Ethiopia’s election board lean on constitution to brush-off Sidama ultimatum

– Ethiopia’s National Election Board make it clear that it will not be able to organize Sidama referendum by the ultimatum date that Sidama Nationalist put forth
– National election board wants to know arrangement about the City of Hawassa before the referendum

Sidama Ultimatum _ election board

July 16, 2019

Central Committee of Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) – the party that is currently governing Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region which is one of the four parties that constitute the ruling coalition EPRDF – had been meeting for nearly ten days until Monday of this week and one of the controversial issues in the meeting was ethnic Sidama statehood questions. 

As it turns out, and when the party issued a detailed statement about the just-concluded meeting, it failed to disclose what exactly was discussed in regards to Sidama question for statehood and what the decision party’s decision is on it. 

And ethnic Sidamas who want to see their own ethnic state, through the agency of Ejeto (a radicalized Youth group who are said to have support from radical Oromo ethno-nationalists), gave an ultimatum for the government (both regional and Federal) that they will unilaterally declare statehood on July 18, 2018 should the government fails to organize a referendum by then. 

It is under those circumstances that Ethiopia’s Election Board, which is mandated to organize a referendum, broke its silence and issued a statement on the issue of Sidama statehood. 

The Board said that it has received Sidama Zone, which is under Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region, decision in November 2018. 

And then it explained why it was unable to respond to the demand highlighting the reform (structural and others)  that the board has been undertaking which culminated in the appointment of additional board members on June 2019. 

Election Board also said that it had consulted with Zone and region level leaders as it relates to the question of Sidama referendum for statehood. 

The election board is rejecting the ultimatum without indulging in a war of words with the radical groups.  It is actually leaning on the constitution to do so – but the most the board can do is to extend the referendum by about five months and that is what it is doing. The Board cited section 47/3/b of the constitution to highlight that time frame granted for regions in connection with organizing referendum is also applicable to the election board.  

Sidama Ultimatum _ election board
Ethnic Sidama having a meeting. Photo credit : SNLF

In what it seems to be giving guarantee to Sidama ethno-nationalists, the board also stated that preparations (legal, budgetary, security arrangement, training officials, consultation with stakeholders and whatnot) are underway to carry out a referendum in the next five months. 

Stakeholders that are likely to be involved in the process also need to have their own preparation time, noted the statement from the Board. 

As well, the board went on to make three recommendations as part of the preparation for the referendum: 

  • Should the outcome of the referendum favors Sidama Zone decision for statehood, there has to be an arrangement between the regional state and Sidama zone of the issue of the city of Hawassa on matters related to the distribution of wealth, and that the election board should be notified about it.
  • Federal, regional and Sidama zone police to prepare detailed cooperation plan to ensure electoral security and work with the election board 
  • Council of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region to make a legal and administrative arrangement regarding rights protection of other ethnic groups in Sidama zone after the referendum and notify election board about it. 

As implied in the third recommendation, the election board seems to convinced that ethnic Sidama is poised to be the tenth ethnic-based Federal regional state in Ethiopia.

The problem is, among other things, nine other zones in the region have demanded statehood status just like ethnic Sidama and the election board will have to treat them all in the same way. 

If that happens, most Ethiopians tend to think, it is the beginning of the disintegration process for Ethiopia.

Political analysts, with a skeptical view of radical Oromo nationalists (both those in the government position and in the opposition), say that the latter has interest in the disintegration process in South Ethiopia as they would get political advantage in the short and long terms over those communities and over contenders from elsewhere which remain to be seen. What is clear for now is that radical Oromo ethno-nationalists are aggressively working behind radical Sidama groups and supporting their cause for statehood.

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