“A multiethnic Damotic regional state of Ethiopia will relatively deemphasize tribal boundaries by reintroducing geographic-based federalism,” Teshome Borago
By Teshome M. Borago
May 18, 2020
Several months ago, I presented the idea of a multiethnic “DAMOTIC” province of Ethiopia as a solution to the violent fragmentation of southern Ethiopia. Since then, this concept of a more progressive, multilingual and geography-based federalist state has become very popular among the public and key decision makers.
Using what zonal officials were already considering, I estimated that the new state can have Damot mountain, Omo River and other geographical boundaries; while uniting and politically/economically empowering almost 15 million Ethiopian people who share the Omotic language family. Anchored by three (or more) economic centers of Arba Minch, Sodo and Jinka, the new regional state can be a prosperous and welcoming democratic state of Ethiopia.
This proposal is a much better alternative compared to the dangerous fragmentation of SNNPR into 45 tiny states. Before the disastrous one-party Sidama referendum, the Ethiopian government carried out community surveys to see if most residents of SNNPR prefer a narrow ethnic-segregation of the state into 45 tiny tribal states or if they prefer to live peacefully together. According to the result, It appeared the overwhelming majority wanted to live together. But the government of Prime Minister Abiy failed to diffuse the Sidama statehood momentum driven by the likes of TPLF and Jawar Mohammed, who was crowning himself as the “second government.”
Despite the referendum, it seems multiethnic Hawassa is stuck in limbo today, as the government realizes implementing segregation is not an easy task. If it wasn’t for the federal army stationed in Hawassa, its non-Sidama residents say the city’s economy was collapsing because the referendum disenfranchised and alienated its multiethnic population.
Abiy failed to listen to his adviser former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn who warned him about the dangers of tribal nativism and statehood proliferation. The main reason why Hailemariam, SEPDM and the ANDM blocs of EPRDF voted for Abiy to become a prime minister was to empower a progressive “Oromo Prime Minister” to transition Ethiopia into a new era of federalism where tribal identity is less emphasized.
So far, Abiy has failed this assignment at the peripheral (TPLF, Sidama etc) but he can succeed in rebranding the Ethiopian identity at the federal level: changing it from Meles Zenawi’s “coalition of ethnic nations,” into a new multilingual one nation.
Nonetheless, it is a hard task for one leader to unite a fragmented country from the top down, so it is important that grassroots movements from the bottom-up also work toward the same goal. One way to achieve this goal is by slowly weakening the concept of the current apartheid ethnic-federalism, which has sadly led to land wars between tribal enclaves and the death of tens of thousands. Thanks to this system of tribal-federalism, Ethiopia has become #1 in the world for internal displacement of her own citizens.
On top of spreading hate and violence in Ethiopia, ethnic-federalism has also empowered the two big ethnic-states (Oromia and Amhara region) at the expense of the rest of Ethiopians.
To solve all these problems, creating a multiethnic Damotic regional state of Ethiopia will relatively deemphasize tribal boundaries by reintroducing geographic-based federalism and thus saving Ethiopia from this backward and embarrassing era of endless ethnic conflict. The Damotic regional state can lead Ethiopia into a new era of federalism, where several ethnic communities find ways to unite and administer a region together. In this way, they can prosper together instead of killing each other over land or fighting forever over ethnic ownership of towns.
If this blueprint succeeds in Ethiopia, small ethnic zones can unite to become a moderate sized State (ex. Damotic state) while the big ethnic states (ex. Oromia, Amhara) will break apart gradually due to the burdens of regionalism and urbanization.
While this Damotic state proposal is still not the ideal end result; but it could take us one step closer to our ultimate destination. This final destination is a New Ethiopia that becomes politically ethnic-blind, while developing a multicultural & multilingual democratic society.
Almost two decades ago, Meles Zenawi insulted Wolayta people as a community who had nothing to contribute to Ethiopian history or identity. At one time, Meles Zenawi said “Axum’s monument in Tigray means nothing to Wolaita people” and vise versa.
Ironically, my father’s Wolaita ancestors were members of the Tigre Dynasty of the Wolaita Kingdom for over 500 years ago. So all our history is actually connected. Meles Zenawi and some confused activists think Ethiopian people have no shared history, but we have.
Just like every ethno-linguistic community in Ethiopia, Wolayta people’s history is connected with other Ethiopians for more than a thousand years (before Menelik.) But Meles Zenawi and his students like Assefa Wodajo want to divide us and focus only on the bad parts of our history.
Meles Zenawi was the ultimate divider-in-Chief who almost destroyed the fabric of Ethiopian society. It will take us a long time to heal the wounds of division from his legacy. But to do this, Wolayta and southern Ethiopians must unite.
There are some naive politicians who think TPLF cares about Wolayta statehood today, after TPLF denied Wolayta statehood for 27 years. The only reason TPLF supports Wolayta statehood today is because it wants to ignite fire and chaos in the region.
TPLF in Mekelle wants to collect the most xenophobic, nativist and outspoken politicians like Asefa Wodajo and Tsegaye Ararsa, to create a “segregationist alliance” in the name of federalism. Wolayta people must say no to a “xenophobic alliance” organized by TPLF and some of the most fringe drivers of extreme ethnic-nationalism in Ethiopia.
At this time, TPLF can not even survive inside Tigray without pushing perpetual victimhood among Tigrayans, so it is imprisoning and persecuting Tigrayan opposition.
Ethiopians of SNNPR should not be manipulated by TPLF, OLF or any external political force. They should create a grassroots and organic solution to local problems. Instead of dividing and segregating southern Ethiopia into 45 tribal states; the Damotic regional state can become a prototype for a new form of democratic multiethnic federalism.
Join the conversation. Like borkena on Facebook and get Ethiopian News updates regularly. As well, you may get Ethiopia News by following us on twitter @zborkena