Ethiopia to vote on breakaway state highlights battles over autonomy
Addis Ababa (AFP) – Members of Ethiopia’s Sidama ethnic group are expected to vote Wednesday to form a breakaway regional state — a milestone that risks further destabilising the country ahead of next year’s national elections.
(yahoo)–The Sidama push for statehood already triggered days of unrest in July that left dozens dead and prompted the government to place Ethiopia’s southern region under the control of soldiers and federal police.
In Hawassa, the regional capital, some fear a return of those tensions, but resident Cherinet Deguye said the violence will have been worth it if the referendum passes and the Sidama get a state of their own — an outcome analysts believe is likely.
“The process leading to the referendum has come with a bitter price with many of our people killed and injured,” Cherinet told AFP last week shortly after registering to vote.
“But there is a great deal of excitement and the atmosphere is currently peaceful.”
The referendum touches on the issue of autonomy — the bedrock of a federal system designed to provide widespread ethnic self-rule in a hugely diverse country of more than 100 million people.
At present, Ethiopia is partitioned into nine semi-autonomous regional states. The constitution requires the government to organise a referendum for any ethnic group that wants to form a new entity.
Even if the referendum proceeds smoothly and the result is accepted, it could embolden other groups that have the same goal and inflame broader ethnic tensions.
At least 10 other groups have submitted statehood bids in the south.
William Davison, senior analyst with International Crisis Group, a conflict analysis and prevention organisation, said the Sidama referendum “does not fit well” with key aspects of the agenda Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has pursued since taking power last year.
These include merging the current ruling coalition of ethno-regional parties into a single political party.
– The last flare-up –
The Sidama — who number more than three million — have agitated for years to leave the diverse Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region.
The dream gained fresh momentum after Abiy, winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, took office.