The young Ethiopians working for peace

2 min


The New Humanitarian –

BULE HORA, ETHIOPIA

In a hotel dining room in the southern Ethiopian town of Bule Hora, a group of young Ethiopians pin drawings of trees to the wall. Each tree, they explain, represents one of them – some of them ethnic Gedeos, the rest Guji Oromos – and together they make up a forest, symbolising their multi-ethnic society.

The group call themselves “peace ambassadors”, and they are leading the way in putting a fractured and traumatised society back together again.

“The forest represents our unity,” says one, a murmur of assent rippling through the room.

But fostering reconciliation and rebuilding peace, when memories of violence remain so fresh, will take more than well-meaning workshops.

It is now more than a year since, according to official estimates, up to one million Gujis and Gedeos were left homeless after ethnic violence broke out. Reconciliation, despite the deep blood and cultural ties between the two communities, is proving a long and fraught process.

Whole families, the majority of them Gedeo, were chased from their lands by armed gangs who torched farms, looted properties, and beat, raped, and murdered civilians.
BULE HORA, ETHIOPIA

In a hotel dining room in the southern Ethiopian town of Bule Hora, a group of young Ethiopians pin drawings of trees to the wall. Each tree, they explain, represents one of them – some of them ethnic Gedeos, the rest Guji Oromos – and together they make up a forest, symbolising their multi-ethnic society.

The group call themselves “peace ambassadors”, and they are leading the way in putting a fractured and traumatised society back together again.

“The forest represents our unity,” says one, a murmur of assent rippling through the room.

But fostering reconciliation and rebuilding peace, when memories of violence remain so fresh, will take more than well-meaning workshops.

It is now more than a year since, according to official estimates, up to one million Gujis and Gedeos were left homeless after ethnic violence broke out. Reconciliation, despite the deep blood and cultural ties between the two communities, is proving a long and fraught process.

Whole families, the majority of them Gedeo, were chased from their lands by armed gangs who torched farms, looted properties, and beat, raped, and murdered civilians.
A heavy presence of local militia and special police patrol the streets, and many locals, as well as returnees, still rely on food handouts as much of last year’s harvest was abandoned or destroyed.
‘Everyone is regretting what they did’

But there are welcome signs of progress, too.

About 130 peace ambassadors are now dotted across 13 districts along the border between Gedeo and Oromia’s West Guji. These young men and women, all volunteers, hold meetings and workshops in their villages, hoping to restore trust between the two communities.

“I teach them the values of living together, values which were degraded or lost during the conflict,” said Dubi Lema, who works at the Environment, Climate Change, and Forest Authority in Kercha Town, and in his free time helps reconcile his neighbours.

Imnet Irba, a 25-year-old recent college graduate, leads monthly meetings in churches and schools, even giving lessons to local elders and officials.

“Now relations are so good – everyone is regretting what they did,” she told The New Humanitarian. “It’s very peaceful.”
A heavy presence of local militia and special police patrol the streets, and many locals, as well as returnees, still rely on food handouts as much of last year’s harvest was abandoned or destroyed.
‘Everyone is regretting what they did’

But there are welcome signs of progress, too.

About 130 peace ambassadors are now dotted across 13 districts along the border between Gedeo and Oromia’s West Guji. These young men and women, all volunteers, hold meetings and workshops in their villages, hoping to restore trust between the two communities.

“I teach them the values of living together, values which were degraded or lost during the conflict,” said Dubi Lema, who works at the Environment, Climate Change, and Forest Authority in Kercha Town, and in his free time helps reconcile his neighbours.

Imnet Irba, a 25-year-old recent college graduate, leads monthly meetings in churches and schools, even giving lessons to local elders and officials.

“Now relations are so good – everyone is regretting what they did,” she told The New Humanitarian. “It’s very peaceful.”

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