The Ethiopian Prime Minister Fails to Honour the Outcome of the Sidama Referendum for Self-Rule

By The Sidama Observer, 20 February 2020

People celebrate the results of a referendum on a new federal region for Ethiopia’s ethnic Sidama region in Hawassa, about 200km south of capital city of Addis Ababa, on November 23, 2019. – Ethiopia’s Sidama people have voted overwhelmingly for a new federal region, with 98 percent choosing autonomous rule, the electoral board said on November 23. The result means a major shakeup in Ethiopia, with analysts saying it could inspire other groups to push for autonomy to redraw boundaries in Africa’s second most populous country, with more than 100 million people. (Photo by Michael TEWELDE / AFP) (Photo by MICHAEL TEWELDE/AFP via Getty Images)

The Sidama nation of Ethiopia conducted a referendum for self rule on 20 November 2019. Over 98% of the 2.3 million Sidama voters voted for statehood. Only 1.4% of the 2.3 million voters chose to stay within the old SNNPR region that comprises 56 nations, nationalities and peoples.

The referendum was conducted peacefully. The international community hailed the process as free, fair and an examplary excercise of democracy in a country with a troubled political history. The Sidama referendum was a beacon of hope for many nations in Africa yearning for genuine self-rule and good governance.

The November 2019 Sidama referendum followed a unanimous decision by the Sidama administrative council on 18 July 2018  to establish own regional state as provided in articles 39 and 47(2) and (3) of the federal constitution of Ethiopia. The Sidama referendum for self rule was a constitutional process. The Ethiopian constitution guarantees an unconditional right to every nation, nationality or people to self rule including secession. The Sidama nation excercised this very same right enshrined in the constitution. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The executive does not have any authority to interfere in the constitutional process in any democracy. Neither can the decision of 2.3 million voters be ignored in any functional democracy. The Sidama nation has spoken. The people decided to form their own regional state in Ethiopia in a constitutional process which is binding. The rule of law should be respected. The votes of the people should be respected. These are non negotiable social contracts in any functioning societies.

Nevertheless, the Ethiopian prime minister who was honoured with a Nobel peace prize failed to honour the outcome of a referendum by 4.3 million (official 2019 data) Sidama people. In a clear and flagrant violation of the constitution and the will of the people, he directly intervened to block the President of the old SNNPR region from handing over power to the Sidama nation to form the Sidama National Regional State. Almost 3 months have elapsed since the Sidama nation almost unanimously voted for statehood. And yet the state for which the Sidama people paid massive sacrifices in the past 130 years has never materialized. In accordance with article 47(3)(d) of the constitution of Ethiopia, a new state formed through a referendum becomes a member of the Ethiopian federation automatically without any need to apply for membership once the council of the incumbent regional state hands over power to the nation that demanded to establish its own state. Abiy ahmed’s unconstitutional interference to block the President of the SNNPRS from handing over power to the Sidama nation was clearly meant to block the Sidama nation from automatically becoming the 10th regional state of Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian prime minister has undermined the constitution and the rule of law by failing to honour the constitution and the decision of the Sidama people. He has no mandate whatsoever to reject the outcome of a constitutional process unless ofcourse he is above the law, a monarch or a dictator who rules by a decree. In one of his usual rants in public gatherings,  he vowed to determine what kind of a regional state he would bestow the Sidama people that has conducted a referendum. Insiders talk of his intentions to restore Region 8, a briefly constituted region during the 1991-1995 transition period in Ethiopia that encompassed Sidama,  Gedeo, Burji and Koyra. In fact, the TPLF  formed the SNNPR by dismantling 5 independent regions, Region 7, Region 8, Region 9, Region 10 and Region 11 in 1993. Before 1993,  there was never one region called the south in the history of the country.  The Sidama nation was never offered any option during the referendum to form Region 8 which the people would have unequivocally rejected the same way they rejected the option of remaining within the SNNPR.

Neither blocking the president of the SNNPR from handing over power to the Sidama people nor threatening to restore Region 8 will intimidate the Sidama people. The Sidama nation has already legally formed its own state. Let the SNNPR council handover  power to the Sidama people immediately. Delaying the inevitable is a typical attribute of a losing dictator.

The international community and the peace loving oppressed nations of Ethiopia should be alarmed by the gross violations of the constitutional process concerning the Sidama referendum by the Ethiopian prime minister. A prime minister who was entrusted with managing the transition to democracy has betrayed the oppressed nations and is working relentlessly to dismantle the multinational federation and the federal constitution to undo the gains of the previous three decades in terms of self rule.

The sole agenda of his reform program and indeed his new found party, the “prosperity party”, whatever it means,  is to dismantle the multinational federation and the federal constitution. So much for “a reformist” prime minister. Much ado about his “reform” without anything.  His “reform” proved to be not only a myth but a nightmare for many oppressed nations including the Oromo nation whose youth was the engine of the 2015-2018 revolution that toppled the TPLF dominated dictatorship.

Over 2500 Sidama youth including university academics, medical doctors and lawyers languish in prison in Sidama and some in Hadiya and other parts of the SNPPR 8 months after the July 2019 massacre of over 100 innocent Sidama civilians who campaigned for the very same referendum for regional self rule.

Prime minister abiy is leading the country to the abyss. The international community should be concerned and warned.  He may succeed in dismantling the multinational federation, the only covenant binding the country together and institute a unitary state. However, rest assured that by doing so abiy ahmed will be the first Ethiopian dictator to break up the country and perhaps restore the post 1880s independence of the most annexed nations. Will he do the oppressed nations a favoure one way or the other?  Only time will tell.

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Comments

  1. Constitution is the supreme law in the country. Everybody should under the constitution including prime minister Dr Abiy. Sidama was already an autonomous region. 98.51 was not a class mark. It is the result of Sidama’s referendum.

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