Sidama declares state of impatience
By Yohanan Yokamo, May 5, 2019
There may be a unilateral self-declaration of a new Sidama regional state due to government inaction
(Ethiopia Insight) — Three weeks ago, crowds of mostly Sidama women held a protest to demand Sidama’s constitutional right for a state and expressed dissatisfaction with the delay in organizing the referendum. Unless the regional and federal governments act in little more than two months, more radical action may be taken.
While the Sidama people await a response, the implication of Gaado Furra demonstration and two previous Gaados—at Hawassa International Stadium, and Gaado II which was a three days stay-home protest—are that this issue must be swiftly addressed. If the referendum is not held before July 19, Sidama people may push for unilateral self-declaration, a position that was backed by Sidama Zone’s government.
The July 18, 2018 decision was made after all 19 woredas and 2 city administrations in the zone voted to push the case for a Sidama state. Through the demonstrations, Sidama people have shown its peaceful opposition to the government failure to undertake referendum.
The protest was named Gaado Furra after the ancient Sidama queen. The message on April 9 was that the government must listen to the people and Sidama expect their sacrifices to be finally rewarded with self-rule of their own state.
Placards said: “We love Ethiopia but we ask Sidama people’s right”, and “We Sidama support federalism and oppose unitarianism”. The young, mothers, and even grandmothers carried signs stating: “We will not forget the loss of our children, husband and brothers life while marching for referendum”. The march showed women can go to the streets and fight for the community’s right. This latest protest is expected to be the final signal to the government to respect its constitution.
The Sidama people have been repeatedly demanding their own region for last 27 years since EPDRF came to power. The latest response has been silence, although the constitution says a referendum should be conducted within a year. Youth movement Ejjeetto is driving the campaign.
Under the federation’s founding document, to achieve statehood, two-thirds of the legislature of the relevant district must vote for the move, and then the next tier of government, in this case the SNNPRS administration, must organize a “referendum” within one year of receiving the request.
Sidama is Ethiopia’s most populous zone and the autonomy demand goes back many generations. The Sidama are a Cushitic people whose territory was conquered during Shewan military campaigns in late 1800s. A large majority are Christian and they make-up around half of the population of Hawassa, which is the capital of SNNPRS and Sidama Zone.
SNNPRS, which amalgamated five provinces of the Derg military regime overthrown in 1991, has 56 ethnic communities that comprise around one-fifth of Ethiopia’s 100 million people. The country’s smallest region, Harari, has less than 200,000 people, compared to the approximately four-million strong Sidama, according to a 2015 estimate.
There are nine regions listed in Article 47 of the Constitution, which also details the process for forming a new regional state. The federal government is responsible for all laws governing elections and the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) for conducting all national and regional elections.
NEBE has not yet decided a date
During discussions with Sidama elders, academics, and others, the Prime Minister showed his government’s commitment to address the question. Yet NEBE has not yet decided a date nor responded to a letter requesting assistance from SNNPRS Council office. NEBE spokesperson Soleyana Shimeles said on April 23 that the Sidama question requires further preparation because it is the first referendum on statehood.
The Council could have decided the date it was going to organize the referendum and notified NEBE, asking only for logistical support. Chief of Sidama Zone Administration, Karre Chawicha and the Council representatives pressed NEBE, but they came back empty handed. The delay is apparently partly as the board is in the process of being reestablished.
But there is no formal need for negotiation with or recognition from the central government. The Ethiopian constitutional arrangement, unlike many, does not give any power to the federal authority to decide on the formation of new regions. So ultimately, Sidama people could unilaterally declare their own state because of the unjustified delay in providing assistance for a referendum.