Constitutional Collision over Ethiopia’s Suppression of the Sidama Regional Question

7 Oct

By Hawassa Teessonke

October 7 2012

Human societies have been governed by certain forms of social covenants since time immemorial. The first crude form of constitution or code of justice in the world was believed to have been issued by the Sumerian King in Mesopotamia in 2300 BC.  Following Sumeria, various ancient states including Babylonia and Assyria were believed to have issued various law codes as early as 2050 BC. The famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle, was however the first person to distinguish between ordinary law and constitutional law and introduce the idea of constitutionalism in the fourth century BC. Human beings have come long way since Aristotle in understanding, formulating, using or abusing this ancient social covenant, the constitution.  

Ethiopia adopted the first written constitution in 1931 when Haile Selassie was crowned as the Emperor of Ethiopia. That constitution provided for enslavement of the recently incorporated peoples in the south, west and east by subjecting them to brutal system of serfdom and was one of the most oppressive constitutions mankind has ever witnessed.  That constitution was based on glorification of one man as an appointee of God and was devoid of any rhetoric of human and democratic rights and rights of various peoples.  

The 1995 constitution ratified under the EPRDF appears to be the most liberal, and for the first time guaranteed on paper basic human and democratic rights including the most radical proposition in article 39 of the rights of nations and nationalities to self-determination including secession. Anyone who peruses through 106 articles and 49 pages of the 1995 constitution wonders whether the constitution represents the covenant of the state with its people or the covenant among the ruling elites as it appears that none of the rights prescribed in the 106 articles are respected in the bulk of the country and particularly in the Sidama region. Unlike in 1931 where nearly the entire population of the country was illiterate and one would rarely expect any challenge to the absolute powers enjoyed by those who crafted the pseudo constitution, today in the dawn of the 21st century, thanks to relative improvements to access to education and the global IT revolution, a sizable portion of the country’s population does not only read and write but has  the firsthand knowledge and experience of global democratic movements against the abuse of the peoples’ constitutional rights. The Sidama demand for regional self-administration reflects the level of societal political consciousness that is no more ready to tolerate any more constitutional deception and manipulation of the social covenant if any. Article 39 of the 1995 Ethiopian constitution grants unconditional rights to self-determination as indicated below:

Article 39. Rights of Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples

1. Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession.

2. Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has the right to speak, to write and to develop its own language; to express, to develop and to promote its culture; and to preserve its history.

3. Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has the right to a full measure of self-government which includes the right to establish institutions of government in the territory that it inhabits and to equitable representation in state and Federal governments.

4. The right to self-determination, including secession, of every Nation, Nationality and People shall come into effect:

(a) When a demand for secession has been approved by a two-thirds majority of the members of the legislative Council of the Nation, Nationality or People concerned;

(b) When the Federal Government has organized a referendum which must take place within three years from the time it received the concerned council’s decision for secession;

(c) When the demand for secession is supported by a majority vote in the referendum;

(d) When the Federal Government will have transferred its powers to the Council of the Nation, Nationality or People who has voted to secede; and

5. A “Nation, Nationality or People” for the purpose of this Constitution, is a group of people who have or share a large measure of a common culture or similar customs, mutual intelligibility of language, belief in a common or related identities, a common psychological make-up, and who inhabit an identifiable predominantly contiguous territory.”

How is such unconditional right to self-determination in respect of the Sidama people which number 3.4 million according to the official government statistics implemented? If the constitution is based on an Orwellian principle in the “Animal Farm” where “All animals are equal but some animals remain more equal than others”, the constitution needs an amendment to accommodate this clause. Nevertheless, as long as the articles of the constitution apply to all peoples in the country, the current attempt by the regional EPRDF cadres to hoodwink the Sidama people with allegations of grafts and anti-peace activities for demanding fair application of the rights stipulated in the very constitution amount to flagrant violation of the constitutional provision and will never be tolerated by any peace-loving person.    

Equally incoherent and deceitful is the manner in which the regional EPRDF cadres try to falsify the genuine demand of the Sidama people when they repeatedly go on various government media and try to distort the truth about the people’s demand.

In addition to the provision in article 39 about the rights of nations, nationalities and peoples, article 47 of the constitution provides procedures for any nation or nationality to establish its own regional state. Sub article 1 of Article  47 lists the current 9 regions and clearly describes the rights of nations, nationalities and peoples within the 9 states to establish at any time their own state.

“Article 47. Member States of the Federal Democratic Republic

 1. List of the 9 regions

2. Nations, Nationalities and Peoples within the States enumerated in sub-Article 1 of this article have the right to establish, at any time, their own States.

3. The right of any Nation, Nationality or People to form its own state is exercisable under the following procedures:

(a) When the demand for statehood has been approved by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Council of the Nation, Nationality or People concerned, and the demand is presented in writing to the State Council;

(b) When the Council that received the demand has organized a referendum within one year to be held in the Nation, Nationality or People that made the demand;

(c) When the demand for statehood is supported by a majority vote in the referendum;

(d) When the State Council will have transferred its powers to the Nation, Nationality or People that made the demand; and

(e) When the new State created by the referendum without any need for application, directly becomes a member of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

4. Member States of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia shall have equal rights and powers.

Then why all the diatribe against the basic demand of the people for regional self-administration. Clearly the current level of suppression, harassment and torture of innocent  Sidama civilians for echoing the rights stipulated in articles 39 and 47 of the current constitution is outrageously uncalled for and blatant disregard to basic human dignity. The Sidama people unequivocally reject the recent statement by the regional EPRDF cadre which labels the people’s demand as the demand of anti-peace elements in diaspora and rent seekers within the country. To the contrary the demand of the people is wholly constitutional and based entirely on provisions in articles 39 and 47 of the 1995 Federal constitution and no one will be able to block the Sidama people from forming their own regional state in line with the provisions in the constitution. It is extremely flawed to force a couple of hundred cadres to denounce the regional demand on behalf of the 3.4 million people to falsely declare that the Sidama people did not demand to forma a regional state. This is flawed for two reasons: first, these cadres have not been elected by the people and have no mandate from the people to decide on their behalf; and second, time and again almost all people in the 19 Sidama districts have unanimously demanded from the district cadres that they want to form the Sidama Regional State and they should convey the message to the Zonal and regional administration. They cadres however reneged on the popular demand and therefore by their own free will have forfeited their right to any juristic act. Their decision will therefore have no legal effect on the Sidama regional question. If there is respect to law and fundamental human right in the country the Sidama people will fire all the cadres that have sat in an illegal meeting and made an illegal announcement against the will of the 3.4 million people.         

Where the government fails to respect its own constitution, it is time for citizens to collectively bring the government to justice.  As we believe in the fundamental principle of peaceful struggle for the realization of fundamental rights as a nation, we will continue to resort to legal means to ensure that our fundamental rights are respected.  

Those cadres who are hell-bent to distort the reality are tarnishing their already tainted images in vain.   Their time is numbered. The will of the people will prevail. Make no mistakes; 2012 is not 1931.

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7 Responses to “Constitutional Collision over Ethiopia’s Suppression of the Sidama Regional Question”

  1. Titan October 8, 2012 at 6:14 am #

    I would like to thank the author of the article before making a brief comment. This is a well thought out and well written article and makes its point clearly. Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same about the constitution in question. While it is not a lost cause, it does require constructive amendments and genuine commitments from all stakeholders to succeed.
    Arguably, the cornerstone of the new Ethiopian constitution is article 39. Any government decision that creates the perception that article 39 is ” a fruit you can see but you can not eat” may lead to the end of EPRDF’S experiment—-Ethnic federalism that ” grants” unrestricted right of self-determination to every ethnic group.
    Both EPRDF and the opposition parties should think long and hard to avoid a crisis, due to a failure to implement the constitution as written, that may lead to the disintegration of the Ethiopian Federation as this is not only about the Sidama people’s quest for regional statehood. If this issue is not handled constructively by all concerned, it may blow up on everybody’s face..

  2. D. October 9, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    Dear Hawassa Tessonke,

    Thank you so much for your excellent argument on issues surrounding Sidama people’s constitutional quests to regional self administration. Time and again TPLF/EPRDF’s regime failed to respond to these rights. Claiming these very rights, hundreds of innocents were summarily executed. To affirm the current regime’s barbarism, after they shot dead the Sidama civilians, their bodies were left lying on the streets of their capital ‘Hawassa’ for hours after they were slaughtered in broad day lights. The regime used the dead bodies of innocent Sidamas as did Derg’s vicious regime during the Red terror- to scare others not to repeat similar resistances. That was in vain!

    During the 1980s, the Derg’s regime beheads several thousands of Sidama Liberation Movement (SLM) to hung them on the streets, market places and villages with the aim of scarring Sidama nation- whose actions demonstrate their utmost cruelty and vicious barbarism.

    The TPLF/EPRDF’s regime did similar thing to Sidama victims of Loqqe atrocity when the regime’s army and security forces left the dead bodies of Sidama civilians on the streets to be observed by others. The dead bodies of the Sidama ians piled on on top of each others on the lorries. Several were left to bleed to death without medical help. To make the situation atrociously barbaric, others Sidama civilians’ dead bodies were left to be devoured by Hyenas. The members of their families weren’t allowed to collect the dead bodies of their beloved ones.

    The current situation of the Sidama people’s constitutional quests very tricky. This is simply because the very person who has, planned, monitored and ordered the massacre of the Sidama civilians on May 24, 2002 is a Prime Minster whose name is Hailemariam Desalegn. He was the then southern Ethiopia’s president and the major architect who is responsible for the implementation of such barbaric and atrocious acts against the basic and constitutional rights of the Sidama nation whose civilians unlawfully massacred.

    On the eve of the May 24, 2002’s massacre of the Sidama civilians, Mr Hailemariam Desalegn tricked (one of the naive Sidama persons known as Melese Marimo) the then regional puppet deputy president to announce on a regime owned Media-the preprepared speech on the death trap for the Sidama civilians; if they were to stage on a peaceful demonstration claiming their rights. The Sidama people have satisfied the constitutional requirements before they planned to take action peacefully and non-violently as they are doing currently. Hailemariam Desalegn was supposed to announce the aforementioned piece of talk by him self; and the announcement speech was prepared by this very Hailemariam Desalegn, the current Ethiopian PM. However just 30 or 45 minutes before the announcement; Hailemariam Desalegn suddenly collapsed in his office at the presence of Melese Marimo; subsequently, he had ordered Melese Marimo to make the speech before he was taken to hospital instead. The sudden collapse was pre-arranged trick to make the speech to be conveyed by the Sidama person to incriminate Melese Marimo, whereas the major player was the current PM, Desalegne Hailemariam.

    The current saga surrounding the Sidama nations’ constitutional quest therefore is entirely related with major culprit of the Sidama civilians massacre. Although the regional puppet currently breathes with the lung of the aforementioned culprits, he can’t decide things by himself. The current blockage of the Sidama people’s constitutional rights is entirely lies on the shoulders of the Hailemariam Desalegne who is preparing for another genocide in Sidama land!

    Therefore, the Sidama nation has got two major duties; the first one is that the nation must demand for current PM to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his Crime against Humanity that tantamount genocide. This is simply because the victims purely belong to single ethnic group; therefore the aim of the massacre was removing the Sidamas from their own land, thus it satisfies the definition of genocide. Secondly, for the Sidama nation asserting its rights while the one who has planned, ordered and monitored the previous massacre is in a Prime Mistrial position, therefore, the nation must act heroically defying all hurdles placed before them!.

    There can’t and never be any cover-up, Soothing and begging the current PM however. He is the criminal who deservers to be in jail than at his current position. The Sidama nation shown their utmost civility, tolerance, far-sightedness and mutual respects, despite the propaganda and hullabaloo widely spread said about the Sidama nations behaviours, attitudes and actions. The Sidama nation however peacefully co-existed and continues to do so for the generations to come with others who have lived with them.

    The Sidama nation equally shown their, resilience, indefatigablity and heroism when it comes to protecting their identity, cultural heritages, socio-political interests defying the unjust system imposed on them. The nation continues their peaceful and non-violent quest for their constitutional rights to regional self administration until their assert it!! The Sidama nation also reminds those who are trading by their names to unconditionally stop their action and demand others dwelling in Sidama land to respect Sidama people’s constitutional rights to regional self administration; and assure others that the regime’s scar mongering propaganda is nothing other than utter lies and fabrication. The Sidama is for the Sidama people and for those who are willingly peacefully living in Sidamaland without conspiring against the interest of the Sidama nation.

    Halaalu Qeelano!! Sidaamuu xa’mono Halaale ikitinohura Sidamuno Qeelano!!

    • hawassa sidama October 9, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

      I agree with you. The Sidama bandits who serve as proxy mercenaries take equal responsibility if not more on every bit if suffering our people are passing through. Let us be clear why they are ready to collaborate. They are ready to collaborate and even take further actions of appeasement for two main reasons:

      (a) to get promoted, and
      (b) to continue to amaze wealth through corruption.

      Therefore, while we do not expect any non-Sidama to sacrifice his benfits for our freedom, our own sell-outs should bear primary responsibility for the suffering of our people. They could have chosen to reject any pressure and suffer like us. They instead chose to bleed our nation and suck the blood of our poorest of the poor.

      • D. October 10, 2012 at 12:20 am #

        Their time won’t be too long!! Their end is at the door steps and the Sidama nations become regionally self administrative before their eyes whether they like it or not!!
        Qeele Sidamu Daggara!!

    • znewgame October 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

      Dear D,
      Please read UN GA Resolution 260 of December 1948 Article 2 and 3. Thanks.

  3. jak October 10, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    Really I would like to appreciate the posted article here to defend the challenges ,and I think it is the time to struggle more and more for the future with out any hesitation, and I can take the part to share for the visionary people ,
    The man from the Hawassa tesonke receiver

  4. Fullaasa Shallamo De July 15, 2013 at 12:20 am #

    Qeelle Mule Noona Hexxolla Murroonke

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