WCHR-Wolayta letter to Ethiopia Prime Minister

WCHR
August 25, 2020

According to local media, the Ethiopian Government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has asked Wolayta scholars, activists and groups to submit papers or present a solution for the ongoing deadlock regarding the Wolayta statehood request vis-a-vis the SNNP region’s ongoing breakup into smaller multiethnic region. 

In this regard, the Wolayta Committee for Human Rights (WCHR) would like to present a two-tier solution to address the human rights and the corresponding sociopolitical & economic issues to protect the rights of Wolayta nation.

A. HUMAN RIGHTS 

WCHR, with the help of the Wolayta Diaspora, has been outspoken against systematic and widespread abuses on innocent Wolayta civilians through out the country. 

In recent years, two periods of mass killings have signified the misery of Wolayta people. The first was between June and August of 2018, when Wolayta businesses were burned down and civilians massacred in Hawassa, Ziway and other towns inside Sidama & Oromia regions. The second was following the arrival of the OLF group in September 2018 as many Wolaytas (and our Gamo brothers) were massacred in the central region famously known as “Oromia Special region surrounding Finfinnee,” particularly Burayu. 

In both cases, the investigations have been marred with controversy and there has been no full accountability. WCHR recommends that the Abiy government 

  1. Remove and prosecute officials involved in the mass killings, Instead of reshuffling them to new posts
  2. Give long sentences to activists who instigated or led the burning of Wolayta businesses 
  3. Fully Prosecute individuals who incited or were engaged in the mass killings of Wolayta
  4. Establish a zero tolerance policy to individuals who publicly call for violence against Wolayta and other southern minorities living in Sidama and Oromia regions
  5. Like natural, fire and weather-related disasters, the government should create a disaster preparation and response team or call center, with an emergency dispatch brigade in every town dedicated solely to responding to the ethnic violence targeting minorities like Wolayta people.

In addition to these legal and administrative actions, the Ethiopian government should discourage politicians and activists from using inflammatory terms like “shanqela,” “baria,” “mete,” “dikala” and “neftegna.”  Many Wolayta people living outside Wolayta zone have been called “Baria” and “neftegna” by youths in Oromia as well as told to “go back.”  
(NOTE: WCHR would like to remind that our Wolayta ancestors and other Omotic peoples are indigenous to the southern and central Shewa regions of present-day Oromia, long before the migration of Cushitic and Semitic peoples)

B. SOCIOPOLITICAL AND ECONOMIC ALTERNATIVES

At this point, the WCHR recommends that the Ethiopian government promptly process the referendum for statehood of Wolayta in order to avoid further bloodshed. The overwhelming majority of Wolayta people in the zone support statehood and there is no constitutional basis to deny Wolayta people its own state. However, all stakeholders must acknowledge that Wolayta people have requested for statehood as all other big nationalities have done similarly and in  accordance with the current constitution of the country. Wolayta people did not demand and did not need our own separate state 40 or 50 years ago because the government system and constitution at the time did not divide states by ethnicity. The rise in human rights abuses facing Wolayta people corresponds to the rise in nativism or the neighborly nationalities’ attempt to enforce the post-1995 constitution. Therefore, if the Ethiopian government seeks a reason to prevent Wolayta statehood; both the protection of our human rights and the decision on statehood can be properly addressed by constitutional amendments that guarantees equality and citizenship to the “other” ethnicities living inside the ethnic states or the restoration of geographic federalism. In other words, the Ethiopian government presently has zero justification to delay the Wolayta statehood demands; without a drastic change in the Ethiopian constitution that reverses the post-1995 status-quo of multinational (ethnic) federalism. Any more delay will be perceived as a direct disrespect of Wolayta culture and people. 

Accordingly, the only two solutions that can be accepted as logical reasons for delaying Wolayta statehood are:

  1. A constitutional amendment for the reversal of statehood of other nationalities in Ethiopia; in the foreseeable future.
  2. The change in the status of urban centers nationwide (I.e. where Wolayta citizens reside) from ethnic towns/capitals to federal charter cities (for example, Hawassa, Burayu and all major towns in Ethiopia becoming self-governing federal entities where all ethnicities are treated equally, so no one ethnicity is awarded a special “native” status) 

If the Ethiopian government can present a blueprint for one or both of the two above alternatives to become a reality; the people of Wolayta can find fairness, hope and justice in the system; particularly since over a million Wolaytas live outside Wolayta Zone. Otherwise, it is unjustified that only Wolayta people are denied statehood while all other major ethnic groups enjoy statehood (including Harari, one of the smallest ethnic groups in the Horn of Africa. )

No more debates are necessary in the Prime Minister’s office to delay Wolayta statehood — the Ethiopian government has only two choices: either show Wolayta people a new roadmap where all ethnic-based states will be redrawn into multiethnic states (like Gambella) or implement Wolayta statehood referendum as soon as possible. 

The above two-tiered issues must be sincerely addressed by the Ethiopian government, if the Abiy administrations hopes to delay the procedures. Otherwise we urge Addis Ababa to process the Wolayta Statehood quickly to avoid any more bloodshed. 

Wolayta Committee for Human Rights (WCHR) 



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