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Africa Rising: Economic progress vs. cultural preservation in Ethiopia

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The farms will be made possible by the regulated outflow from the upstream Gibe III hydropower plant. The plant, which will almost double Ethiopia's power generating capacity, is scheduled to be finished in 2013.

It will provide electricity to Ethiopia and also generate scarce foreign exchange by supplying the region. Ethiopia's large hydropower potential – due to plentiful rainfall in its highlands and mountainous terrain – is a vital asset that must be utilized to bring the country out of poverty, Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's leader of two decades, says.

Roads have been improved, scrub land demarcated, and construction of a diversion weir begun for the six plantations fed by the Omo that will occupy at least one-eighth of the Lower Omo area and use 3 billion cubic meters of water per year. Despite the progress, resettlement plans and technical studies on the plantations have not yet been completed, the Sugar Corporation says.

Mr. Abay says agricultural experts, irrigation schemes, and social services will bring much-needed development to a neglected backwater. Critics like Survival International, a British charity that campaigns for the rights of indigenous people, argue communities' rights are being trampled and that the water use will parch Lake Turkana, another World Heritage Site that straddles the Ethiopia-Kenya border.

"They want these people to remain as primitive as they used to be, as poor as they used to be, as naked as they used to be so that they will be specimen for research and an agenda for raising funds," Abay says about the project's naysayers.

'I want my children to be pastoralists'

But while the government says it has had extensive consultation with the communities, several members of the Bodi tribe, who number about 7,000, say such claims are exaggerated.

"The government is building it themselves. They are not sharing it with other people, they did not call a meeting," father of three, enrobed Dori Bella, who moves every month to graze his cattle said in a new school just outside the village of Hanna. "We don't want to be begging in town, I want my children to be pastoralists."

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