2010
Posted to the web on September 29, 2010

Free press, freedom of worship, free speech and many more other God-gifted grains of truth are the non-limited democracy dividends in democratic governments. The way Ethiopian government grants those preambles enable the citizens to enjoy the deliberations of democracy within the country. However, there seems to be preferential upper-handing of some religious denomination, and Orthodox Church could be the perfect example in Gambella region. It is worth mentioning this fact just because of the reckless pursues of constructing of Abune Aragy of the Orthodox Church on the top of Jejebe Mountain in Gambella town; the mountain reserved not for private uses or religion interest.

The picture of Abune Aragy Orthodox Church emerging on the apex of Jejebe Mountain. At its bottom there lies the tanker/ reservoir of the town water supply system.                      Full size

The local communities in Gambella especially the Anywaa and the Nuer have neither meddled in the Orthodox Church’s affairs nor do they oppose any extension of the Church hard and/or soft ware since the migration of the highlanders into lowland. The local communities, like any other nationals elsewhere in Ethiopia do unconditionally accommodate peaceful co-existence with brothers and sisters gravitated from highland part of Ethiopia attracted by the economic advantage in the region.

The trend of preaching Orthodox religion in Gambella has changed its forms and magnitude carrying the implication of undermining the respect to the locals’ belief and technology of hidden violence.  If it were with best intention, the Orthodox Church could have suspended the construction of the church on the apex of Gambella panoramic Mountain. Two or three important points seem to come into picture in regards to reluctance of Church leadership to stop the construction.

  1. When Gambella municipality reprimanded the Church from going ahead with construction, due to solely of disrespect  to the regional state regulatory bodies, the Church ignores the reprimand as it is in good book of the regional governor who is  member of the Church;
  2. Orthodox Church is still having a lot choices to build whatever structure they can in Gambella, but since the Church leaders intentionally demanded to pose their visibility on the local people relic in the region, they tend to disregard the call to suspend the project and they erect on the top of Jejebe Mountain where they could  be viewed from all corners of the town,
  3. It is purely qualify land grabbing; otherwise with all the basket of choices for construction site, no single religious organization could have claimed the top of the Mountain without any permission from the municipality and it would not be possible if the Church were not by the good fate of the regional governor at the same time. It is no less than rent seeking from the vocabulary of political logic of revolutionary democracy.

Omot Obang Ulom with Head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Gambella on September 25, 2009 (Maskaram 15, 2002 EC). Recently Mr. Governor have donated around thirty thousand birr (30,000.00 Birr) in cash to support the construction of the Abune Aragy Orthodox Church on the Jejebe Mountain.

The silence of regional authorities, and that of the governor favors illegal acquisition of urban land whose general sense reflects land grabbing and it is not too late to stop the construction in a bid to reverse any grievance on the Church from local’s sides. As anyone enjoys the freedom of worship, some religious institutions like Orthodox Church would not afford to turn that equity into a liability in such a way. Still the local communities show enormous respect to the Church indoctrination and their right to intensify their belief, but not at all with the expense of overshadowing the local symbol like that of Jejebe Mountain. Peace loving brother and sisters ought to morally condemn the move spearheaded by the Orthodox Church leaders to construct the seventh Church to avoid any unintentional contamination of Gambella town water supply system.

The Silence of Orthodox Friends

I, personally, have never talked with Orthodox friends about the matter for fear of any consequences. Their comfort with the idea of the Church construction on the Mountain could signal their solidarity to the well- embroidered agenda of land grabbing in the region. Similarly, it is not too late for them to look into matter in peace-loving eyes to sustain the equity of freedom of worship before it becomes a liability in term of brooding latent conflict that would harbor between the locals and the highlanders from the Orthodox sec. No one is against the charitable heart of the Mr. Governor who was rumored to have donated around thirty thousand birr in cash to support the construction of the Abune Aragy Orthodox Church on the Jejebe Mountain. He ought not to sideline the Church leadership in a contentious issue by telling them to go ahead with the project, which hopefully could create some precedence. Jejebe Mount is a public resource which would have been utilized only according to the Gambella town master plan. But in real sense, it would sound better if the site were not contested as such. The way the construction is highly speeded up, does not zip up the local communities from voicing their concerns sooner or later. The federal government should not be morbid on such sensitive issue which could escalate opinions into the making of unwanted conflict.   








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