144 Hours in Ethiopia: The Negele Borena Bridge
NEGELE BORENA, Ethiopia (Dec. 6, 2011) - Residents of Negele Borena, Ethiopia, cross the Negele Borena Bridge for the first time since its official dedication, December 6. The 50-meter, steel-truss bridge was built to provide safe passage for pedestrians and livestock crossing the dangerous river below. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton)
Editor's Note: During a recent trip to Ethiopia, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton experienced rural areas outside the country's capitol as he travelled to Negele Borena by car. Negele Borena is the site of the only bridge in Ethiopia built by Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. It spans a dangerous river, which claims the lives of roughly three people every year. The completed bridge will allow the local people and livestock to cross the river without fear of being swept away by its strong currents during the rainy season.
The long car ride to Negele Borena afforded Denton the opportunity to see a people very different from the stereotypical images most Americans have of Ethiopians. He described the journey as a discovery of the soul of its people.
This is the second part of a four-part series: 144 Hours in Ethiopia.
Every year, an average of three people in Negele Borena, Ethiopia are killed when they attempt to cross the river, which runs through the town, during its flood stage.
The town was founded in the early 20th Century, which made it roughly a hundred years old. This now quiet stream took about 300 people away from their families and friends when it turned into a raging river during the rainy season.
From my balcony that morning, I could see the people of Negele Borena walking along the main road. I saw a little girl carrying a paperback school book, running to catch up to her friends as they walked to school. I looked away when I realized how easily her tiny body would be swept away by the strong current of the river.
I saw an older man, who I recognized as Mr. Solomon, a local businessman. During his 20 years living in the town, I wondered how many friends he had lost to the river.
Today, that all changed.
The Negele Borena bridge would be officially dedicated and turned over to the local population today after nearly five months of construction, and more than two years of planning.
"There are a lot of limitations in this area," said Tasfaayee Iyyaddanee Warree, Negele Borena mayor. "It has taken us two years to achieve this. We thank you very much for making this happen."
The ceremony dedicating the bridge was more of a celebration of life and culture. A local band played popular Ethiopian music as dancers moved to the rhythm, a freshly baked loaf of bread was presented and cut by distinguished guests as a symbol of unity and children presented locally grown flowers in thanks to the people who make the bridge a reality.
U.S. Navy Sailors from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, along with U.S Army soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 161st Field Artillery and U.S. Army Civil Affairs teams, assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, worked with volunteers from the local community to create the 50-meter, steel-truss bridge, which allows for pedestrians and livestock to cross the river without fear of being swept away by the strong currents.
"We have taken the first step toward a future where parents don't have to worry about their children walking to school," said the Honorable Donald Booth, U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia. "The construction of this bridge started with a conversation between the United States and (Negele Borena) local leaders."
In 2009, a civil affairs team met with Negele leaders to discuss the solution to crossing the river. During its flood stage, the river posed a danger to the 17,000 citizens who needed to cross it to receive health care and attend school. Additionally, the livestock were also at risk of being swept away when crossing the river.
Once approval for the project was granted, NMCB 5 went to work. The intention was to relinquish control and maintenance to the people of Negele, after the dedication ceremony; and as a ribbon was swiftly snipped, ownership of the bridge was transferred.
"This bridge belongs to you and your town," said U.S Army Brigadier General William Glasgow, CJTF-HOA deputy commander, as he addressed the population of Negele, during the dedication ceremony. "I trust it will become a symbol of pride for you. We look forward to a continued partnership with the people of Negele Borena."
The local population eagerly accepted the responsibility of raising the funds necessary to maintain and clear debris from the bridge, Warree said. The bridge has not only created a link between two parts of land, but, "it has also created a link with the Americans," he said.