National Geographic : 2015 Aug
lake turkana 77 The Ethiopian government has regularly brushed off criticism of its overall plans along the Omo. Several scientists interviewed for this story said almost no information about potential impacts has been made public. What is available, Avery pointed out, shows the Ethi- opians have ignored Lake Turkana. “Their studies all stop at the border,” Avery said. “ Why would they do that? It’s impossible to argue that it’s going to have no impact on the lake.” Still, actions reflect intent, and perhaps most troubling for now is the government’s ongoing campaign of “village-ization” in the Omo Valley, where tribes of nomads and herders have been gathered into permanent villages. Government officials describe the campaign as voluntary, but Omo residents and several human rights groups claim traditional peoples are being forced into villages to clear the way for cane and cotton. Adding to a cloud of suspicion, the Ethiopian government routinely refuses to allow journal- ists and other investigators to visit the area. In 2009 when photographer Randy Olson and I visited Gibe III, then under construc- tion, while working on a story about the Omo, an Ethiopian official told me, “It is our destiny to develop this land. It is our duty to make the river work.” His people too had seen hope glimmering in the water. “The Ethiopians have been pursuing devel- opment at all costs,” Avery said. “In a way, you can’t blame them. Any number of nations have done this sort of thing with their natural re- sources. But it will be very destructive.” In Kenya politicians remain mostly silent on Ethiopia’s plans, despite the troubling predictions and clamor of grassroots groups. Chief Moroto said there had been anger and small protests all along the lakeshore, even as far north as his village. But nothing had come of them. Officials I interviewed around Lake Turkana often refused to comment, saying they feared the political consequences. The truth seemed plain, though. It appeared now and then in a private complaint, an unhappy shrug, or a plea for help. Sometimes in a blunt statement. One evening in Ileret I was talking with a po- liceman about security. Islamic militants from Somalia had been staging attacks across the border to the northeast. I asked if he felt safe in this part of Kenya. The policeman, a southerner, spat out a wad of khat and raised a finger. “My friend,” he said, “look around you. This is not Kenya. No, no, no.” Later the old healer, Nyemeto, bounced the sentiment back. “ Where is Kenya?” she asked. “I’ve never been there.” On the sand flats outside Selicho, Abdul Razik found himself laboring somewhere in between these views. “This area means nothing to people in the south,” he said. “They don’t know about life here, and they don’t care what happens to these people.” A curious croc inspects a remote camera near South Island. Lake Turkana holds the world’s largest crocodile colony. In the 1960s biologists estimated it had 14,000 Nile crocs alone, but little research on their numbers has been done since.