Sidama referendum voting ended with no security incident, Hawassa remains a question

Ethiopian government says Sidama referendum for ethnic statehood ended with no security incident. The status of Hawassa, a city that has served as the seat of SNNPR for over 27 years and a city that has changed very much in those years due to private and public investment could potentially remain a controversial question should the outcome of the referendum is separate ethnic Sidama statehood

Sidama referendum_
Credit : Awassa Guardian

November 20, 2019

Head of SNNPR regional state Restu Yirdaw said that voting in the referendum concluded peacefully, reported by state media Ethiopian News Agency (ENA).

Voting started as early as 6.a.m. local time across 1,692 polling stations organized for this purpose.  In areas where the number of registered voters was small, the voting process was completed ahead of scheduled time, ENA reported.

Regional police, Federal Police force and Sidama zone security coordinated their work to ensure peace during the voting process, said Restu.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was apparently supportive of the “Sidama question” from get go, hailed it in a positive light before it was even completed ; “Sidama referendum is an expression of the democratization path Ethiopia has set out on.”

The National Election Board of Ethiopia is expected to disclose the outcome in 48 hours.

Over one million people cast votes in the referendum. It was organized to determine the ethnic-based statehood question demanded by Sidama.

There are reports that most non-Sidama ethnic communities in Hawassa town and other areas in the region boycotted what a local news provider described as a “controversial event.”

If ethnic-Sidama nationalists win the referendum, it means that Sidama, currently a zone administration within Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region, will have its own separate regional-state status, and will become the 10th regional state in Ethiopia.

Yet, the status of Hawassa, should the outcome of the referendum favors separate ethnic Sidama state, is something that is to be determined in consultation with the regional state has it has served as the seat of SNNPR for over 26 years now which means that the region’s entire resources have been invested in the city.

So the wealth of the city is to be divided between Sidama and the more than fifty ethnic groups that have been, to date, under the administration of SNNPR. In fact, the National Election Board of Ethiopia has made that clear from the beginning.

There have been voices calling for the postponement of the referendum on grounds of voter registration fraud and what not but the national election board did not seem to want to address them.

The process leading to Sidama referendum has been a bloody one. In July 2019, radical ethnic Sidama Nationalist youth believed to be agitated by Jawar led radical ethnic Oromo nationalists, announced an ultimatum calling for Ethiopia’s election board to organize a referendum by July 18, 2019.

As Ethiopia’s election board ignored the ultimatum (response came a day after the deadline for the ultimatum), radical Sidama nationalists launched a violent attacks against non-Sidama ethnic communities in the region leaving at least 54 dead and over 100 wounded, as confirmed by security authorities in the region.

Several other ethnic communities in the region have demanded similar rights and most of them have finalized the initial requirement which is getting the zone council to vote on it and formally submit their demands to SNNPR state.  

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