The Hamar in southern Ethiopia

I am teaching African Economic Development this quarter, and I like to have students watch films and read novels to get a more humanistic understanding of the people behind the numbers.  If you have never spent any time in any African country, or only spent time in African cities, for that matter, it is easy to “other” rural folk.  So I assigned a nice documentary called Duka’s Dilemma, by Jean Lydall and Kaira Strecker.  What I like about the documentary is it focuses on just four people, and after 80 minutes you feel like you can recognize a little bit of their personalities, and the interpersonal relations among them.  They are no longer other.

What I didn’t realize is that the Hamar occupy a kind of voyeuristic status that precisely contributes to the othering.  And they seem to be comfortable with selling their othering to “primitive people” photographers.  Sigh.  makes me wish I were in the humanities and could spend all day talking and thinking about those kinds of issues.

This is a decent, unnarrated, video showing what a typical market day is like in the “town” presumably like the one mentioned in Duka’s Dilemma.

As always, once you get to know people, you start doing a little digging, and you are more sympathetic to how big, forces (but always individuals making choices) are changing their world.  From Survival International:

A massive hydroelectric dam and associated land grabs for plantations threaten the tribes of the Lower Omo River.  The tribes have lived in this area for centuries and have developed techniques to survive in a challenging environment. They have not given their free, prior and informed consent for the dam or the plantations and have already started to lose their livelihoods based on the river’s natural flood cycle.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
This entry was posted in Development thinking. Bookmark the permalink.