By Dogo Aba Bora, 7/6/2020
After the congratulatory messages are sent and received for the creation of the new Sidama Regional State on June 18, 2020, Ethiopia, Africa and the rest of the world must be ready to witness an explosion of ethnic violence, indiscriminate destruction and mass displacement in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR).
The Ethiopian Constitution has failed repeatedly to protect the rights of its citizens to life, liberty, and the acquisition of property as evidenced by past and present displacement and killings of thousands. Nine regional states make up present day Ethiopia as set by the 1995 constitution. The constitution only recognizes individuals who ethnically identify with the regional state that govern them. If they do not, these individuals, whom are residents by birth and lived on the land for generations, are precluded from the daily affairs of their region. These residents are defined as settlers and are subjected to displacement once members of the regional state have deemed their time is up. In almost all cases this ethnic cleansing and killing are sanctioned by the ethnically aligned politicians who are in charge of running these states.
Article 39 of the constitution empowers the right of nations and nationalities for self-determination including secession and defines what it takes to accomplish this goal. Any of the nine regional states can cede or declare their independence without consent from the other states rather, with a simple majority approval from state assembly members.
Similarly, zones can request statehood with majority approval from zonal parliamentary members without input from neighboring zones or the regional state that governs the zone. The federal government as a formality monitors and facilitates the transitional processes as districts become zones, zones become states, and states declare nationhood. The Sidama zone, now regional state, is the 10th state to benefit from this process. As such, the constitution of the Sidama regional state will be a replica of the existing nine state constitutions. To date, these regional state constitutions only empower one or two ethnic groups as legal residents in their constitution.
As Sidama’s statehood is accepted with big fanfare one must take a concerning look at the other ten zones in the SNNPR whose requests for statehood have been selectively ignored by their governing regional state and the federal government. These zones rife with political and social upheaval will be forced to copy the tactics that led to Sidama’s success. Sidama’s success is a no brainer: commit vial acts towards other ethnic groups, exercise targeted ethnic killings, torch homes and businesses belonging to ethnicities outside your own, destroy state properties, and burn Ethiopian orthodox churches; with enough destruction the quest for statehood is yours.
The officially reported number of people killed to force the Sidama referendum in November 2019 is 56 but the numbers are in the hundreds. Many more people lost their businesses and many were left homeless without state or federal assistance. Of the gruesomely murdered solely due to their ethnicity, all of whom were born and raised in the Sidama zone, a couple are worth mentioning:
1) Girma Meleka Cheneku was in his early eighties, a family man and a business owner. He was tortured in front of his family and murdered in Hagereselam.
2) Tekekemariam Goshu Zena was in his late seventies, a trader and a family man murdered in Hagereselam.
3) Abreham Seifu, 45, a businessman, and murdered in Arbegona while attending a funeral service
4) Bogale Newaye, 50, a trader, and murdered in Arbegona
5) Mesfin Tsegay, 47, a trader, and murdered in Bensa .
In the past two years there have been wanton killings and mutilations in Awasa, the regional state capital of SNNPR, aimed at the Welayta ethnic group. Men, women, and children have endured traumatizing and psychologically scarring realities while the federal government and SNNPR idly watch and shed crocodile tears. The agenda to push out Welaytas and other ethnic groups out of the only land they have known continues.
Some sixty years ago Awasa began on government owned land as an experiment in growing peanuts, sisal, and tobacco. Welaytas bore the labor of working the land, which led to agricultural extension work and municipal planning. In the early stages of city-making, Welaytas had to endure the sun burn, dehydration, snake and mosquito bites. There were also Oromo and Sidama pastoralists who came to Awasa infrequently and fought among each other for grazing rights. This contention for grazing rights between the two ethnic groups continued in the outskirts of the city until recently.
Welaytas, more than any other group in the country, have contributed immensely to Awasa, the southern region and the nation state of Ethiopia. They were educators, healthcare workers, cooks, barbers, carpenters, laborers as well as bureaucrats. There were many Welayta teachers and school directors in the 1960s who left a mark in their fields and the students they taught, including myself.
Ato Gebre Gebremariam in particular comes to mind, he was a gifted wiry basketball player who introduced his students to the love and art of basketball. Ato Gebre taught us what would later be the patented move of Dr. J in the 80s: a quick glance and subsequent move from left to right, followed by three long strides and then finishing in the air as the ball rolls off the fingers. Many of us who came to know him appreciated and admired his raw instinct for the game before the advent of T.V. and live TV broadcast.
The per capita percentage rate of educated Welaytas is one of the highest in the nation and are one of the few zones that can claim a government structure along with a rich history and experience with a King. The Welayta population and land mass is also 100 times greater than that of the Harari People’s National Regional State.
The request for statehood by the Welayta zone has long been ignored by the SNNPR and federal government. There is an immediate and pressing need for the formation of a state. Nothing is more painful than to watch the children and grandchildren of Welaytas and other ethnic groups who earnestly contributed in the making of Awasa not welcome and their safety more precarious than ever before.
The recent euphoria around Sidama attaining statehood and joining the other nine states is welcomed news for Sidama politicians and their supporters. Attaining statehood comes with financial rewards, political muscle and representation in the existing federal arrangement of Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, unique to the rest of the world, appointment to ministerial and diplomatic positions is based on ethnic contribution without regard to merit. The ethnic quota devised by Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has enabled the elite to rule and rob the country and in the process destroy the meritocracy that existed before. This system bypasses merit in both military and civilian establishments throughout the country.
Once the constitution of the Sidama State is approved by the new state assembly, the state will be allowed to form a special force (a trained paramilitary force created by the regional state) and police force. This will begin the displacement of other ethnic groups in the six thousand square kilometer area. Furthermore, experience shows that the federal constitution of Ethiopia will not protect citizens who reside outside their designated state or home land.
For the past 40 years The Sidama Liberation Front (SLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) have shared the intoxicating goal of taking total ownership of what belongs to others. The SLF and OLF have executed operations that targeted civilians in their respective regions. Both fronts didn’t succeed to control what they called “liberated areas” as self-proclaimed liberation forces. In fact, these fronts have no history of military engagement against the former military government or TPLF forces that can be verified. The only documented history of SLF and OLF are attacks on unarmed civilians. The SLF killed civilians during funeral services in Arbegona and Bensa thirty years ago and in districts and villages in the Sidama Zone last year.
The OLF massacred and displaced civilians in Asosa, Bedeno, Arba gugu, Harar, Kore, Jima, Ambosa, Welega and more. With tacit support and preferred silence from Oromia regional state and the federal government officials, OLF has managed to rob over 23 banks and displaced close to a million Gedeos in the southern region and thousands of people around the city of Addis Ababa. In the past two years, OLF aided and abated by military officers and federal officials have started reckless military operations in all regional states but Tigray Region.
With their hands drenched with innocent blood, the OLF has gained access and acceptance from the federal government, attending meetings called by the Prime Minister’s office. This same office has shunned other legal political parties who fought to get rid of the previous regime. Members of these parties paid the price for democratic change with years of imprisonment, physical and mental abuse, and family breakdown.
The handover of Awasa to Sidama politicians via burning and looting is what the OLF hopes to engineer in the capital city, as reported by the federal government in the past six days. Splinter OLF groups unapologetically and unrepentantly continue to execute their ethnic cleansing legally and illegally.
These OLF groups instead of facing the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity are pampered by the federal government with all their expenses covered by named and unnamed groups from inside and outside the country. The OLF has gained unlimited access to government owned and privately owned media to carry out and monitor its ethnic cleansing agenda in Addis Ababa and beyond. Among the written works and videos detailing these crimes, The Oromo Struggle, written by Aba Dula Gemeda in 1996 is worth mentioning. Gemeda, who currently serves as one of the PM’s advisors, writes about the 1991-1995 atrocities by OLF on pages 130-131, 153-155.
Top and Bottom caption: “OLF Atrocities Wajo District, Hargete localities.” From The Oromo Struggle (p. 154), by Aba Dula Gemeda, 1996, Finfine (Addis Ababa): Mega Publishing House. Copyright .
Top and Bottom caption: “OLF Atrocities Gelada District, Hargete localities.” From The Oromo Struggle (p. 155), by Aba Dula Gemeda, 1996, Finfine (Addis Ababa): Mega Publishing House. Copyright .
Noting the Sidama referendum as an exhibit of democracy in the making is pitiful. Granting one zone statehood and denying others will not usher in democracy but, will be a glaring demonstration on how politically designed illegal activity will be a trial balloon for federal officials and politicians of other ethnicities to copy and paste the Sidama experience in Addis Ababa, Harar, Dire Dewa and elsewhere.
The capital city Addis Ababa is claimed by Oromo politicians as exclusively theirs and the Prime Minister, and other multiethnic parties choose to disengage. The recent protests after the murder of singer and activist Hachalu Hundessa on June 29, 2020, was followed by opportunistic mayhem and destruction of businesses and properties belonging to other ethnic groups in Oromia region and Addis Ababa as told by government officials. Government officials announced the following day that plans to overthrow the government and commit ethnically targeted killings were foiled by security forces in Addis leading to the arrest of 35 Oromo politicians and activists. For the past two years there have been ample warning signs of impending civilian deaths and displacement that the federal government has chosen to ignore.
Eskender Nega, a journalist, human rights activist, and spokesman for the residents of Addis Ababa, has documented and exposed the ongoing crimes and impending genocide to the Ethiopian government, The United Nations Commission on Human Rights and other international institutions beginning in 2019. Nega is now in jail as of June 30th 2020 for the 10th time on trumped up, likely to be fabricated charges. His arrest is solely retaliation for alerting the world of the looming ethnic cleansing and mayhem that we’ve witnessed in the last six days.
The charges against Nega and his associate are shameful vindictive measures by the government and its allies to hide and divert attention from ethnic driven politics and ongoing killings underway in and around Addis Ababa and the Oromia regional state. The internet is now blocked in Ethiopia to hide the hundreds of ethnically targeted dismembering and killings by OLF, their sympathizers, regional state officials and police force. The officially acknowledged number of people killed in the Oromia region since protests began is close to two hundred civilians. Nega was beaten at the time of his arrest and detained without food. He now resides in a dark 6×6 room infested with rats, cockroaches, and flees without visits from family and friends. He awaits sentencing for his human rights activism for citizens of Addis and throughout Ethiopia.
Dogo Aba Bora is an Ethiopian construction project manager living in New York City for the past 40 year