For decades, the Anuak people have experienced government persecution, alongside conflicts with other ethnic groups who were forcibly resettled to the region.

By Tendai Marima (DW) |

Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, may have to do more to convince thousands of refugees belonging to the Anuak ethnic group to return to their homelands.

It took Okwalla Ochang Cham two years to complete the dangerous journey from his home country of Ethiopia to South Sudan. “I had no money for transport up until South Sudan so I had to walk most of the way,” he told DW.

In April, Cham finally reached his destination – the Gorom refugee settlement, some 25 km north of South Sudan’s capital of Juba – where he was reunited with his wife and three children.

Cham, 29, is relieved to be in the relative safety of the camp.

He’s an Anuak, an ethnic minority group living in western Ethiopia in the fertile state of Gambella, which borders South Sudan.

For decades, the Anuak people have experienced government persecution, alongside conflicts with other ethnic groups who were forcibly resettled to the region. Most recently, investment projects such as sugar cane production have led to the Anuak losing large areas of ancestral lands to foreign corporations – intensifying local violence.

But the situation in Ethiopia has been changing rapidly since the country’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, took office in April. Abiy has lost no time ushering in sweeping reforms, from signing a historic peace deal with Eritrea to overturning a state of emergency and unblocking 264 censored websites and TV stations.

Abiy has also pledged political and economic reforms to address the marginalization of a number of ethnic groups.

Conflicts continue 

Despite the changing political climate, inter-ethnic violence persists. Renewed conflict in the south of the country has forced more than a million people to flee their homes since April, according to the United Nations.

Ethiopia also has a long history of human rights abuses, including mass arrests and brutality by security forces. Speaking before parliament in June, Abiy condemned the security service’s use of torture and described it as a form of “terrorism.”

While Abiy has made “little mention” of investigating past abuses, the recent firing of five prison chiefs accused of torture and other violations is an encouraging sign for the human rights situation in Ethiopia, wrote Felix Horne, the senior Ethiopia and Eritrea researcher for Human Rights Watch, in an email to DW.

However, Horne wrote, it wasn’t “clear yet whether things will be better for minority groups like the Anuak people under this [new] government.”

Continue reading this story at Deutsche Welle
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