20 dead as Sidama question turns into an ethnic-based attack

Sidama Liberation Movement says about 20 people died so far

Sidama _ Ethiopia
Photo credit: Reuters. Source: VOA Amharic

July 19, 2019

A relative calm was restored in the City of Hawassa, in Southern Ethiopia, where there was a clash between deployed Ethiopian Defense Force and other security forces on the one hand and ethnic-Sidama Youth group on the other on Thursday of this week, according to a report by DW Amharic.

However, the story is different in the adjacent rural towns outside of Hawassa.  The towns of Yirgalem, Morocho, and Hagereselam, among others, were tense as the clash continued.

Sidama Liberation Movement (SLM), which is a member of Ethiopia’s registered opposition coalition, Secretary, Legesse Lankuamon told Voice of America Amharic service that about twenty people are killed since Thursday of this week. Most of the killings happened in Melga district and its environs, he added.

Casualty on the part of the security forces is unreported yet.

SLM wants the withdrawal of the Defense Force deployed in the region in the interest of “restoring calm and stability in the region.” It means that, according to SLM secretary, the violence in the region could continue.

“We knew this would happen,” said Legesse.

Asked as to what they (the leaders) have done to reverse the situation, he replied that they have been consulting with government bodies.

On the other hand, vulnerable non-Sidama ethnic groups living in the region rather want the government to send reinforcements as they are not feeling safe following an attack by radical Sidama ethno-nationalists including the youth group known as Ejeto.  Name of the victims is undisclosed at this writing.

These community members told VOA Amharic that property has deliberately been damaged and in some cases looted.

BBC Amharic Service has also reported on July 19 that in Yirgalem town, people are attacked and property looted.  Two vehicles belonging to the town’s administration are burned. A flour factory is also burned.

Based on citizen reports from the region and VOA Amharic and DW Amharic, it is clear that the attack was targeting non-ethnic Sidama Ethiopians living in the region.

Referring to what unfolded in Hawassa and other towns in the region, President of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region, Million Matheos, who is himself ethnic-Sidama reportedly said that he is saddened by what happened and called on people to restore calm.

What triggered the security crisis in the region, some Sidama politicians seem to believe, is the National Election Board statement on Tuesday, July 16, 2019.

The statement said that the board is working on the referendum for ethnic Sidama to form their own state, distinct from Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region, and that it will finalize the referendum within five months. 

What angered Sidama nationalists the statement came in less than 24 hours before Hamele 11/11 (July 18, 2019) which they set as a date to declare Sidama statehood without a referendum and in a unilateral fashion. The board explained why it was not responding to the question until July 16.

The Board also asked Sidama Zone leaders and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region leaders to map out the status of Hawassa city before the referendum in case the outcome of it turns out to be Sidama Statehood. Sidama nationalists understood that as a precondition and that the Election Board has gone overboard.

Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region is an expression of the contradictions of Ethiopia’s administrative arrangement which is believed to be engineered by Tigray People’s Liberation Front under the late Meles Zenawi.

Existing federal regional state in Ethiopia are organized based on ethnicity except in the case of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region which constitutes over 50 ethnic groups.

Following Sidama’s request to break away from the region, nine other ethnic zones in the region are pushing for an ethnic state of their own.  

The regional state does not seem to want to entertain the demand for statehood except for Sidama. What that means is that the problem in the region is far from over even if Sidama was given a status of ethnic-statehood.

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