Gambella-the forgotten outpost on the Baro river

by Thomas Buechler - 3 years, 8 months ago

Gambella has a strange history. It is the only part of Ethiopia that was for a long time governed by the British when it became an important port on the Baro river,  a tributary of the Nile, linking the city with Sudan's capital Khartoum, a distance of 1366km. It was in the commercial interest of the British, and must be seen in the context of rivalry and hegemonism with its rival France at the time when they invested into the Dijbouti-Addis Abeba railway. Trade flourished, especially the export of Ethiopian coffee. At its peak, up to 40 ships would be in dock at any one time. 1935,  the Italians arrived in the second World War, and they occupied Gambella, the British enclave was gone. The colonial buildings of the British were mostly left intact by the Italian administrators. The enclave was then still held by the Sudanese up to 1956 when it was returned to Ethiopia, and the port was closed during the Derg era; there are projects to revive its former glory, and start again navigation during the rainy season on the Baro river. The single main attraction here is the National park with crocodiles, hippos, black and white colobus monkeys, olive baboons, bushbuck and reedbuck, girafes and elephants, and Sudan cheetahs. A trip can be organized in town by the tourist organization. At the time of my visit, Gambella was still suffering from an influx of more than 230,000 refugees from neighbouring South Sudan. They are housed in 6 major camps and looked after by the UN, the WFP, Medecins sans frontieres, Oxfam and other major Aid organisations. I stayed in downtown's Tadessech hostel, most expats however patronize the more known Baro Gambella hotel. Transportation from the airport is made in minivans for 50 Birr; it takes about 45 minutes for the 16km, the road resembles a riverbed, but that should improve once the new road is finished next year.

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