History of Gambela

Published on 24th April 2007

Gambella is one of the nine ethnic divisions of Ethiopia. Previously known as Region 12, its capital is Gambella. It is situated in the Southwestern part of Ethiopia bordering Sudan Republic, Benishangul Gumuz and Oromiya regions to the North, the Southern Ethiopia People’s Regional State and the Sudan Republic to the South, Oromiya and the Southern Ethiopia people’s Regional State to the East and the Sudan Republic  to the West.

Gambella has a total population of 31,282 according to Central Statistical Agency (2005). Approximately 81 percent of the population is estimated to be rural inhabitants, while 19 percent are urban.

Gambella was founded because of its location on the Baro River, a tributary of the Nile, which was seen by both the British and Ethiopia as an excellent highway for exporting coffee and other goods from the fertile Ethiopian Highlands to Sudan and Egypt. In May 1902, Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia granted Britain use of a port along the Baro and in 1907 the port and a customs station were founded. A shipping service run by Sudanese Railways Corporation linked Khartoum with Gambella, a distance of 1,366 kilometers and by the mid-1930s boats sailed twice a month during the rainy season.

Gambella became part of Italian East Africa in 1936, but was returned to British rule after a bloody battle in 1941 and became part of Sudan in 1951; when Sudan gained independence five years later Gambella was returned to Ethiopia. The port was closed during the Derg era, and as of 2005 it remains closed due to tension between the Sudan People's Liberation Army and the Ethiopian government, though there are hopes to reopen the port.

Anywaa, Komo, Opwo, Bula, Dhwok, Olam and Manjanger are all natives of the region.  Nuers are Sudanese and they infiltrated Gambella mostly starting 1950s as a result of the protract civil war, including Southern Sudanese and northern-based subsequent governments.

The economy of Gambella state is based on agriculture, pastoral, beekeeping and imported industrial products. The entire region is blessed with arable land. According to the 2005 CSA report, in 2004 to 2005 3,734 tons of coffee were produced in Gambela, based on inspection records from the Ethiopian Coffee and Tea authority. The city is believed to have major oil resources too.



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