Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas: Ethiopian Film Review

An expose on destructive development “Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas” investigates the paradox of agricultural land acquisition in a food insecure Ethiopia. Beyond validating the ambient repression of the Ethiopian government, the film underlies the coterie of institutions; the World Bank and Multilateral Corporations that have fostered Ethiopia’s inhumane development scheme.

“Dead Donkeys Fear No hyenas” Pastor Oto lamented as he prepared for his journey to the Word Bank. Unbeknownst to him and the audience- it would be Pastor Oto’s final opine as a free man in Ethiopia.

I left the viewing with a level of consciousness from which reading statistics on “Land Grabs” from Amnesty International- couldn’t reach. The story is framed along the pursuit of an intrepid Addis Abeba journalist on a quest to break the story of the Anwak’s (a peoples inhabiting Gambela, Et) displacement. The lense builds from testimonials of forced displacement by the Anwak people, to interviews with unscrupulous land dealers, and ends at the affluent halls of the Waldrof Astoria and the World Bank. Pastor Oto, the rotund Gambela man who served as our guide throughout Gambela would be addressing the World Bank’s Inspection Panel to issue the formal complaint. The World Bank’s Inspection Panel is an accountability mechanism in the multilateral landscape which allows individuals harmed by Bank-financed projects to directly institute a complaint against Bank Management. The Anwak, a marginalized and isolated indigenous community do not have a Western educated base that have been pivotal in colonial struggles for equality e.g. Mahtmat Ghandi, Patrice Lumumba- their fate was hinging on Pastot Oto. He made it to Washington D.C.-  narrowly evading Ethiopia’s surveillance. In a climatic standoff, Pastor Oto faced the panel of World Bank Experts and orated the forced dispossession, environmental degradation and intimidation which had reduced the Anwak into destitution.

He would receive an African Hero’s welcome. Upon his return to Ethiopia Pastor Oto  was sentenced to 14 years in prison.The World Bank would later redact it’s “Inspection Panel’- the platform provided to the Pastor. It was crushing – but also poignant storytelling. The false sense of hope at Pastor Oto’s arrival in the West- addressed my blind trust of Western institutions. In hindsight, the Pastor’s fate was sealed; during interviews with development experts the census was “There is always a tradeoff” and my all time favorite “Between the winners and losers, our job is to maximize the winners”. The Gambella are the losers. And the winners? Ethiopians have reached a wide consensus on the “winners”. I will leave it at that.

Throughout the 2hr documentary covering an array of atrocities and moral failings, I was most fixated on the images of the Gambela people. I don’t think I was the only one, the opening scene – a cascade of green hues, tiered plateaus, and deep clay-like open roads- sent a palpable awe through the audience. I had never seen this Ethiopia- more importantly, I had never seen Gambela people in such a nuanced light. I had only seen them in postcard like frames; standing stoically/ partially nude along a forest landscape. In the film, I saw Gambella people walking to the market, negotiating transactions, praying at church and even wearing netela. Living in a Habesha crazed Ethiopia, it was exhilarating to put the human face to Ethiopians who don’t look like me. The Habesha community hasnt acknowledged let alone welcomed Gambela and other negroid peoples of Ethiopia. However, the habesha cultural inflections (netela) also made me wonder if they were also assimilating into the dominant/Habesha culture. It is very sad.  Their ancestral land pilfered and culture discarded.

“Why would Ethiopians do this to other Ethiopians?”  – Anonymous Man from Gambela

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