The Genesis of the Genocide on Sidama People of Ethiopia following a Bid to Declare a Regional State on 18 July 2019
By The Sidama Observer
The Sidama people live in southern part of Ethiopia. Sidama is a Cushitic language speaking nation indigenous to northeast Africa. Sidama is the fifth largest nation in Ethiopia comprising of over 80 ethnic groups. Official population estimate for 2019 indicate that the Sidama nation had a total population of 4.8 million in 2019. Notwithstanding the ancient history of Abyssinia dating back to three millennia, the Sidama nation and other Cushitic language speaking nations of the Horn of Africa were indigenous nations to this region dating as far back as 13000 years. The Sidama nation was annexed into the Ethiopian Empire in 1891 by King Minelik, who sought to expand the Abyssinian territory to fend off the threat of the European colonial expansion following the Berlin Conference of 1884 to divide Africa among the major powers.
Since 1891 the Sidama people have been relentlessly demanding a regional self-administration within Ethiopia. A glimmer of hope for a democratic system of governance and respect for human and people’s rights following the 1974 revolution that toppled the monarchy was dashed when the military usurped the political power and clung to authoritarian socialist ideology with disastrous economic and social policies. Although serfdom was abolished following the revolution in the annexed territories of the south, east and west, including Sidama, the political and economic marginalisation of our people continued unabated. In spite of rich natural resources, the Sidama nation remained one of the most underdeveloped regions within a least developed country. Thousands of the Sidama civilians sacrificed their lives in the past 128 years demanding regional self-administration, justice, and respect for human and people’s rights. Over 10,000 Sidama civilians lost their lives during the military regime. On May 24, 2002 the federal government security forces massacred 70 peaceful civilian protestors in Looqqee suburb of Hawassa. The protestors demanded regional self-administration for Sidama and objected to the proposal to move the capital city of Sidama from Hawassa. Over 30 civilians were massacred in Hawassa and its environs in June 2018 following the preparation to launch the demand to establish the Sidama Regional State. Nonetheless, the scale of atrocities committed on Sidama people on 18-20 July 2019 shocking and amount to genocide: over 85 were confirmed killed, 400 wounded and over 700 arrested and being tortured by the federal defense and special police forces.
- The Change in Government in 1991
In May 1991, the military regime (the Derg) was removed from power by a coalition of forces known as the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) controlled by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). A new constitution was promulgated by a new transitional government in 1995, which established the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE). The constitution guaranteed every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession (Article 39 (1)) paving the way for creation of ethnic based regional states with the exception of the southern part of the country.
- The violation of the Ethiopian Constitution in the southern part of the country since 1995
In 1995, the Ethiopian EPRDF led government violated its own constitution in the southern part of the country by forcefully merging 56 nations and nationalities including the Sidama nation into one region, which it termed as the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State (SNNPRS). Being the 5th largest nation in Ethiopia, with over 80 ethnic groups, the Sidama nation rejected the forced amalgamation into one region comprising of 56 marginalized ethnics groups with the current total population of 20 million, which had never been part of one region even during the equally repressive feudal and socialist regimes. The Sidama region, which borders Oromia in the north, east, south and southwest, had always shared regional administration with parts of Oromia not with any parts of the current SNNPRS until this forced merger in 1995. Hawassa, which is at the heart of the Sidama land has been the capital of Sidama plus parts of Oromia provinces from the 1970s and had never been the capital of SNNPRS before 1995. Hawassa is not spatially connected to any of the nations and nationalities in the SNNPRS. The forced merger of 56 nations in the southern part of the country was a travesty of justice. An abuse of the constitution and consequently human and collective rights of the Sidama nation. It was a dictatorial decision made single handedly by the late prime minister of Ethiopia for political purposes.
- The forced merger of 56 ethnic groups in southern part of Ethiopia created the worst performing regional government in the history of the country
The forced merger of 56 ethnic groups into one pseudo-region, the SNNPRS, created the most kleptocratic, inefficient and wasteful regional administration resulting in massive maladministration, corruption, poverty, unemployment and crumbling infrastructure. For instance, although Sidama is the second largest coffee supplier for export after the Oromia region, today, there are 2.5 million unemployed youth in Sidama alone with thousands resorting to begging on the streets of Hawassa and Addis Ababa. No major infrastructure has been built in the past two decades in Sidama while the existing infrastructure is crumbling. Political rivalry and competition for resources among the 56 ethnic groups made the region inefficient, ungovernable, and ineffective.
- The Quest of the Sidama Nation for Regional Self-administration in the Past 28 Years
The Sidama nation presented to government its demand to establish a regional state twice in the past 20 years. The first decision to establish the Sidama Regional State in full compliance with Article 39(1), 39(3); 43(1); 47(2) and 47 (3) and article 46(2) of the constitution of the country was made by the Sidama Administrative Council in 2005. The Council voted unanimously to establish the Sidama Regional State and end the forced merger with the 56 other nations and nationalities in the southern part of the country. This decision was unilaterally reversed by the late Prime Minister in violation of the constitution of the country.
Following the change in government in early 2018, which created more conducive climate for political participation, for the second time, on July 18, 2018, the Sidama Administrative Council unanimously decided to withdraw from the forced merger of 56 nations in the southern part of the country and establish its own Regional State in accordance with Article 47(2) of the constitution which stipulates that Nations, Nationalities and Peoples within the current States in the country have the right to establish, at any time, their own States. Article 47(3) stipulates further that the right of any Nation, Nationality or People to form its own state is exercisable under the following procedures: (a) When the demand for statehood has been approved by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Council of the Nation, Nationality or People concerned, and the demand is presented in writing to the State Council; (b) When the Council that received the demand has organized a referendum within one year to be held in the Nation, Nationality or People that made the demand; (b) When the demand for statehood is supported by a majority vote in the referendum; (c) When the State Council will have transferred its powers to the Nation, Nationality or People that made the demand; and (d) When the new State created by the referendum without any need for application, directly becomes a member of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
The Sidama nation fully complied with the provisions of article 47(3) (a) where the demand for statehood was approved by 100% of the Sidama administrative council. The Sidama Administrative Council also presented the demand in writing to the SNNPRS council on the same day i.e. 18 July 2018. Regarding Article 47(3) (b) the SNNPRS Council endorsed the demand of the Sidama nation to establish its own Regional State and wrote a letter to the National Election Board of Ethiopia to organize a referendum within the 12 months period stipulated in the constitution that expired on 18 July 2019.
- Massive Peaceful Rallies in Hawassa to Remind Authorities to Conduct the referendum
Between February and April this year, the Sidama nation staged three major rallies demanding the announcement of the date of the referendum. On February 21, 2019, over 1 million Sidama men, women and students marched peacefully in Hawassa, the capital of Sidama, demanding the announcement of the date of referendum to establish the Sidama Regional State. The Government and the National Election Board of Ethiopia refused to acknowledge the voice of over 1 million Sidama people. Undeterred by the government’s mistreatment of the Sidama nation, the Sidama Youth Movement for Good Governance, Ejjeetto, and the entire Sidama nation staged a three-day peaceful strike across the entire Sidama sub region. Again, the government and the Ethiopian Election Board ignored the peaceful appeal of the Sidama nation for a referendum. Finally, on 9 April 2019, over 1 million Sidama women organized a historic Women Only Rally (Furra Gaado) in the name of the ancient celebrated Queen of Sidama, Queen Furra in attempt to draw the attention of the international community, the Ethiopian Government and the Ethiopian Election Board for the last time. The Furra Gaado also dubbed as Yakka (women’s defiance for freedom and justice) was unparalleled in the history of Ethiopia and one of the three major Women Only Rallies in its magnitude in the world in recent memory. Once again, the Ethiopian Government and the Ethiopian Election Board proved that they were above the law and refused even to acknowledge a rally by over 1 million Sidama women adding an insult to injury and displaying their utmost contempt on our society.
- The Ethiopian Election Board violated the constitution by failing to hold a referendum on the Sidama Regional Question before or on 18 July 2019
Article 102 of the Ethiopian constitution established a National Election Board independent of any influence, to conduct in an impartial manner free and fair election in Federal and State constituencies. The National Election Board of Ethiopia failed to uphold the constitution by refusing to conduct a referendum to establish the Sidama Regional State in the past 12 months. This is happened under the leadership of the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia who took office on the promise of upholding the constitution of Ethiopia and ensuring full respect to the rule of law and to human and people’s rights.
On the evening of 16 July 2019, the Ethiopian Election Board released a statement related to the Sidama referendum. The Election Board deliberately misinterpreted the 12 month deadline provided in article 47(3) (b) of the constitution which clearly states that the Council of the State that received the demand should organize a referendum within a 12 month period. Instead the Election Board opted to defy the constitution and decided to count the 12 month window from the date it received a letter of request from the Council of SNNPRS to conduct the referendum. In addition, the Election Board set preconditions to conduct the referendum that were outside of its mandate stipulated in article 102 of the constitution that established it. Thus, in view of the Sidama people and in terms of the constitution, the last minute statement of the Ethiopian Election Board was unlawful and malicious.
- The Sidama Administrative Council and the people agreed to unilaterally declare the Sidama Regional State on 18 July 2019 in various consultative meetings.
The process to establish the Sidama Regional State was managed in close consultation between the youth movement for good governance (Ejjeetto) and the Sidama Administration. It was fully a collaborative project for one year. However, as the deadline to declare loomed two events happened that sow discord between the two groups. The first was the unconstitutional intervention of a political party, SEPDM, to decide on the regional restructuring of the SNNPRS and the statehood question of Sidama, which followed a strict constitutional process. The SEPDM carried out what it called “a study to reorganize the southern region”. It called a meeting to discuss the recommendations of this study less than two weeks to the deadline of the Sidama referendum on 18 July 2019. It was purported that after 10 day meeting, SEPDM central committee endorsed the Sidama demand to establish its regional state. Although the SEPDM does not have any constitutional mandate to grant a regional state to any nation in the region, the Sidama people welcomed the decision. Nevertheless, to the shock and consternation of the Sidama people in its concluding press statement the SEPDM failed to even mention the outcome of the meeting on a crucial Sidama regional question. Both the SEPDM and the Election Board failed to provide any assurance on the establishment of the long awaited Sidama Regional State.
Bewildered by the deliberate refusal of the government to address their rightful demand to regional self-administration in the past 12 months, the Sidama elders, youth and the local government officials held predeclaration consultation meetings in Gudumaale on 16 July 2019. The consultation meetings continued on 17 July 2019 to iron out issues related to the press release by the Ethiopian Election Board on possible referendum a day prior to the end of the deadline. As the statement of the Election Board misinterpreted the constitution regarding the deadline of the referendum and stipulated preconditions beyond its mandate, the discussions whether to declare or not continued to 18 July 2019.
Nonetheless, on the night of 17 July 2019, the Government deployed the military and special police to the Gudumaale, for the first time in the history of the Sidama nation. Gudumaale is a sacred meeting place in Sidama society and no previous regimes deployed security forces to the Gudumaale meeting grounds in Sidama society. This violated the cultural identity and dignity of the Sidama nation.
- The Massacre of the Peaceful Sidama civilians on 18-20 July 2019
As the Sidama people flocked to the Gudumaale on the morning of 18 July to finalize their discussions on the declaration of regional state, soldiers and police forces deployed in Gudumaale blocked them from entering the venue and attacked the civilians travelling to the meeting venue across the Hawassa city killing 5 and wounding a dozen in Hawassa alone. The deliberate violence orchestrated by the government and its inaction in 12 months rapidly spread to all 38 Sidama districts and towns. Until 20 July 2019 over 85 civilians have been massacred across Sidama including over 16 farmers in Wotara Rassa in Malga District, 26 in Hula district; 5 in Hawassa; 6 in Yirgalem; 8 in Wondogenet; 7 in Borricha; 8 in Shabbadino; 2 in Alatta district; 5 in Dalle district, and 5 in Chukko district. Over 400 were wounded, some seriously and were admitted to various hospitals across Sidama. Over 700 civilians were arrested including 6 prominent youth movement, Ejjeetto coordinators and one journalist; (1) Tariku W. Lemma; (2) Getahun Dagooye; (3) Fasika Legesse and (4) Belay Balguda; (5) Melesse Agaro; (6) Legesse Hankarsso and (7) Tefera Kenfato.
The civilians were entirely peaceful. They did not hold any rallies. However, the Ethiopian government security forces used live ammunitions and massacred and wounded peaceful civilians for the third time in 18 years. The Loqqee massacre of 2002 in which over 70 people were killed, and the Hawassa and Shaammanna massacres of 2018 where over 30 people were killed, were both related to the demand to establish the Sidama regional state.
The government is hunting down the Sidama youth Ejjeetto members who number over 2.5-3 million. The government has waged war on its people.
- No single citizen should be killed due to a constitutional demand to establish a regional state within Ethiopia.
Instead of addressing the question of self-administration, which is guaranteed in the constitution of the country, the government waged war on the Sidama people. The war followed a misguided threat by the Prime Minister in parliament to crush any decision by the Sidama people to declare a province in Ethiopia. A province is not an independent country. It has nothing to do with the unity of the country, as Sidama is part of Ethiopia. The Sidama nation never demanded secession from Ethiopia. It only demanded a regional self-administration within Ethiopia. The war on the Sidama nation is therefore a genocide by the Ethiopian government. Sidama is currently a militarized zone. A constitutional demand on the rights to self-administration can never be addressed by a military force. The government can never defeat by a military force the people demanding their basic rights to self-administration. The war waged on the Sidama people is perhaps the first large scale attack by the unitarists on the multinational federalists like Sidama. It is a unitarist roadmap endorsed by the government.
The government should immediately release all 700-1000 youth Ejjeetto currently in various prisons. It should immediately end the militarization of Sidama. It should allow the people to hold their peaceful meetings in Gudumaale. It should stop hunting down the Sidama youth and large-scale campaign to dismantle the peaceful youth movement Ejjeetto. It has become clear that the genocide was carried out to dismantle the civil youth ejjeetto movement in Sidama. It should stop interfering with the first and only private media Sidama Media Network (SMN) established by the Sidama people to develop and nurture their language and culture.
- Accountability for the genocide in Sidama on 18-20 July 2019
The Ethiopian government and its structures are fully responsible for the tragedy that unfolded in Sidama. The Election Board violated the constitution by refusing to conduct a referendum with in a prescribed 12 month period and sent a conflicting message at the last minute. The Council of SNNPRS failed to organize the referendum although it has direct constitutional obligation to do. In spite of writing several letters of warning to the Election Board to carry out the referendum, the Sidama administrative council was unable to provide a clear roadmap when the deadline for the declaration loomed on 18 July 2019. It refused to meet and discuss with the people at the Gudumaale on 17 July 2019 causing anger and resentment. The federal government failed to discharge its role to enforce its institutions to uphold the constitution by conducting the Sidama referendum within the stipulated period. Therefore, the Ethiopian government and its institutions will be held solely accountable for the tragedy in Sidama.
- Recognize Sidama as the 10th regional state of Ethiopia
The constitutional deadline to conduct a referendum on the Sidama question to establish its own regional state expired on 18 July 2019. The Ethiopian government violated the constitution by failing to hold a referendum within the 12-month deadline. The Election Board in its unconstitutional statement provided no clear roadmap to a referendum. Therefore, due to willful negligence or refusal by the state institutions to conduct a referendum and based on the decision of the Sidama Administrative Council on 18 July 2018, the Sidama nation will become the 10th regional state of Ethiopia. The government should respect the constitutional rights of the Sidama people self-administration immediately.