By Damo Gotamo
Sidama extremist politicians are getting very desperate. The illusion of having Awassa their amusement park is making them restless. Within three weeks, they held two meetings. According to the organizers, the purpose of the meetings was to seek advice from the Sidama elders and review Ejjeetto’s job performance to date. Put another way, the Ejjeetto wanted to hear from the elders if its activities since its creation are worth applauding. The guest speaker in both occasions was Mr. Million Mathewos, head of the Southern Nations and Nationalities and People’s Region.
As the leader of the SNNPR, many people expected Mr. Million to rebuke the Ejjeetto and advice its members to refrain from their illegal activities. Instead, he spent much of the day praising and high-fiving the members of the group, lecturing how peaceful the group is, and trying to testify the legality of the group for its members. Last week, the Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs organized a rally in which thousands of gullible Sidmas participated.
In this short piece, I will attempt to describe some of the activities of the Ejjeetto in Awassa. I will start by introducing the members of the group and recount the group’s activities to show to readers if it is as peaceful as some extremist Sidama politicians including Mr. Million are trying to portrait it.
The literal meaning of Ejjeetto in Sidama language is ‘a young person’. It was created to mimic Querros, Fanos, Zermas, and other youth groups who showed incredible feats of bravery in the fight against the TPLF. Unlike these groups, no one heard about Ejjeetto during the TPLF’s reign of terror. If Ejjeetto had existed before the change that swept the country, we would have seen its members throw pebbles at the TPLF criminals. Its members appeared to the scene right after the election of the current prime minster and the new government promised to take the country in a different direction. For this reason, many think that the members of Ejjeetto were late, at least, by three years and considered as johnny come latelies.
The members of Ejjeetto include gullible Sidama youths and extreme Sidama politicians who work in various sectors of the government. The leaders of the group work as police officers, judges, mayors, heads of government and non-government organizations, and business men in Awassa and Sidama zone in the region. The youth is merely a tool the extremists use to advance their political agenda.
Orders to carry out missions come from the extremist politicians. A day before a mission, members of the Ejjeetto, including those who work in government, would gather in an undisclosed location and plot the impending assignment. For example, an operation which took place last month at Addis Ketema high school was coordinated by people who are heads of Woredas and Kefele Ketemas in Awassa. On the day of the mission, most of the of these people didn’t show up for work. A source told me that most of the politicians who instigate the violence in the city ran to the countryside to hide hoping to absolve themselves from the crimes they have orchestrated.
The police force of the city is an active participant in all the missions of the Ejjeetto. It would be informed in advance where the crime would take place and what it should do on the scene.
Sometimes, members of the police initiate a mission by harassing peaceful residents of the city. The ring leaders of the group who work in government institutions inform the youth to head to the crime scene to assist the police. Then, from every direction young people rush to the scene on motorbikes and in unison with the police start intimidating the non-Sidamas, hurling insults and forewarning them of the danger of staying in Awassa. In many cases, the police relegate their job to the young people and step to the sidelines to watch them harass residents throw all kinds of insults under the sun. Is Ejjeetto really a peaceful group? Have its activities so far justify defending the group?
Members of Ejjeetto have engaged in Killing innocent people and destroying their properties. They have proved that they are capable of creating mayhem if they are ordered by their leaders. For example, they killed many innocent people and destroyed their properties during the last year’s Fiche Chamebella Holiday. They also displaced thousands of people from their properties. We saw people burned to death in their own homes. Is this what Mr. Million calls a peaceful action?
Intimidating residents of Awassa is one of the tactics Ejjeetto employees frequently. The group operates in various venues including football fields to bully non-Sidamas and vandalize their properties. Before a football match, members of Ejjeetto try to force themselves inside a stadium without paying entrance fees. Then, they insult the non-Sidamas and hurl stones at them. After each game, Ejjeetto heads to the center of the city to harass residents vandalizing the properties of small business men on its paths. It is common to witness confrontations with the federal police, which fires gas tears to disperse the trouble makers. Is this what the president calls a peaceful action?
Burning properties of non-Sidamas is another despicable adventure the members of Ejjeettos have chosen to follow. In recent times, we have seen market places and shopping centers burned into the ground.
Case in point, an old market place with hundred fifty shops owned by Wolita, Gurage, Amhara, Wolita, Kembatta, Amaha, and Gideo business men were razed to the ground. Many believe that a Sidama business man who finances Ejjeetto was behind the crime. Up until now, no arrest has been made to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice. Is burning the properties of hard-working citizens is what a peaceful group does?
Ejjeetto also attacks schools on a regular interval. Its members appear unannounced and order schools’ principals to shut down their schools or face the consequences. For example, last month the Ejjettoo ordered the closure of all schools in the city citing the funeral proceedings of three of its members who died in a car accident. The teaching process is frequently disrupted affecting including school children. I witnessed children crying when their parents pick them from playgrounds of their schools. How can anyone with a right frame mind says such an action is peaceful?
The emboldened Ejjeetto has raised the ante and has recently engaged in extortion. A few weeks ago, the group distributed typed letters to hotel owners in the city demanding that they contribute money to its cause.
My source related to me that members of Ejjeetto demanded fifty thousand Birr (fifty thousand Birr) from one hotel owner alone.
In addition to asking for money, the group makes threatening phone calls to building owners asking them to evacuate their properties. Is this what a legal group does?
Ejjeetto’s criminal activities are not limited to the ones described above. It is common to see members of Ejjeetto intimidate women and assist the Sidama police in displacing non-Sidama small business owners from their locations.
Many businesses in Awassa are suffering from the slowdown in economic activities due to Ejjeetto’s illegal actions. Real estate, tourism, hotel, and other sectors of the economy are adversely affected. Sidama business men are the main victims of the economic activities in Awassa because many non-Sidamas, wrongly, refraining themselves from doing business with them including staying away from rental properties owned by Sidamas.
The people of Sidama are known for their generosity and peaceful coexistence with others. They are being used to advance the interest of corrupt extreme and criminal politicians. They must condemn the extremists who are working to tarnish the image of the Sidama people. They must also ask Ejjeetto and its illegal activity to stop. Ejjeetto is engaged in creating divisions between the Sidama people and other tribes in the country and that is what its record tells the whole world.
The main objective of Sidama extremists is complete control over the residents of Awassa and their properties. Thanks to ethnic politics, over the years they have developed deep rooted hatred to non-Sidamas in the city. Their obsession with Awassa is deeply ingrained.
They blame everyone but themselves for the poor economic situation of the Sidama zone.
Using any opportunity that avails itself, the extremists tell the gullible Sidama youth that they poor economic conditions will only be alleviated unless they have their own Kelele. They don’t tell the young people how many Kelels set free their youth from poverty by having their own Kelele. Extremist are using young people and their position in government to further isolate the Sidama people from the rest of the country.
Unlike what Mr. Million and other Sidama politicians are trying to tell us, Ejjetto isn’t a peaceful group. Lawlessness is the yardstick of the group.
The government must not overlook Ejjeetto and its illegal activities. If kept unchecked, Ejjeetto has a potential to wreak havoc in the area that will not be easy to contain. People in Awassa and in the entire country don’t want to see another Hego in Awassa.
Mr. Million must not be allowed to stay on power. He seems to prefer in taking part in Ejjeetto’s meeting than spending time solving the problems of the people in the region. It is clear to everyone that Mr. Million is a sympathizer of the group and has been trying defended the indefeasible. Calling imaginary bogymen for the crimes of Ejjeetto isn’t going to cut it. Ejjeetto is a criminal group and the anthesis of Medemer. From what we have seen so far there is nothing peaceful about it.
Disbanding and criminalizing the members of the Ejjeetto aren’t to be left for the future. The government must learn from the Hegos in the Somali region and nip the Ejjeetto in the bud.
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