Ethiopian PM patronized Welayta on the issue of statehood

Ethiopia _ Abiy _ Welayta _ Wolaita
Reception to PM Abiy Ahmed during his visit to Wolaita. Photo : office of the Prime Minister

July 29, 2019

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been consistently inconsistent when it comes to the question of statehood in what is known as Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region.

When ethnic Sidama asked for statehood soon after Abiy assumed office, he was quick to promise one. It is unclear if PM Abiy’s prompt affirmation was related to radical Oromo ethno-nationalists’s political support for the question.

He did not deliver the promise so much so that radicalized Sidama ethno-nationalists lost patience and declared statehood unilaterally on July 18, 2019, ignoring Abiy’s Ahmed’s warning during his latest appearance.

Apart from humiliating the Federal government, radicalized Sidama youth attacked non-ethnic Sidama communities and at least 60 civilians are killed, not to mention those wounded and destruction of property.

Abiy Ahmed’s government had to opt for imposing a state of emergency in the region so as to protect the safety and security of citizens. 

As part of the arrangement of the state of emergency, a Command Post – a body mostly drawn from military commanders and intelligence, took over the task of maintaining security.

The arrangement is still and will be in effect indefinitely.  The party that is governing the region disclosed last week that it has suspended senior zone level officials of Sidama and from Hawassa City Administration in connection with the violence. In fact, rumors on social media seem to claim that the leaders are arrested.

It is in this situation that Abiy Ahmed traveled to Arba Minch and Welayta Sodo, in Southern Ethiopia, on July 29 – the day his “Green Legacy” initiative, intended to fight climate change, launched.

After Abiy Ahmed’s affirmative response to Sidama statehood question, at least nine other zonal administration took the Sidama path and decided to have statehood. Wolaita is one of them.

According to a report by DW Amharic, Welayta community members, who gave Abiy Ahmed a warm reception upon arrival in their region, had a town hall meeting with him. And the dominant question was statehood.

But Abiy’s response to the statehood question seems to be rather patronizing, unlike the case of the Sidama to which he committed himself.

He wants Wolaita “to get out of emotional feeling and have a consultation if statehood status is in their interest.”

As cited earlier, Welayta Zone council had already discussed the matter before and reached an agreement to lodge an application with relevant Federal institution, the election board, in this case, demanding a referendum for statehood.

A body tasked to study the demand for statehood in the region, and this body was formed by Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) – a party that governs the region, released its findings last week in which it said that the majority of the people in the region seem to be interested in keeping the existing administrative arrangement and that the existing arrangement was formed after extensive consultation with intellectuals and people in the region.

Abiy Ahmed’s move to patronize Welayta seems to give a clue that perhaps Wolaita’s demand for statehood will not be entertained.  The question is how can the government entertain Sidama’s question while sort of stifling other zones in the region from pursuing statehood status. It remains to be seen.

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