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Was the Sidama People’s Vote for Statehood in Awassa Free and Fair?

Ethiopian authorities _ Hawassa _ sidama
Awassa city

By Damo Gotamo
November 21, 2019  

Referendum on the Sidama autonomy in Awassa and Sidama Zone took place on Wednesday, November 20, 2019. We were told by government officials and journalists that the voting process was peaceful, free, and fair. But, the reality on the ground was a complete opposite of the claims of the people associated with the government. The residents of Awassa observed a fraud they had never seen before and were dismayed by the false claims the officials. In this short article, I will state what had transpired on the date in Awassa. I hope what had taken place in Awassa will give readers a glimpse of the entire process in the Sidama zone where no independent election observers were stationed. 

To begin with, the government officials said the polling stations would be open at 6 a.m. local time. Contrary to what the residents of Awassa were told, almost all the stations in the city were open at 2 a.m. local time. This was done on purpose by the Sidama extremists to allow illegal ID holders, who came from villages in the Sidama zone, to cast their vote in the absence of the watchful eyes of the residents of Awassa. Thousands of Illegal residents of the city cast their ballot in Awassa and left immediately for their villages to vote again. The residents of Awassa saw thousands of strangers driven by several buses and offloaded at the polling stations in awassa. There were no government officials or security forces to prevent the illegal activity at the polling stations. The ‘observers’ and those who opened the polling stations were the remnants of the Ejjeetto sympathizers who had been disturbing the peace of Awassa. 

After 6 a.m., in several polling stations in Awassa, many strangers were seen standing in line to cast their votes. A few residents of the city who chose to cast their ballot were dumbfounded to see strangers waiting to cast their ballot. The city residents whom I spoke told me they felt strangers themselves among the people who came from different villages in the Sidama zone. 

Two polling stations in the city were closed because of the confrontation between the strangers and city residents, who could not stand what was taking place in front of their eyes. I heard many innocent people were rounded up and thrown into jail by the Sidama police, which was left to do whatever it wanted. There were no officials from the Command Post at the stations to maintain law and order. It was clear to everyone from what was taking place in Awassa that the government of Abiy gave the Sidama extremists the green light to do whatever they wanted. Nothing was done in the days that preceded the voting when the Sidama extremists engaged in massive fraudulent activities, including issuing thousands of illegal IDs to non residents of Awassa. 

Many residents of Awassa were appalled by what they saw on the voting day. They said the 27 years of the TPLF elections were by far more transparent and more open than the Sidama referendum for the statehood. At least, they said, the TPLF rigged the election behind closed doors, away from the watchful eyes of the people. However, last Wednesday, the voter fraud was taking place in open and in front of the public. The fraudulent referendum has proven to the residents of Awassa beyond any doubt that the government in Ethiopia is in name only. 

The vote ‘observers’ and those who were tasked to open and close the voting stations hailed from the same group voting for statehood. They instructed people to cast their votes in the box that favored a Sidama statehood and closely monitored people where they cast their ballots. A few Awassa residents who decided to participate in the farce vote and cast their ballots against the Sidama statehood were scolded by the ‘observers.’ I heard many were threatened by the thugs who were masquerading as ‘observers.’ As I write this article, two individuals were caught engaging in criminal activities. An individual by the name of Tesfaye Dengiso was caught leading non residents of the city to vote and intimidating Awassa residents to cast their vote for the Sidama statehood. Another individual was apprehended transporting several sacks of illegally cast registration cards from one location to another. The two incidents, however, don’t describe the extent of the fraudulent activities that took place on Wednesday in Awassa. 

In Bahel Adarash Kefle Ketema, Adare Kebele, where only one ethnic Sidama lives, 800 voter cards were cast for ‘Shafeta,’ in favor of Sidama statehood. In the same district, where 600 residents voted against the statehood and 300 in favor, the official result was removed illegally and reversed in favor of the Sidama statehood. I also heard in many districts in Awassa the votes were disqualified because of the angry profanity the people of Awassa scribbled on voting cards belittling the entire illegal process that took place in Awassa. 

In Awassa, there was not a single independent person from the so-called National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) to observe the vote. The members of the military were also absent at the polling station to prevent the criminal activities that were taking place in open and to prevent the Sidama extremists from harassing the people of Awassa at the stations. 

The government officials who were bombarding the people of Ethiopia with false claims about the referendum should be ashamed of themselves. Everything they said on TV about the vote was a blatant lie. The so-called press conferences and statements leading up to the vote and on the date of the vote were embarrassing to say the least. They didn’t have the guts to call the fraudulent activity illegal and declare it null and void.

The residents of Awassa have a message to Birtukan Medekesa; resign effective immediately. It is an enigma to the people in the city why the woman who made a name for herself by fighting the TPLF criminals and standing for the truth ended up associating herself with a fraudulent and illegal activity that tarnishes her reputation? Birtukan should not have associated herself with a scam whose outcome was already determined. 

The Sidama referendum was conducted illegally. It was not free and fair as the government officials tried to tell us. The officials of the SNNPR, including the president, lied to the people of Ethiopia about the transparency of the referendum. They did nothing when none residents of Awassa in thousands were allowed to vote in Awassa. Nothing was done to stop the Sidama ethnic thugs from intimidating the residents of Awassa to vote in favor of the Sidama statehood. The newly elected mayor of Awassa also did absolutely nothing when illegal activities were taking place under his watch. It was for everyone to see that both officials cooperated with the Sidama extremists to compromise the results of the Sidama referendum.  

Abiy and his government are sinking the country into a new low by allowing mass murders to do whatever they wanted and watching on the sidelines. Thousands of people and members of the military died for a sham referendum whose outcome was already determined by the government and its cadres. The people of Ethiopia will not be surprised if Abiy’s government illegally hands over Awassa, which was established and developed by the hard work of the people of Ethiopia to a few ethnic thugs who migrated to Awassa a decade ago. 

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