5 September 2013

Africa: Retired Ethiopian Farmer May Be the Oldest Living Person

Dhaqabo Ebba, a retired farmer and well-known community elder from the Oromia region in Ethiopia, could be the oldest living person ever, says Mohammed Ademo after watching Ebba's interview with TV Oromiya. ERTA has adapted his story as follows:

At an estimated 160 years of age, Dhaqabo Ebba, a retired farmer and well-known community elder from the Oromia region in Ethiopia, could be the oldest living person ever.

In the interview with TV Oromiya, Ebba - who has no birth certificate to prove his exact age - says he has lived through and witnessed a transfer of power among all of the five Gadaa Oromo political parties in four rotations.

As per the Gadaa system of government, a democratic socio-political institution of the Oromo people, one Gadaa leader serves for a period of eight years. There are five Gadaa parties within this system among which leadership rotates.

If Ebba has indeed lived through four such rotations, that makes him at least 160 years old. The average life expectancy in Ethiopia is 60 years, according to the CIA's World Fact book.

It would be impossible to establish Ebba's age as birth takes place at home in rural Ethiopia and the majority of Ethiopians still do not own birth certificates.

"When Italy [first] invaded Ethiopia [in 1895], I had two wives and my son was old enough to herd cattle," Ebba tells the reporter in Afan Oromo, at his house near Dodola town.

There are no living witnesses to corroborate his story. "Not even one of my peers is alive today," says Ebba.

However, Ebba who claims to have the largest extended family in the area has seen his great-grandchildren grow up. And he is by far the oldest known person in the area.

According to Guinness World Book of Records, Jeanne Calment of France, who died in 1997 at 122 years and 164 days, is the oldest person with a verified age.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported, Bolivia's Carmelo Flores could be the world's oldest man at 123 years.

If true, Ebba's story may change that. During the 30-minute interview, Ebba recalls life under previous Ethiopian rulers - and notes a relative improvement for his community under EPRDF, particularly in areas of road transportation and telecommunication.

He says in his generation it took eight days on horseback to visit Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, some 240 kms away from his village. Today, it only takes a couple of hours.

Ebba speaks with a firm, articulate voice while recounting his life story. He may no longer be able to see but his memories of historical facts seem sharp.

As the local journalist noted at the end of the interview, given that the Oromo like many African cultures are an oral society, "each time an elder dies, a library is lost." Ebba's is one such library from which much can still be preserved.

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