Visit to the Ogaden: Excerpt from Chapter 1 Ticket to Addis Ababa

Somali famine victim

… Only the political correspondents were invited to the evening banquet in Menelik’s old Imperial Palace in Addis Ababa. Back at the hotel, I added my name to the list of journalists wanting to visit the famine belt, and next morning, escorted by Ethiopia’s portly Minister for Relief, we took off for Gode in a chartered DC3.

Gode lies in the Ogaden, a vast tract of south-east Ethiopia bordered by Kenya and Djibouti, and sharing a historically disputed frontier with Somalia. A semi-desert region, it supports only scraggy shrubs and trees, but the Webi Shebelle River crosses it before flowing into the Indian Ocean, more than 1,000 kilometres (500m) from its source in the Ethiopian highlands.

‘We’ve had no response to our appeal for medical teams,’ Shimalis told us in the Gode refugee camp where one skinny doctor, two tired nurses and three overworked dressers were attempting to care for 12,000 starving victims of the famine.

UNCHR feeding refugees at a camp in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia

‘She will die,’ murmured the doctor of a wasted mite whose arms were no thicker than my fingers. ‘There have to be mass graves before anyone wants to help, and once you find fresh graves, we have lost our battle against the drought.’ He sighed deeply.

Times are never normal, or good in this god-forsaken corner of Africa, where Somali nomads roam in a perpetual search for sustenance. Both for themselves and their herds.

Shimalis frowned. ‘They are a primitive people who eat food on the hoof, using a special curved knife to slice steaks off the living animal, then packing the wound with mud.’

Fetching water, Ogaden, Ethiopia

Hammered by the sun and buffeted by sand-laden winds, in five years the Ogaden had received not a drop of rain. Wherever I looked, sun-bleached bones punctured the desert landscape. Even the hardy camel herds were dying. Walking away from my colleagues, I came upon a small group moaning softly around a dried up water hole.

One was a mother with two young whose hump had shrunk to a flab of skin. She salivated, rolling her tongue, as the twins butted her udder in frustration. As I watched, she sank to her knees and rested her chin on the sand. A buzzard took off from a twisted acacia, then another and looking up, I saw other scavengers circling in the washed out sky. I had encountered many unpleasant situations on my travels when I’d tried not to cry, but conditions in Gode brought on tears…..

Ogaden refugee camp with Somali woman Ethiopia


About Travels with My Hat

Australian photojournalist and author. Used London as a base for nearly forty years while freelancing in the Middle East, Arabian peninsular, Africa and South Asia. Have written and illustrated more than a dozen books and travel guides. Operates a well regarded religious images stock photo library: Live in Leura in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.
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8 Responses to Visit to the Ogaden: Excerpt from Chapter 1 Ticket to Addis Ababa

  1. cobweb says:

    Desperately heart wrenching account.

  2. AMA says:

    Not at all surprised at your sadness and tears after experiencing the tragic events you saw. Will it ever improve , not in our lifetime , I fear.

  3. CO says:

    Thanks for dropping by. Not only is it unlikely to improve, it will become worse due to increase in population and conflict, as much as to famine.And to goats, vast herds roaming far and wide and eating every bit of vegetation. Even tearing up the roots. Morocco needs to watch out as vast tracts of virgin countryside are doomed due to these animals. There is a good photo of goats-Morocco on as well as more pictures of the wretched Ogaden.

  4. Anonymous says:

    such sadness, neverending. I wondered what year this visit took place? I am greatly looking forward to the book, real adventures set against social realism. Jules

  5. Jules says:

    BTW my comment kept deleting when I used firefox browser… but ok published with google chrome

  6. very good job keep it up blog…..

  7. Ahmed says:

    This is the reality in the Ogaden region and unlikely to improve. It will become worse, due to the current conflict by Ethiopian army and also recurrent droughts and displacements. The fact is that, “Weyane disaster and genocides” in the Ogaden region have affected the local community (pastoralists) livelihoods. Currently there are more than 13,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in the area, plus refugees from Somalia. Ethiopian government refused to accept them as IDPs and blocked aid and trade going to the area. UN agencies and NGOs have no access and cannot operate in the area. Based on that, they left the area and migrated to the urban areas or refugee camps in the neighboring countries. There is enough rain and water in the area and local people can use and manage rainwater and have their own business and produce enough food. But, always Ethiopian soldieries and militias displaced and killed them. The internally displaced people (IDPs) in the area will die unless international community and humanitarian partners take actions about this crime “block of aid and trade in the Ogaden region”. Enough is enough and protection of the internally displaced people (IDPs) is crucial and the international community and humanitarian partners must take urgent actions about this genocide. The Ethiopian government should stop killing the civilians and displacing the pastoral people in their homelands, and allow UN and NGO and media to inter the area and run humanitarian operations for the conflict and drought effected people in the Ogaden region.

  8. 4WD Ute Hire says:


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