By Gamo Ditamo
Awassa has experienced a significant downturn, with a noticeable decrease in its overall condition. Once renowned for its captivating charm and diverse population, the city has unfortunately lost much of its former grandeur. The primary factors contributing to Awassa’s rapid decline can be attributed to the actions of Sidama extremists and Oromo ethnic-centric political leaders within the country. These groups, through their excessive emphasis on ethnic divisions and adherence to destructive ethnic politics, have eroded the liveliness and energy that once characterized this thriving city. Consequently, Awassa has been reduced to a mere semblance of its former glory. In what ways have the Sidama and Oromo ethno nationalists undermined and weakened Ethiopia’s second-largest city?
The decline of Awassa can be attributed to the Sidama elites, who are directly responsible for the situation. Instead of promoting stability and progress, these individuals instigated chaos and unrest in Awassa for a period of two years. Their actions led to the separation of Sidama from the Southern Nations Nationalities Peoples’ Region (SNNPR), which has had a negative impact on the economy of Awassa.
Additionally, following a fraudulent referendum, the Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs have established a city administration that is discriminatory, corrupt, and inefficient, further deterring tourists and businesses.
The absence of a merit-based system in employment in Awassa is a deep-rooted problem. Instead of considering qualifications and abilities, individuals are being hired based solely on their ethnic affiliations. This not only has created an unjust situation for those who are genuinely qualified and born in the city, but it also hindered the progress and development of Awassa. The discriminatory practices of Sidama extremists have been left unchecked and have worsened over time.
It is distressing to observe that this discriminatory pattern is prevalent in both the private and public sectors, where individuals of Sidama heritage are given preferential treatment over highly qualified Ethiopians. Furthermore, the deliberate exclusion of individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds from holding public office exacerbates the existing imbalances in the city. As a result, there is a palpable animosity and lack of trust towards a specific ethnic group, leading many Ethiopians to choose to relocate from Awassa.
Awassa is under the complete control of one group, despite the fact that the Sidama, the seventh largest population group. This control has led to a concerning amount of corruption and ignorance within the city, allowing those in power to act without any accountability or repercussions. A network deeply rooted in a single ethnic group has formed, causing government institutions, which should uphold integrity, to become breeding grounds for criminal activities such as extortion, assaults on civilians, and the unlawful accumulation of wealth.
The individuals who have assumed authority over government institutions in Awassa originate from remote and secluded areas; they have never visited Awassa before and yet are appointed to positions within the city. Their education is limited, and many of them possess fake credentials. This problem goes beyond a particular ethnic group, as networks of power involving families and tribes infiltrate most government organizations. Regrettably, the residents of Awassa have no alternative but to yield to bribery in order to obtain essential government services, regardless of the urgency of their requirements.
In Awassa, bribery is an integral part of getting things done. Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs have established a pervasive system of corruption, where bribes are demanded in order to conduct business. This unethical practice has unfortunately become ingrained in the culture, leading to a situation where any financial transaction carries the risk of illegal gain.
Those who are willing to offer bribes can effortlessly get what they want. For instance, individuals who are ready to pay bribes can easily engage in illegal construction, even on public land. Furthermore, those with influential connections can skillfully manipulate situations to their advantage, even if it means inconveniencing and troubling the entire population of the city, such as closing main roads for extended periods.
A prevailing concern in Awassa is the widespread belief among the Sidama ethnic group that they have ownership over the city, leading to their involvement in unlawful construction undertakings without any fear of being held accountable. It is not uncommon for them to build homes on roads, with no one daring to challenge their actions.
It is widely known that many government employees in Awassa carry government-issued stamps in their pockets. The stamps are utilized to validate unlawful actions by imprinting government-approved seals on illicit paperwork, all while remaining concealed from the vigilant observation of others.
Projects in Awassa are commonly known as channels for illicit enrichment. Public employees take advantage of their positions to divert funds allocated for projects that could have greatly benefited the residents of the city. As a result, taxpayers’ diligently earned money is wasted on questionable ventures that solely cater to the interests of the corrupt network. Astonishingly, an informant has disclosed that an overwhelming 75% of the city’s budget ultimately ends up filling the pockets of these unscrupulous so-called officials.
The recent exposure of the former mayor and his associates embezzling 100 million birr in a tiny and worthless undertaking is just one glaring example of how corruption is detrimentally impacting Awassa and its residents. The arrest of the mastermind and his accomplices, who stole millions from taxpayers, has captured the public’s attention. Shockingly, these individuals were high-ranking government officials with close ties to the mayor. But, while it’s a step in the right direction, capturing a few corrupt officials won’t be enough to bring about the necessary change in a city where corruption is rampant among those in power.
Most people in Awassa struggle to afford basic necessities like clean water, infrastructure, housing, and education for their children because a group of thieves stole public funds meant to advance the city and improve the lives of its citizens.
In Awassa, it is a frequent occurrence to witness the individuals responsible for overseeing the administration of Awassa feigning involvement in significant endeavors. They exert considerable effort to fabricate an impression of efficiency, striking poses with paperwork and measuring tools. Nevertheless, the regrettable reality remains that these dishonest individuals persistently divert funds designated for the city’s development, resulting in the residents being deprived of any substantial progress. Witnessing this repetitive pattern of deceit is genuinely disheartening, as they will inevitably perpetuate this futile act during the forthcoming budget cycle, fostering unwarranted hope and unmet aspirations.
A significant number of property owners are struggling with the burden of excessive tax obligations. This year, the property tax has skyrocketed by a thousand percent, leaving numerous individuals in the city feeling helpless. To make matters worse, many city residents who were unable to pay their previous taxes and have skipped payments for several years are now required to pay their taxes based on the new tariff. Additionally, those who have initiated the construction of two or more-story buildings but have been unable to complete them and their buildings are not in use are required to pay taxes as if they are finished and in use. Unfortunately, in the coming months, we may witness several businesses leaving the city due to their inability to operate.
In contrast, the so-called government officials, as well as their associates and relatives residing in Awassa, consistently evade taxes or pay considerably less than their fair share. Over the years, a multitude of Sidama officials have skillfully managed to escape property tax payments, and the same applies to their families. Furthermore, it is widely acknowledged that numerous government officials and “famous” individuals from the Sidama ethnic group often neglect their obligation to settle utility bills, including those for electricity and water.
It is an unspoken but widely accepted practice that Sidama government officials and their relatives are exempted from paying taxes. In other words, avoiding taxes is considered as one of the privileges for them. If there was a proper legal system in place and extremist Sidama groups were scrutinized, numerous criminal activities would have been uncovered in Awassa.
Non-Sidamas face the burden of paying exorbitant taxes and are strongly discouraged from participating in business endeavors in Awassa. Consequently, numerous individuals have been compelled to cease their operations and are compelled to depart from the city.
Sidama extremists, rather than promoting the prosperity of businesses and facilitating economic development, have a detrimental impact. This situation obstructs the smooth functioning of businesses and compels them to shut down unless they pay bribes. Corrupt individuals view businesses merely as means to generate income and insist on receiving illicit payments.
It is truly disheartening to witness the rampant nepotism and corruption that plagues Awassa. Even members of the Ethiopian diaspora who are eager to invest in the city are shocked by the extent of these issues. Unfortunately, those who have taken the risk to invest in Awassa have returned home with not only immense frustration but also significant financial losses.
The struggling economy of Awassa has only exacerbated the situation, leading to a noticeable increase in crime over the past three years. It is particularly concerning that the police force, entrusted with maintaining public order, is colluding with criminals to share in the spoils. Innocent individuals are being unjustly detained for absurd reasons, while those in positions of authority exploit the department for personal gain instead of upholding the law and preserving order.
Moreover, aside from the widespread corruption and ethnic bias, the government establishments in Awassa are infested with numerous individuals who are incapable of performing their duties efficiently due to their lack of basic skills. This lack of competence is apparent at all levels, as mentioned previously merit is not taken into account when hiring personnel. Unfortunately, it appears that the main goal is to favor a particular ethnic group in obtaining employment opportunities.
The city of Awassa is grappling with a multitude of challenges that demand urgent attention. A significant portion of its population is living in extreme poverty, devoid of basic necessities such as clean water, adequate housing, and proper healthcare facilities. These individuals find themselves trapped in a never-ending cycle of destitution, while those entrusted with the responsibility of governing the city have shamelessly resorted to embezzling even the resources meant to uplift the impoverished. Moreover, the presence of illegally constructed dwellings and unpaved roads only adds to the already overwhelming hardships faced by the residents of Awassa.
Although Awassa may initially appear clean and inviting, a closer look reveals dilapidated homes lacking proper sanitation. This distressing situation persists due to the lack of effective measures taken to address these pressing issues.
City residents are burdened with exorbitant property taxes, yet they are left without any substantial advantages, like properly maintained roads. Instead of addressing these crucial issues, the city officials seem to focus their efforts on beautifying the streets that their superiors frequent, merely for show. This extravagant spending on unnecessary decorations and sidewalk painting has proven to be ineffective in enhancing the lives of the city’s inhabitants. Furthermore, the lack of an emergency disaster plan only exacerbates the already dire circumstances faced by the residents.
The city of Awassa in Ethiopia is currently grappling with a major issue concerning its waste management system. The garbage collection process is being carried out in a haphazard manner without any proper planning. The residents are forced to pay in advance to individuals hired by the city officials, who only show up once a week to collect the trash. Unfortunately, for the rest of the month, these individuals disappear, leaving the city in a state of despair and the streets littered with garbage. This vicious cycle of deception continues as they return for another round of scams, with no sense of accountability. It is truly disheartening to witness the lack of work ethic displayed by these individuals, as they continue to exploit the public month after month.
Education, experience, and a deep understanding of the local community are crucial prerequisites for effectively managing a major city like Awassa. Regrettably, these qualifications are often overlooked when it comes to selecting individuals to administer the city. In Awassa, the only requirement to hold a government position is to be a Sidama with strong ties to the regional president and other political figures. Even those of Sidama descent find the current state of affairs in Awassa perplexing. Once a mayor from a particular clan is elected, they proceed to appoint members from the same clan to every role within the city. This nepotistic approach undermines the potential for progress and development in Awassa, hindering the city’s growth and prosperity.
The outgoing mayor’s clan is deeply entrenched in corrupt activities, with many of its members shamelessly following instructions. As a result, the people of Awassa are left disheartened, witnessing the perpetuation of this destructive cycle. This transition from one inept and corrupt group to another only serves to impede progress in our city, as it consumes an excessive amount of time to identify untrustworthy allies to fill crucial positions.
The criminal activities that have been taking place on Zewaye-Mojor Road have had a detrimental effect on the economy of Awassa. Gunmen have been targeting vehicles, robbing innocent individuals, and even resorting to kidnapping. The recent abduction of six individuals, including a foreign employee of Ethiopian Electric Utility, in Meke has only exacerbated the situation, discouraging potential visitors from going to Awassa. Consequently, the city’s tourism-dependent economy has endured significant hardships.
Awassa’s decline can also be ascribed to the Oromummaa regime in power. Since the regime came to power control, Awassa has witnessed a loss of its previous eminence and significance. The regime’s inability to enact vital political and economic changes has played a part in the downfall of the city. Furthermore, the deliberate dismantling of the SNNPR by the regime has expedited Awassa’s regrettable decline.
Abiy’s misguided decision to divide the SNNPR into smaller regions, for his own benefit, has only made the situation in Awassa worse. The disintegration of the SNNPR and the subsequent relocation of its administrative center from Awassa have resulted in a significant decline in economic activity, leaving hotels, bars, real estate, and other sectors in ruins.
The state of affairs in Awassa is appalling, and the Ethiopian authorities are complicit in it. The Sidama extremists have been given unrestricted freedom as long as they comply with the wishes of Oromo President Sihmelis Abdisa and the Oromummaa government.
The Oromo regime dictates things in Awassa. It is difficult to say that Abiy doesn’t know what is transpiring in Awassa. Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs in Awassa have been complacent with their subservient role and cooperative approach towards the Oromummaa government, demonstrating their willingness to go to great lengths to maintain a harmonious relationship. As long as Abiy doesn’t utter a word in whatever crime they are engaged in, they are more than happy to continue their role as facilitators and loyal minions.
Recently, the Oromo region bought numerous office buildings previously owned by SNNPR in Awassa. However, the specific details regarding the transaction and the legal basis for one ethnic group’s acquisition of SNNPR-owned property remain undisclosed.
The process of making Awassa an Oromos-centric city is under way. Reliable sources have confirmed that the Oromia Bank and its subsidiaries are providing loans to members of the Oromo Prosperity Party, Shimelis’s relatives, and individuals linked to the PP. A substantial amount of 40 billion birr has been allocated for the acquisition of real estate in Awassa. However, at present, only Oromo members of the PP and their immediate connections have been granted access to these funds.
Why Should Ethiopians be Concerned About the Decline of Awassa?
There are several reasons why Ethiopians should be worried about the decline of Awassa. To begin with, the establishment and growth of Awassa can be attributed to the collective efforts of various sectors of Ethiopian society.
During the early 1950s, Emperor Haile Selassie issued an invitation to retired soldiers and their families from different parts of the country to settle in what is now known as Awassa. At first, the emperor’s intention was to establish a training center for Ethiopians, rather than founding a completely new city.
The Soviet Union provided a loan of 400 million rubles to the Imperial Monarchy with the purpose of establishing a modern training center for Ethiopian farmers. The emperor specifically selected Awassa as the location for this center, aiming to educate teachers who could impart various skills to the country’s disadvantaged citizens. As a result, Awassa underwent rapid growth and transformed into a bustling city as more individuals chose to settle there. Despite facing challenges due to misguided policies implemented by the military regime following the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution, the city’s population continued to steadily rise. However, positive changes began to take place after the TPLF dictatorship designated Awassa as the capital of the newly formed SNNPR in 1992. In a short period of time, the city’s size nearly tripled, attracting thousands of Ethiopians who sought to establish businesses and permanent residences. Awassa soon became a highly sought-after tourist destination and an appealing place to live, as an increasing number of people decided to make it their home.
Furthermore, Awassa’s rapid development can be attributed to the substantial investments made by the federal government. These investments were primarily funded through loans acquired in the names of Ethiopians and by the taxpayers of the country.
Awassa boasts one of Africa’s largest industrial parks and the federal government also possesses numerous office buildings and large facilities within the city. Additionally, a significant portion of the federal funds were allocated towards the construction of various infrastructure projects in Awassa. In order to enhance Awassa’s tourism appeal and reduce the distance between Awassa and Addis Ababa, the federal government allocated billions of dollars towards the construction of the Mojo-Awassa express route. Furthermore, an expensive international airport was built in Awassa with the intention of connecting the city to major international destinations such as Washington and London, thereby stimulating the nation’s tourism sector.
The claim made by Oromo ethnic entrepreneurs and their supporters that a specific Ethiopian city is exclusively for one ethnic group is without merit and unfounded. It is illogical to assert that Addis Ababa or Awassa are solely for one ethnic group, particularly in a country like Ethiopia with a rich history spanning over three millennia, where borders are open and there is significant population interaction. These cities are the property of all Ethiopians, just as New York City and Washington, DC, belong to all Americans. The narrative presented by Oromo ethnic politicians is rejected by all ethnic groups in Ethiopia. The Awassa experience has shown that entrusting a multiethnic city to a few ethnic politicians is a recipe for disaster.
The situation in Awassa is deteriorating at an alarming rate, and the blame for this lies squarely with the Oromummaa regime and Sidama extremists.
Abiy’s Medemer philosophy, despite its claims of fostering unity, has inflicted considerable economic harm on Awassa by dismantling the SNNPR, thereby undermining the economy of Ethiopia’s second-largest city.
Furthermore, the Abiy has disregarded the criminal activities carried out by Sidama extremists in the city, leading to the departure of tourists and businesses, leaving the residents destitute and the city abandoned.
Abiy and his Oromo Prosperity Party (OPP) are dedicating significant efforts to transform Awassa into a city dominated by Oromos. This initiative has come at the expense of dividing the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) and causing severe damage to the local economy. Even the Sidama minions are aware of the ongoing situation, but they are powerless to stop it.
Shimelis, along with his family members and a close friend of the Oromo PP, have been actively engaged in the acquisition of real estate properties in Awassa. They have consistently exerted pressure on property owners in key locations to sell their properties. It is worth mentioning that Shimeles’ brother has recently acquired the Rori Hotel, which happens to be the biggest hotel in Awassa, for an astonishing amount of two billion birr. Additionally, the Shimelis family is currently being given the opportunity to purchase the South Star, Awassa’s second-largest hotel.
The dim-witted Sidama extremists have transformed Awassa into a den of criminal activity, where they operate with complete impunity. Through the establishment of a corrupt network, they have embezzled billions from government funds. They intimidate business owners into extorting money from them, making it impossible to access government services without paying bribes. The so-called police unjustly imprison innocent individuals, demanding money in exchange for their release. Car and Bajaj owners are consistently targeted as a source of income. In summary, the Sidama extremists have turned Awassa into a living nightmare for everyone, including businesses.
Items produced for the purpose of export from the Industrial Park are being sold at very cheap prices on the streets of Awassa. Regrettably, there appears to be a lack of concern regarding this matter.
Awassa faces a significant challenge in generating sufficient revenue to meet its operational expenses. Unfortunately, all of its income streams have ceased to exist. Through concerted theft, ignorance, and deliberate actions, Awassa has become bankrupt.
The corrupt system and utter absence of competent leadership and expertise in governing Awassa have enabled a small group of uneducated and dishonest ethnic entrepreneurs to transform the city into an abandoned place, causing the departure of both businesses and tourists.
Awassa has become an extremely inhospitable place for businesses in Ethiopia. Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs consistently pressure business owners to give money under various pretexts, such as the PP party, the military, the displaced, and so on. A business owner revealed that within the past year, he was compelled to give money on nine separate occasions! Those who dared to refuse to comply had their businesses forcibly closed. No one knows for sure where the money goes. Presently, even individuals seeking a basic identity card are expected to make monetary contributions towards the PP.
Based on our observations thus far, it is evident that the Oromummaa dictatorship shows no intention of addressing the worsening condition of Awassa. Abiy still watches from the sidelines, while Sidama extremists are further tearing apart the city and exploiting the residents.
In my view, the only way to restore Awassa’s former glory is by empowering its inhabitants to elect their own representatives and granting it the designation of a federal city. However, considering the current Oromummaa regime and the prevailing ethnic politics, the likelihood of this outcome seems highly unlikely. Should Awassa eventually attain federal city status, through fair or unfair means, it is anticipated that the Oromos will constitute the majority in the city. All signs point to the Oromummaa regime actively striving to ensure that the Oromos become the predominant ethnic group in Awassa.
I urge all Ethiopians to raise awareness about the ongoing criminal activity in the city and make every effort to prevent Awassa from further falling apart and prevent the lives of its residents from further deterioration. Awassa is a shared responsibility for all of us, which is why we fondly refer to it as little Ethiopia.
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