The Town of Gambella

The town of Gambela is located about 753kms west of Addis Ababa. Perched at an elevation of 526m, Gambela is founded on the banks of the Baro River - Ethiopia's widest & only navigable river. Geographically, the portion of Gambela land is situated  in what is known as the western lowlands. 


For one who is traveling by road the end of the western part of the Ethiopian central plateau and the beginning of the western low lands, in which Gambela falls, can easily be noticed around the town of Gore. West of Gore the land falls dramatically and the road descends through forested rugged mountains until the terrain flattens out and the vegetation cover thins out & finally gives way to a hot, humid, harsh and bare plains. Strictly speaking, this is the land of the Nilotic people, which has got a strange feel from the rest of Ethiopia and striking similarity with the lowlands of the southern Sudan. 
This corner of Ethiopia is assumed by some to be the region where the legendary, ancient kingdom of Cush in Nubia (11th C.B.C - 4th CAD) was situated before Merowe, its capital fell in the hands of the Ethiopians. 
In the beginning of the 20th c Menelik II was planning to expand Ethiopia's commercial network. This led to the signing of an agreement in 1902 between Menelik II & captain Harringtom, who represented the British Empire. Based on the agreement the Emperior granted the British a commercial enclave on the Baro River, which relieved Ethiopia of its dependence on French Djibouti port for a short period of time by allowing it access to inland shipping service which connects Gambela to Khartoum.
Commercial items like coffee, skin, ivory, salt & cotton were shipped to Khartoum and in exchange, the return journey used to bring manufactured goods to Ethiopia. Gambella was in its heydays during this time. After this Gambela was captured by the Italians in the Second World War. But then they were expelled and the British secured back the river port in 1941. The Ethio-British agreement remained valid until it ceased in 1956 when the Sudan declared its independence from the Anglo-Egyptian dominance. With the interruption of the maritime trade, Gambela's commercial & strategic importance also doomed. Nowadays, only the ruins of the warehouses and jetty are discernable in the river port.
Gambela is predominantly inhabited by the two Nilotic groups of Ethiopia — the Annuak and the Nuer people. These people live along with Amhara and Oromo settlers in Gambela. The surrounding land is, however, settled by other nilotic people too.For example, the Dinka and the Shilluk people live west of Gambela whereas the Majangir favored the tropical forests of the highland in the east.

More in this category: The Majanger »

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