VISCOUNT K’OWUOR – Kisumu County’s Fragile Food Security – The Elephant

Reliance on imports from as far away as Tanzania, Uganda and even China, leaves Kisumu County’s accessibility to food on a fragile footing.
A ceasefire had to be called at the height of the 2007/8 post-election violence and a corridor created for the safe passage of foodstuffs from the Rift Valley to the lakeside city of Kisumu to avert a food crisis. The post-election violence had erupted barely 10 days earlier.
For a region that enjoys adequate rainfall and has good agricultural soils, the lack of access food supplies within days of a crisis breaking out is indicative of the problems generated by how food systems are structured in Kisumu County.
Kisumu County has a considerable shoreline along Lake Victoria that extends from Seme to the south to Nyakach Sub-County to the north. Apart from Kisumu city, the county also has a number of smaller towns such as Muhoroni, Ahero, Katito, Maseno and Kombewa.
Eighty per cent of the food consumed by the county’s 300,000 households—including maize, potatoes, onions, vegetables, milk, rice, eggs and bananas—is imported from as far as Uganda and Tanzania along with imports of fish from China.
Kisumu County continues to import food despite having regions that could potentially support expansive food production in areas such as Muhoroni, Nyamware and Nam Thowi, and the fertile crescents in Seme to the south. Over time, the rich alluvial soils that have been deposited in these areas by floods and rivers flowing downstream from Nandi Hills have created fertile grounds that support farming.
The persistent issues that have impeded food production in Kisumu County are numerous. Traditionally, communities living in the county practiced fishing and livestock keeping, and subsistence agriculture as their economic mainstay. Commercial farming has only been embraced in recent years, due to interactions with neighbouring farming communities such as the Kisii, Luhya, Abasuba, and Kuria. The majority, however, continue to practice smallholder subsistence agriculture.
The uptake of commercial farming was also hindered by the economic policies of the 1990s that saw the collapse or the weakening of many of the structures that had been established to support food production in the country as a whole and provided extension services, grants, and subsidies to farmers. They include the Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC), the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), Agricultural Training Centres (ATCs), Agricultural Research Institutions (ARIs), and farmers’ co-operatives.
The system of land ownership in Kisumu County is also a hindrance to commercial food production. Most land in Kisumu County is not registered and titled and much of it is inherited property that has been passed down through the generations without legal title.
Recent surveys show that the cost of the farming inputs required to initiate meaningful agricultural production is out of reach for the majority of Kisumu County residents. This challenge is further compounded by the dearth of farming SACCOs (Savings and Credit Cooperatives); with the prohibitive interest rates charged by local banks, obtaining capital to start an agricultural enterprise has proved to be a challenge. These challenges are further exacerbated by the risks associated with farming such as crop losses and post-harvest losses.
The system of land ownership in Kisumu County is also a hindrance to commercial food production.
There is little agro-innovation among Kisumu farmers who still rely on traditional farming methods. There is little irrigation going on in the county. Lastly, there is a serious lack of the human resource required to support food production such as agricultural engineers, extension officers, veterinary doctors, agronomists, sociologists, planners, economists, among others.
At Jubilee Market, a major cog in the food supply chain in Kisumu City, traders lament daily about inadequate local food supplies and about middlemen from outside the county who take advantage of food shortages to import supplies and make big profits. The high demand for food and the low supply have an impact on food prices, reducing profit margins for the traders, even as consumers are faced with high food prices.
There is a serious lack of the human resource required to support food production.
The missing link in Kisumu’s economic growth is a buoyant agricultural sector. From observations made when the writer toured Victoria Eco-Farm, a leading food supplier situated at Dunga Beach in Kisumu City, the revival of agriculture in Kisumu is possible.  Victoria Eco-Farm deals in poultry, dairy, bee keeping, and the rearing of exotic dogs.  The farm has also diversified into agri-tourism, receiving visitors and training both students on attachment and local farmers on best farming practices. Nicholas Omondi, the Director, has become a role model for emerging food producers in the agriculture sector.
Based on Walt Rostow’s model of economic growth, Kisumu County will not make a sudden and quick leap out of food insecurity. In Stages of Economic Growth, Rostow outlines the five stages that all countries must pass through to become developed: the traditional society; pre-conditions for take-off; take-off; drive to maturity; age of mass consumption. Regrettably, Kisumu County is still at the stage of a traditional society that is characterized by subsistence agriculture, limited funding and technological innovation, and low economic mobility.
The pre-conditions for take-off will only be fulfilled when the county government, acting in collaboration with the national government, provides adequate incentives for agricultural development. More food crops need to be introduced to farmers in Kisumu County. There is also an urgent need to revitalize existing sectors such as the sugar and fishing industries. The county’s potential to become a prime producer of rice also needs to be actualized.
Reform-oriented policies such as titling and surveying are needed in order to transform the existing models of landholding and land ownership. Farming communities in the county also require extensive sensitization and training on emerging technologies and innovations. Most importantly, existing lacklustre attitudes to farming as an economic activity among Kisumu County residents will need to be addressed.
However, the current tax regime is inimical to the drive to boost food security and needs urgent review. In effect, no serious gains can be made in the agriculture sector anywhere in the country as long as the national government continues to insist on enforcing policies that increase production costs and make it cheaper to import food from Tanzania and Uganda than to grow it at home.
The current tax regime is inimical to the drive to boost food security and needs urgent review.
Leaders must realize that whether they are in the opposition or in government, relations with state agencies, especially those in the agriculture sector, are key to developing farming in Kisumu County, that in the interest of economic development, they must always be in constant touch with the government for purposes of support, lobbying and relaying feedback in development processes. Existing attitudes and brands of politics that lead to self-marginalization must be removed at all costs.
It must be recognised, however, that the county government has taken initial steps to start addressing the challenge of food insecurity. In partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the county government has established a youth-focused Food Liaison Advisory Group (FLAG), leading to the promotion of urban agriculture, the strengthening of rural mechanisms for food production and initiating programmes for the training and deployment of agricultural extension officers.
It is to be hoped that such initiatives will contribute towards alleviating the food insecurity situation that the residents of Kisumu County continue to grapple with.

This article is part of The Elephant Food Edition Series done in collaboration with Route to Food Initiative (RTFI). Views expressed in the article are not necessarily those of the RTFI.
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Viscount K’owuor is a social scientist, and community mobilizer based in Kisumu city.
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Across Africa projects of capitalist extraction still ensure evictions, mass expropriations of land and misery. Today the government of Tanzania wants to expand the space for luxury tourists to enjoy picturesque views of nature – a wildlife fantasy of nature supposedly untouched by humans. Laibor Kalanga Moko and Jonas Bens argue that justification for the dispossession of indigenous communities has shifted from “economic development” to “wildlife conservation”.
In 1913, Maasai communities went to the Privy Council in London, the highest court in the British Empire, because they were trying to stop the colonial government from evicting them from a large part of their land – which is in today’s Kenya. At that time, the colonialists wanted to pave the way for white settlers to use the land for private capitalist enterprise. Back then, in 1913, the Maasai were unsuccessful.
This year, another court decision is expected, this time around by the East African Court of Justice, where Maasai communities seek redress against the renewed threat of eviction. Now, the government of Tanzania wants to expand the space for luxury tourists to enjoy picturesque views of nature in Ngorongoro district – a kind of nature supposedly untouched by humans. While the outcome of the court case is yet unsure, the government continues its harassment of Maasai communities.
It seems not much has changed in the basic constellation between Maasai pastoralists and their governments. Maasai are continuously forced to leave their land through violent means. At recent demonstrations, dozens of Maasai protesters were severely injured. What has changed, however, are the discourses through which governments justify the dispossession of the indigenous communities – from “economic development” to “wildlife conservation”.
In 1913, “development”, “modernization”, and “economic progress” were central keywords to justify the dispossession of Maasai lands. Arguments such as these remain of central importance even today, for example when people are being forced to leave their homes because of large-scale mining operations. People can lose their land either directly by forced eviction, such as in the recent examples from the Karamoja region in northern Uganda or Senegal, or indirectly because their homelands become too toxic to live in, as in the case of communities around Lake Malawi. Here, justifying discourses are often not very sophisticated. One newspaper article reporting on Zimbabwean villagers about to be forcefully evicted from their homes to make way for a Chinese mining company ends with the laconic sentence: “In a statement, the embassy said Chinese investors in Zimbabwe are working for the betterment of the country”.
In case of East African Maasai communities fighting to remain on their land in 2022, the vocabulary of land dispossession has shifted from “economic development” to “wildlife conservation”. Studies show that wildlife conservation has increasingly been used as an argument to evict indigenous communities from their homelands. This trend can be observed since the 1990s and is prevalent in all parts of the world, but particularly in South and South East Asia, North America, and Africa. Another recent example from East Africa is the attempt of the Kenyan government to force 20000 members of the Ogiek ethnic group from their ancestral lands in the Mau Forest on the grounds that the forest constituted a reserved water catchment zone and the Kenyan state had to conserve it.
One reason for this change in discourse is that in the eyes of many people in the international community, economic reasons alone have lost some of their argumentative force to justify an infringement on indigenous rights. As indigenous movements have gained standing in international organizations such as the United Nations, they have done much to convince people that indigenous cultures deserve protection from certain economic interests in “their” nation states. Article 32 of the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, for instance, states that “indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources” and that the nation states must take “appropriate measures” to mitigate the “adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural and spiritual impact” of economic enterprises. Because of these indigenous rights discourses, indigenous communities have moved into a significantly better position to publicly protest land evictions when they are simply justified as serving “the betterment of the country”.
Protecting lions and elephants from extinction, however, is another matter. In this framework, powerful donors and environmentalist organizations from Europe and the US are much more inclined to prioritize the interests of endangered animals over the interests of humans. But even though the language has changed, colonial projects of capitalist extraction still determine the political agenda.
Those who demand that Maasai communities must leave their lands in Ngorongoro district argue that Maasai pastoralism, the economic system in which herding of cattle is the main livelihood, damages the environment and endangers wild animals. Critical conservation scientists, however, insist that the narrative of “animals versus people” presents a false choice. Studies show that indigenous pastoral communities such as the Maasai rarely negatively affect wildlife conservation, not least because they do not engage in hunting. Instead, it is very telling that many of the wild animals that still exist in East Africa reside in Maasailand. History clearly shows: The economic system that systematically destroys wildlife is capitalism, not pastoralism.
Many think that wildlife conservation regulations prevent the capitalist commodification of land because human settlement and specific economic uses such as mining and intensive agriculture are banned in conservation areas. But this underestimates how much money international luxury tourism companies make out of wildlife conservation areas. These companies sell their clients fantasies of untouched nature – an idea that is endlessly repeated in romanticizing wildlife documentaries. This capitalist commodification of images of “nature without people” is being decried by critical conservation scientists. In 2019, revenues from the tourism sector amounted to US$2.64 billion, or 4.2 % of Tanzania’s GDP.
Although these luxury tourism companies depend on wildlife conservation measures to keep out the humans, they are not always taking the protection of animals very seriously. Numerous companies in Tanzania offer big game hunting to their high-end clientele from the US, Europe, China or Arab countries. On the websites of such companies, one can frequently find pictures of foreigners proudly posing in front of a buffalo or a lion, one they have slain themselves.
Maasai people in northern Tanzania, including those in Ngorongoro district, have over the years experienced violent evictions in their ancestral lands to give room for exactly these kinds of hunting companies. In Loliondo, one of the areas in the district, people have been evicted to allow the Ortello Business Corporation (OBC), based in the United Arab Emirates, to conduct game hunting activities. In 1992, the Tanzanian government granted OBC an exclusive private hunting licence. The long-term plan is to establish a 1500 km2 wildlife corridor exclusively for OBC hunters. In the last years, both state security forces and OBC’s security guards have repeatedly used violence and harassment against Maasai “trespassers”.
All the while, the Tanzanian government has made the intensification of tourism a political priority. President Samia Suluhu Hassan ranks it highly on her agenda and has clearly stated that she sees international tourism entangled with international investment. Recently, she participated in a lavish wildlife documentary made by US American TV producer Peter Greenberg, called “The Royal Tour”. Afterwards, she went on a promotion tour through different countries, including the US, to show the film and to market international tourism investments  – endlessly reported on in national television.
In one telling scene in this documentary, Suluhu Hassan and Greenberg are shown flying in an airplane over Maasai territory. The president introduces the Maasai as “one of the newest” arrivals to Tanzania, migrating from the Nile valley “only in the 1700s”, thereby echoing longstanding narratives by the government that Maasai are not “really” indigenous to the region. Then, Greenberg picks up the thread and comments that it was “fascinating to see these primitive tribes still holding on to their traditional values”. As an elderly white male voice off screen, Greenberg tells the viewers that although the Tanzanian government had attempted to convince the Maasai to change their way of life many times, “they persisted to clinging to their ancient ways”. In summary, Greenberg says, “they may not have a choice now and need to find other ways to support their families”.
What a chilling self-fulfilling prophecy. If not anything else, movies like these showcase the unholy alliance of capitalist agendas to commodify indigenous lands, colonial imagery of African nature untouched by Africans, and the misleading appropriation of conservation discourses. In order to understand what is behind the violent mass evictions of Maasai communities from Ngorongoro district it is crucial to unmask the capitalist agendas of enrichment that underlie these indigenous rights violations, and the “colonial conservationism” that is mobilized to justify them.

This article was first published by ROAPE.
While conservation NGOs have condemned the violence meted out against the Maasai in Loliondo, they do not want herders or subsistence hunters on land that they seek to control and profit from and will fight to retain their power with the immense resources at their disposal.
Tanzanian police shooting Maasai is just the latest episode in a chronicle of evictions of local people in the name of conservation, a tragedy that for Africa began over a hundred years ago and has deprived thousands of their lands and their birthright. In this particular case, the government wants the Maasai pastoralists out of a “Protected Area”, Loliondo in Ngorongoro, to free it up for tourism and trophy hunting. Atrocities have been going on in the region for a long time, but there is now a new and important development: it is the first time they have been “condemned” by big conservation NGOs, including the one that developed the policy leading to the violence, the Frankfurt Zoological Society. No one should be taken in by this subterfuge from an organisation that one Maasai describes as “enemy number one”.
It is also the first time – and the two “firsts” are connected – that the violence inherent in a conservation land grab has been broadcast around the world in real time. Within a few minutes of Maasai uploading mobile phone footage it was in the public domain, with its unarguable drama: the thuds of the bullets; Maasai fleeing in their red robes, overtaking others who had not yet seen the danger; the shakiness of a cameraman close to the line of fire. This was cinéma-vérité on a level previously unimaginable in the history of conservation.
People like me, who have been campaigning against similar crimes for decades, were able to assess the footage, appreciate its genuineness and relay it on in just a couple of minutes. By the time the Tanzanian authorities realised the scale of the exposure, and were making a feeble effort to deny it had happened, the horse had bolted.
When news of similar atrocities was publicised in the past, there was never filmed proof. Twenty years ago, Survival International, the NGO I then worked with, gave Gana and Gwi “Bushmen” in Botswana a video camera to record events as they too were forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands in the world’s second biggest “game reserve”. In 2005, when they too were shot at, the camera was not in the right place and no footage was secured. Had it been, the footage would still have taken days to get out. It is easy to forget just how recent smartphone technology is and how widespread internet connections are.
It is true that we subsequently recorded and publicised many indigenous testimonies, not only by the Gana and Gwi, but also by Adivasis evicted from tiger reserves in India, and Baka, Bayaka and Batwa indigenous peoples in the Congo Basin. These were powerful and moving witness statements, but they were always after the event. In an engaging illustration of African resilience in the face of tragedy, some even spun in a thread of comedy!
The Baka, Bayaka, and Batwa live not far from the famous Virunga, established in the 1920s as Africa’s first formal “national park” and currently directed by a Belgian prince, Emmanuel de Mérode. It too was founded, as they all were and still are, by kicking out the local indigenous folk. Violating people for supposed “conservation” has continued ever since, but it has never been captured on film. In DR Congo, the Kahuzi-Biega Park threw out thousands of Batwa in the 1970s, and rangers and their army colleagues killed, mutilated, raped, and imprisoned dozens, including children, who tried to go back to their homeland in recent years. Similar narratives are rife in the Salonga Park in the same country, in the Lobéké Park in Cameroon, as well as in the Odzala-Kokoua Park and at Messok Dja in Congo-Brazzaville. The WWF is now pushing to have another park established in the latter while ensuring that the locals are mistreated and kept away, as usual.
The park rangers in all of them, the guys with the guns, are supported by western conservation NGOs, including African Parks (where Prince Harry is the president), the Wildlife Conservation Society (which once kept the Congolese Mbuti man, Ota Benga, in a zoo), and the WWF.
In the last few years, the formulaic NGO response to conservation atrocities has been to deny them, only reluctantly admitting that a few “bad apple” rangers might have overstepped the mark after pressure from publicity. The relevant NGO then usually pays for an investigation that takes months if not years while hoping that media attention will move on, as it does. Any resulting reports are whitewashed or simply buried if they stray towards the truth.
It may be opportune now for the FZS to condemn the violence that everyone can see, but it still fails to assign blame, and rejects all responsibility for its own role. It has wanted the Maasai out since it first became involved in the 1950s through its Nazi founder and director, the famous Bernhard Grzimek. By seemingly condemning incidents that cannot be plausibly denied, the FZS presumably hopes to divert attention not only away from its own complicity, but also from the criminal pattern of “fortress conservation” that it supports.
In the last few years, the formulaic NGO response to conservation atrocities has been to deny them, only reluctantly admitting that a few “bad apple” rangers might have overstepped the mark after pressure from publicity.
The wider conservation industry will doubtless lament this shooting and see it as a major strategic blunder, but that will be to try to mask the fact that it is neither new nor unusual.
The grabbing of local indigenous peoples’ lands is underpinned by a war on sustainable and self-sufficient ways of life that has been waged for generations. Conservationists and their government allies do not want herders or subsistence hunters on land that they seek to control and profit from, usually through tourism nowadays, selling phoney “carbon credits”, or simply by taking its resources. In the specific case of Tanzania, the land theft is to facilitate trophy hunting by the United Arab Emirates nobility as well as for tourism; in the end it always comes down to money and control, not conservation.
This war is also now playing out in Europe, albeit with money rather than guns. “Rewilding” – taking land from herders – is promoted as the supposed answer to climate change and biodiversity loss, and even as a means of avoiding pandemics. It is phoney, and it is easy to demonstrate that it will not help to mitigate any of these problems. The truth is that most conservationists just do not like herders, or subsistence hunters, and never have. In fact, they do not like anyone living directly off the land. They want their “Nature” empty of inhabitants except themselves and those who serve them.
The wider conservation industry will doubtless lament this shooting and see it as a major strategic blunder, but that will be to try to mask the fact that it is neither new nor unusual.
The “wild Africa” they strive to create has never existed outside their cinemas and sermons, but they remain as determined as ever to fabricate it, and they care little about who gets trodden upon through what they believe is their pietistic calling.
The problem is not just their self-righteous conviction: the conservation industry receives awe-inspiring sums of money from governments and foundations to manage national parks and similar areas that deprive people of lives and livelihoods. They are now pushing to double these areas to cover 30 per cent of the globe.
It is important to understand that the FZS’s declared “condemnation” of the Maasai shootings is not a first step towards acknowledging its crimes: it is a deflective feint in the generations-old battle for land control in Africa. It is just another facet of colonialism.
At the same time, the conservation faith now suddenly finds itself on the defensive as never before. The ground has shifted but, make no mistake, its proponents have immense resources and will fight to retain their power and their manifest belief in their destiny. This supposed “condemnation” should be seen for the ruse that it is, and the conservation NGOs must be pushed back. Let us hope that in doing so, the Maasai can continue to take a real stand, both for their own destiny, their environment, and for all of our futures. It is the conservation NGOs that are against the real “natural world”, not the Maasai.
Ethiopia’s peoples must be allowed to choose: either to make Ethiopia a consensual nation-building project or to let it go. Any national dialogue that does not acknowledge this reduces itself to a wrestle for power between political elites.
Since the assassination of Haacaaluu Hundeesaa and the commencement of the Tigray genocide, the West, activists and, overall, a diversity of institutions and individuals concerned with the crisis in Ethiopia, have been calling for a national dialogue. To effectively bring an end to the cyclical violence, dialogue in Ethiopia must be grassroots-focused, trauma-informed, and have on the table a decision-making tool, such as a referendum, for all the nations that desire it. Moreover, if the people were to choose a state arrangement other than the continuation of the current Ethiopian polity, it would be unwise not to consider this to be an option in place of dialogue. Dialogue that is grassroots-centred and concerned with addressing generational trauma will be necessary for the health and peace of whatever state arrangement the people choose, including that of independence/s.
The 1991 process was a form of national dialogue. Taking place in the wake of a devastating civil war, its focus was on negotiations between a handful of people that were tasked with representing the lives and deciding the fate of millions. On its own, such a framework will not be adequate to address the plethora of issues that have surfaced since the transitional government was put in place in 2018. Leaders that execute the will of the people are necessary but for the people to truly experience dialogue in the wake of the violence that has consumed Ethiopia since 2018, Ethiopians must have a conversation with each other.
Moreover, it is not just the events of the last few years that need to be addressed, but events that go as far back as the 1800s. It is the social, military, and political violence that has been part of Ethiopia since the beginning of the state’s formation that has rendered traumatic the relationship between the state and the nations that it governs. For example, one of the Prosperity Party’s social ventures was the erection of the Menelik II statue in the presidential palace. Menelik II was the Emperor of the Abyssinian Empire from 1889 until 1913. With the help of European powers, he was leader of the conquest that created the foundations of modern-day Ethiopia. For a section of society, Menelik II is a symbol of genocide and destruction. For another section of society, he is a national hero.
In tandem with memorialising Menelik’s legacy, the party’s leader has also preached a philosophy he calls “Medemer” or “Synergy”. In its essence, Medemer is a people-focused and trauma-informed dialogue, where people can communicate their stories to each other as they relate to historical moments and figures. I believe it to be a form of abuse and state violence to expect people that have been traumatized by settler colonialism and are still subject to the state’s violence, to embrace symbols of this violence as a collective representation of cohesion and togetherness.
Recent attempts to create grounds for dialogue mean nothing because there has not been a cessation of hostilities by the state, but should we get to a point where the state ceases its hostility and grassroots resistance can lay down arms, the most important site of dialogue must be people-focused. It should address what it has meant for diverse people to live under a state with the identity of “Ethiopia” across generations. It should address the relationship people have had to different political eras and moments. It should address the culture of genocide, how people have been impacted by it, and whom they blame for it. It should address the impacts of hate speech and the internalized beliefs that people hold about each other, where these beliefs come from, and how they are perpetuated systemically. This dialogue should create space for processes and acts of transitional justice to emerge. I find it interesting that the word dialogue within the English lexicon suggests a sense of amicableness and non-confrontation. I believe that the depth to which we are called to listen to another person requires us to set aside our own filters and optics, but this cannot mean that truth does not arrive fully on the table, that tensions will not arise and that the outcomes intended in the pursuit of accountability and delivering justice must be sidelined.
For unity to flourish in a place where there has been systemic oppression, the truth must be given space. Only then does a context for new paradigms of relationships emerge. Within these new paradigms of relationships, triggers may be put to rest, families and communities can heal the fault-lines that elites use to pit people against each other, and real unity, which in its strongest form is solidarity, is formed.
Dialogue in the context of the political state implies conflict resolution and, sometimes, charting new administrative structures. Calls for dialogue in Ethiopia have become synonymous with an event that takes place with the understanding that Ethiopia is to continue as one polity, and as a result, people who aspire for a future beyond Ethiopia as a state are cast as anti-dialogue, and thus, anti-conflict resolution, and by extension, pro-war and pro-violence. Interestingly, this is the state’s narrative, despite the fact that no party or army, currently in opposition to the state, has denied the need for dialogue, the only pre-condition being a cessation of hostilities by the state. Considering their positions, those in military and political opposition to the Ethiopian state must make it clear that a dialogue that is trauma-informed and people-centred is what they champion.
For unity to flourish in a place where there has been systemic oppression, the truth must be given space.
This is important, especially In the event that people do not choose Ethiopia as the political and state arrangement of the future; this work of healing is vital not only for people at individual and community levels but also for security between neighbouring states. I believe that dialogue is a way to embed grassroots mechanisms for accountability and security. If in the future we as a people are triggered by the re-emergence of prejudice at the grassroots level, or by harmful political rhetoric that may be espoused at the institutional level, if a grassroots, trauma-informed dialogue has taken place, we will have created a collective memory that can reach forward and remind us of our decisions, our choice to forgive, the transitional justice we experienced, and the red lines that we set for our chosen leaders. This kind of dialogue is a must for any version of the future, including one where Oromia, Tigray, or any other nation achieves its independence.
All parties that are pursuing a national dialogue but have not made explicitly clear their intention to facilitate a decision-making process such as a referendum must be held to account. No true sense of community and comradeship can develop between the people who live within Ethiopia’s borders without the masses choosing: either to make Ethiopia a consensual nation-building project or to let it go. Any national dialogue that does not acknowledge and prioritize this reduces itself to a wrestle for power between political elites. What I find inspiring about the new world order that has emerged in Rojava, North-East Syria, where Abdullah Ocalan’s thinking on democratic confederalism has inspired much of the society’s formation, is that in the face of the state’s collapse, local communities did not assume their first and foremost priority to be the formation of a conglomerate political elite; their first and foremost priority was and is, people, and their needs. 
A dialogue that is grassroots-centred, trauma-informed, in search of transitional justice (a radically reparative process) and facilitative of a political decision-making process such as a referendum requires the adoption of a fiercely abolition politik whereby we re-imagine how adequate justice is facilitated through a grassroots process, instead of punitive state processes.  We must be willing to re-invest every resource into people and the relationships that they have with one another at the most localised level. The future is not with the state project if that project is not born out of consensus or real dialogue. 
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