By Teshome Borago
February 3, 2020
As Ethiopia’s Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) continues to collapse, southern elders and intellectuals have searched for a new path away from a complete breakup. With the help of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the remaining SNNPR officials are reportedly saving most of the SNNPR remnants under a new name “Damotic Regional State.”
The new Damotic Regional State (DRS) will unite the Dawro, Omo, Gamo, Wolayta, Basqeto, Konta and other Omotic speaking people of southern Ethiopia. In order to create more economic centers, the DRS will not have one capital city but it will have at least three political and economic centers: including Arba Minch, Sodo and Jinka.
With over fifty parliament seats representing around 9% of Ethiopia, the DRS will likely become the third most powerful state in the Ethiopian government.
The name itself comes from the combination of Damot mountain and the Omo River, which forms boundaries of the new state. The DRS will not have one official language but all Omotic dialects and Amharic will be working languages. By creating a new multiethnic state using Damot mountain, Omo River and other geographical boundaries, the DRS will likely be a pioneering state in Ethiopian history: by successfully combining features of both post-1991 ethnic-federalism and pre-1991 geo-federalism.
This new state proposal reportedly has the blessings of local elders and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his Prosperity Party (PP), which includes all the current Zonal ruling parties in Gamo, Gofa, Wolayta, Dawro, South Omo and neighboring areas.
However, the de facto separation of Sidama zone to become its own state has created a domino effect of disintegration. Some Gamo and Wolayta youth activists are not happy about this new DRS unity proposal by the zonal ruling parties, because they wanted to copy the Sidama blueprint by organizing a referendum to create a small Wolayta regional state and Gamo regional state.
But a region-wide survey and research done in 2019 claimed that most citizens of the SNNPR prefer to stay together, rather than creating 50 tiny states based solely on ethnicity. The committee said southern citizens want unity; but accused power-hungry elites and tribal activists for pushing separation.
Therefore, a new committee is now created by the Prime Minister’s office to redo the survey and more studies that will be finalized after the 2020 elections. The DRS proposal and other ideas are considered by the new committee in order to break up SNNPR into 3 or 4 big pieces, instead of 50 tiny states.
However, Wolayta and Gamo activists have recently been contacted by Jawar Mohammed’s OMN media and invited by TPLF to conferences in Mekele. According to inside sources, Jawar’s camp and the TPLF are not working together against Abiy on SNNPR politics, but they share the same goal to destabilize the south and profit from proliferation of tribalism. Some Oromo nationalists also want to annex Gedeo zone to incorporate it into Greater Oromia; after the SNNPR collapses.
There are several unknown factors in play.
With the creation of a multiethnic Omotic state, it is unknown what will happen to the remaining parts of SNNPR (particularly Gurage and Hadiya).
Despite a successful referendum, the fate of Sidama region is also unknown. After Sidama ruling party joined Abiy’s Prosperity Party, the process of dividing assets and creating an official Sidama regional state has been delayed and the fate of Hawassa city’s regional or federal city status will be decided during the elections.
The DRS proposal has been applauded by some scholars and progressive groups. In its press release, the Wolayta Committee for Human Rights (WCHR) said,
“Keeping a multiethnic state will prevent the human rights crisis we see in Ethiopia due to one-ethnic-based territorial conflicts nationwide,” according to its online statement.
Former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegne has also advised Dr. Abiy to transform the SNNPR into a more geographic based regional states while applying a bigger “language family” requirement instead of a single language or dialect. The Omotic language family is estimated to make up between 7-10% of Ethiopia. Historically, the Omotic community occupied even larger area in southern Ethiopia but conquests by the Abyssinian kingdom and gradual Oromo expansion has swallowed up their land. Scholars like Professor Haile Larebo believe a significant population of modern day Afan Oromo speakers have Omotic ancestors.
Some critics believe the “Damotic State” proposal is similar to the failed Wagagoda proposal 20 years ago. However, this criticism was proved to be false since, unlike the Wagagoda concept, the Damotic state does not invent or impose a new mixed language as Omotic dialects will remain independent. Supporters of the DRS believe the Damotic State will unite people who share the same culture, shared history, one geographic area and the same family of languages as well as restore the ancient and bigger Ethiopian kingdom of past centuries.
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