Sunday, March 04, 2007


Lac Assal, Djibouti, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This is a photo of Lac Assal in Djibouti (formerly French Somaliland or Territoire des Afars et Issas), home of the, now infamous Afar people. The Afar people live in some of the most inhospitable land in the world, based around the Danakil Depression, an area of salt lakes, geysers, volcanoes, black rock, rock pipes and almost no vegetation. It is very bleak, very hot but stunningly beautiful in its own way and holds a fascination for the more adventurous travellers, like ourselves.

Their land is split between three countries, namely Djibouti, Ethiopia and Eritrea, where in each they are a minority. Despite that, borders in such an area do not mean too much to their daily way of lifewhich is centred on the extraction of salt and transporting that by camel caravan to neighbouring markets. Of course, geo-politically there are border disputes, particularly between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Of course, the area is in the news because of the kidnap of some British and French tourists who were travelling in the region despite warnings that the area is dangerous. It is dangerous not only because of the natural conditions, but also because the Afar people are known to be aggressive and war-like with a reputation for castrating their victims. The incredibly tough and difficult terrein breeds a tough outlook on life where one has to fight for ones access to water sources or grasses or salt mines. Their socety seeems to be a bit similar to the traditional Somali society of nomads divided into clans, sub-clans and families and so on.

Who knows what will happen to the people who have been kidnapped, but to put things into perspective, it should be noted that the stories we heard from Yemen (just a short journey across the Red Sea), where the kidnapping of tourists is much more common is that usually the tourists are very well looked after, they have a fascinating insight to local customs and traditions and pay tribute to the tremendous hospitality they received.

I am a little disappointed in the BBC in its willingness to blare out on national TV, a claim by a probably very biased, and crucially unnamed, official of the Ethiopian Government, that the tourists have been abducted by Eritrean security forces. They should know better and even the Ethiopian ambassador to the UK did not want to repeat this claim. Ethiopia will, in general, not stop at anything to bait and denigrate Eritrea and it is a pity that the BBC is giving the oxygen of publicity to unattributed claims.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I visited the area several times and I am sceptical that the local people (afar) are behind the situation.
The area is a border area between Ethiopia and Eritrea and there are many armed soldier.
You are right about BBC repeating the baseless ethiopian claim , they should know better

04 March, 2007 14:35  

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