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Cablegate: The View From Afar

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OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #2901/01 2951511
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O 211511Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2467
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ADDIS ABABA 002901

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV EAID EAGR ET
SUBJECT: THE VIEW FROM AFAR

SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) In two separate September forays into southern and
western areas of Afar regional state, Embassy staff found a
marginalized population, neglected by formal central
government structures, and dependent on their communal
pastoralist lifestyle to sustain them through the three
months of the year during which they do not receive food
assistance. Denied any humanitarian relief allocation during
the current drought, the joint Ethiopian Government
(GoE)-donor Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) and its new
Pastoral Assistance Pilot initiative provide critical support
to one of Ethiopia's most remote and destitute regions.
EmbOff also visited two USG-funded projects in southern Afar
which empower women through economic independence and
combating gender-based discrimination so endemic to Afari
culture. End Summary.

SIX YEARS WITHOUT RAINS
-----------------------

2. (U) While fertile valleys along Afar's western boundary
tease one with false hopes of fleeting prosperity, the Afari
landscape quickly gives way to a desiccated wasteland of
thorn bushes, scrub brush, and barren caked earth. Gulina
woreda officials in western Afar reported on September 8 that
the region has received only minimal rains over the past six
years resulting in the nearly absolute depletion of any
pasture in the woreda. In response, many pastoralists from
the area had migrated away to neighboring Amhara region or
southern parts of Afar in search of pasture. While some may
return as conditions improve, local officials reported a
sharp increase in "pastoralist drop-outs" who have given up
the traditional way of life due to environmental conditions.

3. (U) Driving through the woreda, EmbOffs observed
consistently skinny cattle, but sheep and goats in relatively
better physical condition. Locals explained that the four
days of the current "rainy" season during which rain did fall
did help regenerate shrubs which small ruminants can eat, but
larger animals such as cattle, which require grasses, cannot.
Still, after only three to five days of sun green shoots
already begin to vanish from the region's fragile ecosystem.
Woreda officials noted that recent months had seen a sharp
increase in livestock deaths including over 300 camels, one
thousand cattle, and 900 shoats throughout the woreda.
Despite the current dire conditions, locals reported that
this is the first time the woreda has seen appreciable levels
of malnutrition in three years, with over 80 malnourished
children from two of the woreda's kebeles having been seen at
health centers. Sparse health care facilities likely limit
the numbers of cases reported. Locals showed EmbOffs the
wild berries that they have begun eating over the past two
months to make up for the lack of adequate food stocks.
Because, culturally, Afaris feed babies and children first,
the area has seen much more prominent incidents of
malnutrition among adults and teens than other areas in the
country.

NO "RELIEF" IN SIGHT
--------------------

4. (U) Despite the clear plight of the Afari population, the
GoE has yet to establish a formal figure for the number of
beneficiaries in need of relief food assistance. Despite the
fact that the PSNP is designed to safeguard productive
household and community assets to sustain external shocks,
and is specifically not designed as a food relief mechanism,
the GoE has continued to argue that the Safety Net will cover
the needs of Afar. While the Safety Net normally provides
external assistance to beneficiary households for nine months
of the year, the effects of the drought have forced
administrators to approve "contingency" Safety Net resources
to cover the remaining three months -- effectively putting
the region on social support for the entire year. True to
their pastoral ways, residents indicated that their
community's first priority is the rehabilitation of grazing
land, initiatives supported by the PSNP's Pastoral Assistance
Pilot effort that leverages community labor to delimit area
enclosures where grazing is restricted to allow for pasture
regeneration.

5. (U) Despite the fact that local woreda officials determine

ADDIS ABAB 00002901 002 OF 003


the number of beneficiaries requiring assistance, locals
report that regional or central government officials
unilaterally revise these figures downward without reviewing
local conditions, consulting local authorities, or allowing a
mechanism to appear the determinations. Gulina woreda
officials told EmbOffs that although over 13,000 people in
their community require food assistance, the GoE has
unilaterally set the approved PSNP beneficiary figure at
7,950. They reported a similar experience in neighboring
Teru woreda where the official beneficiary tally was set at
10,000 despite over 21,000 needing support. Despite the
final official figures, Afari cultural norms dictate that all
in the community share what they have with each other. As
such, while PSNP beneficiaries share their food allocations
with their neighbors, those in the community who do not need
external support also share what they have with beneficiary
families as well as those who fall through the porous safety
net. As a result, beneficiaries on average may finally
consume closer to five kilograms of food per month, as
compared to the reduced ration of ten kilograms provided by
the PSNP, or the 15 kilograms apportioned when the country
has adequate food stocks to meet domestic needs.

USG FUNDED PROJECTS EMPOWER WOMEN, BENEFIT COMMUNITY
--------------------------------------------- -------

6. (U) In a separate trip to central Afar, EmbOff visited the
DRL funded Hope for Women Project (Hope Project) in Chifra
Woreda, and also a small livestock replenishment project in
Gewane Woreda funded by the Ambassador's Special Self Help
(SSH) Fund. Both projects primarily benefit women and
children, seeking to empower women to solve their own
problems through economic independence and education. They
both also have the right political support: they are backed
heavily by the Afar Regional Ministry of Women's Affairs
(MoWA) and an Afari federal Parliamentarian and regional
First Lady.


7. (U) In Afar generally, women suffer from gender-specific
human rights abuses such as female genital mutilation (FGM),
lack of access to education, and a lack of equal rights seen
in early marriages (absuma), wife inheritances, negligible
property rights, and a work overload. Further, women
typically lack decision-making power and their economic
dependence on men, who often exhibit and pass down sexist
attitudes, exacerbates gender abuses across generations. Any
solution must therefore target both genders. The two-year
Hope Project trains key community decision-makers (e.g.
imams, clan leaders, and government officials, all mostly
men) in women's rights and then hosts community-wide
dialogues on these issues. It also created 20 all-women
savings cooperatives that offer a needed economic buffer
against community-wide hardships, while also providing women
with growing economic independence and a forum for discussing
gender abuses. Many cooperative members reported concrete
results in reducing the amount of FGM cases (approx. 20) in
Chifra due to these forums. The head of the MoWA also said a
recent region-wide conference between officials, elders, and
religious leaders decided to attach heavy penalties (50 to
100 camels and no burial rights) for individuals caught
circumcising women.

8. (U) Successive drought and conflict strike women
particularly hard in Briforo town in Gewane woreda. The 30
beneficiary households of the SSH project lost between 50 to
70 percent of their livestock from repeated droughts. Also,
conflict with the neighboring Issa tribe over border
expansion and scarce resources widowed over 40 percent of
women in beneficiary households. (Note: In the week before
EmbOff's visit, the Issa reportedly killed eight Afaris and
looted 200 livestock and camels. The Afari federal
parliamentarian alleges Djiboutian government support for the
Issa. End Note). The SSH Fund distributed two horses and
carts (a lion ate one horse) and 241 goats to primarily
widow-headed households with multiple children. Then,
through organized income-generating cooperatives, the women
breed goats, cart and sell water to the town, and craft grass
sleeping mats for sale to passing truckers.

SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE
---------------------

9. (U) Despite its unforgiving climate and desolate

ADDIS ABAB 00002901 003 OF 003


landscape, even areas of remote Afar showed signs of social
infrastructure. Woreda officials escorted EmbOffs to a
remote area where a permanent community school, water tower,
and single-room health outpost emerged out of the void of the
cracked, sun-baked desolation of the environment. As our
convoy stopped, a small community slowly materialized from
the nothingness of the surroundings to confirm that both
their sons and daughters attend the GoE-established school.
Further south, in Chifra woreda, community members confirmed
that a mosque stood nearby, constructed by the community.
Locals also confirmed that they were aware of, and
participated in, the local elections conducted in April.

COMMENT
-------

10. (SBU) While these forays into Afar sparked no epiphanies
among EmbOffs, they clearly provided texture and detail to
Post's perception of this forgotten of Ethiopian regions.
Discussions highlighted the environmental threat to the
continued viability of Afari pastoralists' very lifestyle.
Although the local government has made efforts from its
modest resources to establish social services, and local
communities also contribute to these efforts, the region's
low population density and pastoral lifestyle limits the
coverage of these resources. While our visits found no
evidence of encroachment of fundamentalist ideology into the
region by Wahabist organizations -- either directly or
through investments in mosques or schools -- the Afar
region's overwhelmingly Muslim and socio-economically
marginal population would certainly be fertile ground for
such overtures in the absence of alternatives. End Comment.
YAMAMOTO

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