Historical Foundation of the Sidama Regional Question: Overview

23 Sep


Hawassa Teessonke,

September 23, 2012

I listened to the interviews on VOA by the chairperson of the Sidama Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Sidama EPRDF administrator with curiosity. While the former voiced genuine concerns that the regime is abusing the basic rights of the Sidama people by unlawfully harassing and imprisoning innocent civilians for voicing their basic rights for regional self-administration, the responses provided by the EPRDF administrator are regrettably unbalanced, out of touch with the reality on the ground and are deceitful. We all know that Dukale Lamisso, Abate Kimo Hokola, Iyasu Ragassa, Boshola Gabisso and many other Sidama civilians have never committed any crime except stating publicly that as a nation with 3.4 million people, Sidama has both natural and constitutional right to regional self-administration.

The Sidama people have presented a number of reasons why they should be granted regional self-administration with immediate effect. Among others, these are:

1) Population size: 3.4 million people, the fifth largest nation in Ethiopia;

2) Economic contribution to the central government: produces and supplies about 40,000 tons of mostly washed specialty coffee for export markets;

3) Historic contribution the Sidama people made in undermining the previous regime, SLM waged armed struggle for 7 years where over 30,000 Sidama fighters sacrificed their lives fighting the socialist – military regime, the derg.

4) Unfair and marginal public budget allocation for developments that are not commensurate to the population size;

5) The illegal dissolution of the previous region, region 8, which was ideal for the economic development of both Sidama and Gedeo people.

If the regime has counter reasons why it cannot grant the regional self-administration, it has to come out and state it clearly. However, hoodwinking foreign media with deceptive statements and lies does not earn any credibility to the EPRDF. Nor does it endear the young Sidama EPRDF cadres who have no clues, or choose to ignore them for their short term narrow interests, as to what their own parents have endured to defend the basic rights of the Sidama people.

It is time to remind the Sidama EPRDF cadres that wittingly or unwittingly distort the truth about the Sidama regional question by narrating the history of the Sidama resistance movement. The Sidama people had never accepted the Abyssinian conquest peacefully. They made various attempts to repulse the invading army. The first group of intruders led by Menelik’s general Beshah Aboye were annihilated by the Sidama army and civilians led by the ingenious King of Sidama called Baalichcha Worawo and other ingenious Kings of various Sidama clans. The army of Beshah was totally defeated and left in disarray until the second wave of attack was launched on by Leulseged, another general of Minelik, with superior military force on the Eastern front of Sidama.

It was Leulseged’s army which was able to establish full Abyssinian domination in the Sidamaland and assassinate Baalichcha Worawo, the last king of Sidama in Konso, after he was forced to participate in Minelik’s war of further expansion to the South. Based on information gathered from the Sidama prominent elders, some rumors that King Baalichcha Worawo collaborated with Minelik’s Generals to preserve his power were refuted and regarded as diminutive propaganda.

The pattern of brutal subjugation of the Sidama people continued in a relative calm until the Italian occupation of the country prior to the Second World War. The  Sidama resistance movement gained momentum during and after the Italian occupation. It was the brutal nature of the feudal system that robbed the Sidama people of their complete freedom that forced them to take up arms at the historic opportunity of the Italian occupation. Various armed groups began to wage armed struggle to uproot the remnants of the Abyssinian regime from the Sidamaland. Notable among these fighters and Sidama freedom leaders were: Yetera Bole, Wena Hankarso, Hushula Xaadisso, Mangistu Hamesso, Lanqamo Naare, Fiisa Fichcho and many others. This remidned me of the eulogy to Hushula Xaadiso by Sidama women (badala usuri; usire ganano Xaadiso Hushuli).

However, after Italy was driven out of the country by the allied forces during the second World War, the feudal Abyssinian rulers got an upper hand and were able to temporarily silence the struggle of the Sidama people for freedom. As revenge to the resistance movement waged during and after the second World War, the feudal rulers under the Emperor Haile Selassie massacred over 120,000 Sidama people during and after the war.

It was during the last decade of Haile Selassie’s rule that the Sidama people were able to regroup and wage another relentless resistance struggle against the feudal regime. The heroic resistance movement led by the well-known Sidama patriot Takilu Yota, in the northern parts of Sidama, had shaken the foundation of the feudal rule in Sidama until the end of 1960s.

At the beginning of 1970s notable Sidama heroes and resistance leaders formed the first organized Sidama Liberation Struggle which mobilized the Sidama people in the scale unknown before to wage an overt armed struggle against the military government. The founders of the first organized freedom fighting in Sidama were: (1) Yetera Bole, (3) Roda Utala, (3) Wolde Amanuel Dubale, (4) Gawiwa Siriqa, (5) Fiisa Fichcho, (6) Teklehaymanot Simano and (7) Amare Gunsa among others. Amare Gunsa was the first Sidama to be beheaded by the military government while fighting for the liberation of Sidama. His head was taken to Addis Ababa to verify his death to the authorities. Yetera Bole, Roda Utala and most others also sacrificed their lives fighting for the liberation of the Sidama people.

Although the heroes mentioned above played a fundamental role in founding the Sidama Liberation Organization there were many other notable Sidama freedom fighters who took the banner of the founders and continued to fight for the libertion of the Sidama people. These include: (1) Tumato Tula Bankuriso, (2)Ashe Hujawa, (3) Barassa Gosoma, (4) Dadafo, (Mote of Malga), (5) Gasara Sodo, (6) Kumo Gada , (7) Ginbo Basha, (8) Kafale Kinbichcha, and (9) Barasa Jofe. These people  sacrificed their lives fighting for the freedom of their nation.

The Sidama liberation struggle which was later named the Sidama Liberation Movement waged an armed struggle against the military regime for 7 years between 1977-1983 and fully liberated 3 high lands districts of Harbagoona, Bansa and Haroreessa in the South Eastern Sidamaland from the socialist military regime led by Mengistu Haile Mariam. In this struggle over 30,000 Sidamas perished. The name Sidama Liberation Movement was given under the leadership of Woldeamanuel Dubale who led the movement’s activities during this period.

In Northern Sidama the liberation uprisings of Borrichcha and Wotara Rassa gave another shock to the military leadership. In Borrichcha uprising the Sidama denounced the brutal military regime and its policies and took up arms to liberate themselves. However, due to its military superiority the derg was able to crush the uprising in August 1978. The writer himself witnessed the intensity of the fighting between the derg soldiers and the Yaanase Sidama lions that lasted from dawn to dusk. The derg got upper hand by bringing in a number of tanks and artillery towards the middle of the day. Over 500 people were killed during the one day intense fighting on the mountain of Borrichcha and its vicinities. The leaders of the Borrichcha uprising were: (1) Barasa Wotiye, (2) Bitre Gamada, and (3) Yetera Koome, who was brutally killed latter by the neigbouring tribe for silly grazing land dispute. Yetera Koome was another giant of the Sidama heroes to lose his life in unexpected ordinary skirmishes like Fiisa Fichcho and Wola Goosoma.

The same heroic resistance was met by the derg in the Wotara Rassa where the Sidama people had shown stiff resistance against the military regime. Over 100 people were killed in Wotara Rassa fighting in 1978. The leaders of Wotara Rassa uprising were: (1) Dadafo, and (2) Agana Jobisa.

The Sidama people had made tremendous and historic contribution to the weakening and the final down fall of the military regime. However, the ruling EPRDF failed to recognize this and purged Sidama Liberation Movement (SLM) out of the Transitional Government in 1992 and replaced it with Sidama people democratic organization created after 1991. The EPRDF government subsequently illegally disbanded the 5 independent regions in South Ethiopia in 1993 merged 45-50 ethnic groups into one region, the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region in 1993.

The Sidama people had never been consulted and never accepted the forced amalgamation into the Southern region and continue to demand regional self-administration until today. The peaceful rally demanding regional self-administration on May 24, 2002 was crushed by the current regime which  massacred over 70 innocent children, elders and student leading to widespread condemnation by the international community and human rights organizations and galvanizing further the struggle for freedom and justice in Sidama.

We urge the current regime to unequivocally and unconditionally halt harassment and unlawful detention of the Sidama civilians and free those languishing in prison for voicing the basic right of the people, regional self-administration. This is untenable!!


One Response to “Historical Foundation of the Sidama Regional Question: Overview”

  1. Desalegne Mesa July 11, 2013 at 7:28 am #

    Thank you HawassaTesonke for your contribution and vigorous investigation/analysis focusing on the burning issues in sidama land. An issue that is elongated with its controversialists is reliability of the size of sidama people. Is it realy 3.4mill? but according to the projection made by Iresh development… before many years ago, the population size of sidama people is about 4.6mill. so, which you expect true? as to me its reasonable to accept the result of projection made by iresh government. without a reliable information about the size of population(sidama in this case), it would be difficult to think about the fair allocation of services and resources as well.

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