By Damo Gotamo
August 8, 2020
The hasty decision of the government of Ethiopia to make Sidama the only new region in the Southern Nations and Nationalities People’s Region (SNNPR) has opened a Pandora’s box of claims from different groups seeking their own regions. There is no question that the decision to allow Sidama a statehood has energized ethnic entrepreneurs and those who call themselves activists in the region. They have seized the occasion to become more vociferous in their demand for new regional administration in their ethnic enclaves.
Rushing to grant Sidama an administrative region, without seeking an all-inclusive solution to many unresolved issues in the SNNPR, has given an opening for ethnic fanatics to do whatever they want with impunity. The negative impact of the ill-conceived decision is nowhere clearer than in the multiethnic city of Awassa.
No sooner than Sidama became a new region, Sidama ethic extremists have started doing what they do best, engaging in illegal activities. Their innate nature for disregarding the law, coupled with the wishy-washy stand of the federal government on many key issues in the southern region, has allowed them to act and behave irresponsibly. There is no doubt that they are on a mission to destroy the second largest city in Ethiopia. The federal government must stop the charlatans in Awassa from destroying the multiethnic Awassa and continue wasting millions of the taxpayers’ money in useless schemes.
When Ethiopians are grappling with economic hardship due to the coronavirus, the Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs have wasted millions of the taxpayers’ money to decorate Awassa with symbols glorifying a single ethnic group. Sources are telling me that the yokels have spent close to 80 million birr in the festivities that took place to create the new administrative region. The money that has been wasted on trifles is mind-boggling. For example, the Kleptomaniacs have paid 40 thousand birr for a small banner. It is not difficult to imagine how much money has been squandered on thousands of banners hanging on the buildings of the city. In Awassa, where ninety percent of residents are struggling to make ends meet, the new region has ushered a number of new millionaire thieves who hail from one ethnic group.
Every big occasion in Awassa is an opportunity for the so-called government officials to swindle the government. The picaroons with new V12 vehicles have been scrambling to take the new opportunity to scam the government. They have concocted a scheme to pocket millions on the pretext of undertaking questionable schemes. One of the schemes is erecting a symbol glorifying one ethnic group.
The new leaders have openly declared that a Shafeta tower worth 30 million birr will be erected in the center of Awassa. A statue commemorating “the fallen heroes” will also be built in the city. No one knows in which battle fields the so-called heroes fought and fallen.
Recently, the SMN (Sidama Media Network) aired a photo of ‘fighters’ in Khaki uniforms. The people in the picture looked like the TPLF fighters of the 1970s when they were still in a Dedebit jungle. The network was also deafening people with a false and absurd claim that Sidama fought to be a Kelil for 130 years. The truth is that Sidama started asking for regional status long after Harare became a regional state. So, the Sidama started asking to be a region 18 years ago.
Confusion and uncertainty are everywhere in the southern region and Awassa. Instead of trying to work on easing the tension in the region, the Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs have exacerbated it by making outrageous claims.
The new leaders have openly claimed Awassa will be the permanent seat of the new Sidama state. In his recent interview with Addis Zemen newspaper, the new president of the region went as far as to say that the Sidama state alone will dictate the future of the city, and the revenue from the city will be used by the Sidama region alone. The man went as far as to say, “our region will decide when to say goodbye to the SNNPR from Awassa. “The noise and commotion have continued.
The audacity of the Sidama extremists has no limit. To the surprise of many people, they have told many residents of Awassa not to worry about their status in the city. They have reassured people they will be safe in Awassa and begged them not to leave the city.
From their tone and the way they carry themselves, the Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs are acting as if they have just created a new independent country. I would not be surprised if they demand people to apply for political asylum to live in Awassa.
Since the new government came to power, the people of Awassa have not seen any change. The old ways of doing things have continued and in many instances the situations in Awassa have worsened.
Arbitrary arrests of citizens and corruption are rampant in Awassa. The police and judges hail from a single ethnic group. They attack anyone for no apparent reason and squeeze as much money as they can from the victims. For example, recently a resident with five family members was arrested for a crime he did not commit. Apparently, a person who rented the family home was accused of committing a crime in the city. Unknown to many, the husband, wife, and three children were arrested. The family still remains in jail. The thugs who are in charge of the police and courts are demanding the family to pay a hefty bribe if they want to go free. The only way to get anything done in Awassa is to pay kickbacks.
No city rivals in Awassa in terms of corruption. Non-Sidamas get nothing done for them without paying bribes. They must pay bribes to third and fourth-grade ethnic ‘employees’, who occupy all key positions in the city and barely read and write.
The Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs have two sources of income: regular government salary and bribe. Residents in the city are sources of uninterrupted income to ethnic ticks that survive by sucking their blood. In addition to paying taxes, citizens must pay bribes to get things done. The ethnic bosses have no shame asking for money the very people they harass regularly.
Because of the two years of unrest and coronavirus, the economic activities in Awassa have significantly declined. Getting kickbacks is not as easy as it used to be. To tackle the problem, ethnic lords have concocted a new trick to get bribes: to visit businessmen of the city at their work and ask them to pay them ‘little money for gas’ and get anything done.
I reiterated what I said earlier. Every move the so-called government official makes in Awassa is intended to make money illegally. They always look for new ways to scam money out of the city residents.
Right after Sidama became a region, the Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs started changing the ID cards of Awassa residents illegally. They have been issuing ID cards that bear the logo of the Sidama region. The illegal act has generated a lot of money for people who are issuing the cards. Awassa has become a profitable business for people who have no work ethic. Sadly enough, the federal government is watching on the sidelines when an important city for Ethiopians is being ruined by people who cannot run a village let alone a big city like Awassa.
Millions of Ethiopians in the SNNPR region consider Awassa their capital city. It is multiethnic and too important to leave it for a few Ethnonationalists to plunder it and bankrupt the country.
Watching on a sideline when a few ethnic ticks are destroying one of the most valuable assets to Ethiopians is tantamount to committing unforgivable historical blunders. Awassa belongs to all Ethiopians.
The fingerprints of Ethiopians are everywhere in Awassa. More than fifty years ago, Ethiopians from all around the country established the city that once used to be a safe haven for wildlife. Since then, many Ethiopians have heavily invested their hard-earned money to make the city what it is today. After the city became the seat of the (SNNPR) Southern Nations and Nationalities People’s Region, many Ethiopians flocked to Awassa to add more investment further making Awassa one of the largest cities in the country.
Compare other cities in the southern region with Awassa, and you will witness a stark difference. Awassa is big and beautiful because of the contributions of all Ethiopians. According to my sources, ninety-six percent of the taxpayers in Awassa are non-Sidamas. In addition to the citizens of the country, the federal government has a huge stake in Awassa.
The government of Ethiopia has made several large investments in Awassa. One of the largest industrial parks in Africa has been built in Awassa. When fully operational, the park will employ sixty thousand people and is expected to generate one billion dollars a year in exports. It is a pride of millions of Ethiopians. Since coming to power, PM Abiy has brought to the park foreign leaders and dignitaries to the park for official visits, signaling the importance of Awassa and its industrial park to the nation.
The Express Highway which will connect Addis Ababa to Awassa is another vital investment the government has made in Awassa. When the work is completed, it will take less than three hours to travel between the two cities. The road will help the industrial park ease its supply chain process, increasing its competitiveness in the world markets. It will also help other businesses transport their products from one city to the other in a short period of time. Travelers will arrive at respective cities early, carry out their businesses, and return on the same day where they began their trips.
The federal government has also spent a large amount of money building an international airport in Awassa. When fully operational, it will directly connect sister cities like Washington D.C. with Awassa. The airport will play an important role in easing congestion of Bole airport and help tourists fly directly to Awassa to visit the Southern regions of Ethiopia, which have many attractive tourist destinations.
The aforementioned infrastructures will generate hard currencies, create employment opportunities, and alleviate the people of the country from poverty. Therefore, Awassa is critical to the overall growth and development of Ethiopia.
Awassa is the second-largest city in the country and the pride of all Ethiopians. It is a very valuable city for the growth of the entire country. The city connects Addis Ababa to Kenya, making Awassa strategy important to Ethiopia. Leaving a very important city for the developments of the nation to clueless people is similar to allowing untrained people to fly a $200 million Boeing 787. The consequences are devastating.
The Industrial Park in Awassa is as important as the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (both are the largest infrastructures in Africa) to Ethiopia. It will generate important foreign currency for the nation. In the last few years, we have seen what would happen if Awassa is left to the clueless yokels, economic devastation, and political unrest.
People are unsettled by what has transpired in Awassa. Since the PM came to power, the reckless Sidama extremists have caused tremendous damage in Awassa and other Sidama zones. They have burned people alive and destroyed properties. Investors have held back their money and turned off by the reckless acts of the people, who have been left to do whatever they wanted in the city. Many people have left Awassa. Those who have stayed are unsure of the future, waiting for the government to make drastic changes in the city.
In Awassa, where ethnic Sidama account for only five percent of the city’s population, they occupy ninety-eight percent of the bureaucracy. The main criterion for employment in the federal government in the city so far is to be a Sidama. Securing employment in federal offices is like winning a lottery because it is the easiest way to easily get money. What makes Awassa residents more upset is the ignorance of the employees. They do not know how to read and write! People who seek services receive documents laden with mistakes. One must make more than five trips to get things done! Paying a bribe is a must.
Government projects in Awassa are awarded to people with the Sidama background and to those who have connections with the authorities. People who are hired to work on the projects also hail from one ethnic group. The system in Awassa is similar to the apartheid system. It serves a single group at the expense of the majority in the city.
In the name of building roads or other projects, millions of birr is wasted every year. For example, many secondary and tertiary roads in Awassa do not have cobblestones. The crooks stop every year to measure the roads, promise people to build them, and at the end of the year nothing gets done. Many believe they pocket the money by presenting bogus reports to their bosses, who are also partners in the thefts.
What is really irritating many residents in Awassa is why they are always treated as second citizens and play second fiddle to Sidamas in matters that concern them. Educated and well-informed citizens of the city always clap their hands whenever illiterates, who do not live in Awassa, are nominated as chairmen\ women of their constituents. No effort has been made to alter the situation. Except paying lip-services, officials in the federal government have done nothing to restore law and order in Awassa and make the city livable for every Ethiopian.
The government has issued several misleading statements about the SNNPR and Awassa, but none of them have been implemented. Officials told Ethiopians that Awassa would serve as a capital of both Sidama and SNNPR regions for ten years. Furthermore, people were told all questions related to regional issues would be answered based on scientific study and inclusive of all groups in the region. However, what the Sidama experience has shown us is the opposite.
The government springs into action to temporally quell problems whenever they arise, which allows the ethnic entrepreneurs to continue with their lawlessness. Give the Sidama extremists an inch and they will take a mile!
People are still baffled why a few ethnic extremists are allowed to say and do whatever they want at the expense of all Ethiopians who are living in the city. Why are the authorities who claim to be representing the SNNPR do not speak about Hawassa as aggressively as those who are deafening our ears almost daily is an enigma to many people?
It is embarrassing to see the secondary role-played by the leaders of the SNNPR when the Sidama extremists have been doing whatever they want and say anything they want. The voice of the other fifty-two ethnic groups has been suppressed. The so-called leaders of the southern region have not been heard speaking on behalf of the people of the region they claim to be representing. Their roles have been relegated to ‘yes’ men and carrying scissors during ribbon-cutting ceremonies. It is embarrassing for many to watch the mayor of the city sitting tight lipped in every event orchestrated by the Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs.
There are two opposing views about Awassa. On the one hand, the residents of Awassa and the majority of the people of the southern region want to have a say in their own city. They believe the city they have established and developed should not be left for the newcomers who have nothing to do with it. They want to take part in their own affairs and government officials to serve them.
On the other hand, the Johnny-come-lately ethnic entrepreneurs want to run the city like their private property, serving the interest of a single ethnic group and plundering the resources of the city where they have not spent a penny. Their number is very few, and they have controlled everything, thanks to ethnic politics, which has destroyed the country.
In conclusion, the Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs have engaged in lawlessness activities in Awassa. They have been trying to change the demography of the city and spend millions to erect symbols glorifying a single ethnic group.
Awassa is too valuable for Ethiopia. It is the second largest city in Ethiopia. Millions of people and the federal government have invested in billions in the city. The largest industrial park is located in Awassa. For many citizens, the importance of the city is similar to that of the Grand Ethiopian Dam. It is the source of billions of dollars. It is too valuable for the country to leave it for people who cannot run a small village.
The government of PM Abiy must stop the reckless acts of Sidama Ethnonationalists and save citizens in Awassa from Abuse, discrimination, robbery of their hard-earned money. Leaving Awassa to narrow ethnic entrepreneurs, who have a proven record of lawlessness and destruction is a recipe for disaster and tantamount to sending the country into darkness. If the government left Awassa for people who have no clue about running a city and proven racists, let the people of Ethiopia know.
Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs are like the TPLF and OLF-Shenne, without a gun. Left alone, they would be very destructive. They were sending the gullible Sidama youth with the OLF flag to disturb the peace of Awassa. They should not be trusted with anything, let alone be in charge of Awassa.
I recommend the government to take the following actions to make Awassa a livable city for all Ethiopians and an economic and political hub of the country:
· Remove symbols and billboards from multiethnic Awassa that glorify a single ethnic group
· Fill the federal offices in Awassa with competent people
· Replace the city’s police, which is made up of one ethnic group and riddled with corruption and incompetence
· Allow the residents of Awassa to elect their own leaders
· Make Awassa a federal city. Awassa is too valuable to Ethiopians to be left to people who have no clue about running a big city
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