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FICHCHEE: The Sidama people’s New Year Celebration as one of the most distinguished peculiar features of the Sidama people

5 Aug

Ayide Cambalala!!


Hawassa, Sidama, Ethiopia

05 August 2013                                         

 What is Fichchee? / What is the basis for establishment of Sidama people calendar? and what are the necessary events occurring before and after Fiche Celebration?


 Fichchee is an anniversary celebrated by the Sidama people as a New Year event. According to socio-cultural heritages handed down by forefathers through generations to descendants (current generation) Sidama New Year (Fichhcee) anniversary has been celebrated for more than 2000 years. Basis for such unique local New Year’s Day determination and celebration is Sidama calendar which was an outcome of unreserved and relentless innovative efforts of selected knowledgeable and highly respected group of people who were actively involved in profound study of the solar system among which the moon, earth, sun and stars included. According to Sidama people such complicated investigations on part of the solar system is conducted and findings communicated to the public by most intelligent group of people popularly known as Ayyantto (“Astrologists”).

 Since period of ancient time up to present this selected group of people has been undertaking comprehensive study on characteristics including shape, color, volume, distance between each other, mobility, change of their position through time and related situations of the solar system. To accomplish very tasks of such unique phenomenon in the locality they get out of their living house at midnight and assemble outside and observe situations of the moon and stars for several hours a day for at least four to six days per month. Most of the time they perform such tasks collectively and some occasions they carry out their study individually. When undertaking investigation in group each will present analyzed findings of what he has observed and thoroughly discussions on observations and findings will be made to arrive at plausible conclusion. If observations and related investigations done individually investigation findings will be presented on appointed time and place where general meeting of the group held.

According to discussion procedure principle of Sidama which is termed as the Affini system (have you heard system) before reaching to conclusions /declaring on issues of special public affairs of interest implementation of the Affini system procedure is strictly observed to realize its exercise. Therefore before making conclusion remarks and declaration on issues of public importance the Affini principle strongly presupposes application of its procedure to be not only essential but also mandatory. According to Sidama people Affini system (have you heard?) every selected topic of interest to be discussed by the public, general assembly of associations, groups and on this special assembly of Ayyantto (local astrologists) discussions should fulfill  requirement of set criteria of the Affini system.

According to Affini principle first and foremost agenda for discussion should be selected/chosen by assembly member and approved at least by the majority. The assembly is led by elected chair person and/or highly respected community leader or cultural leader. The chair person opens the floor for discussion inviting members to forward suggestions on the agenda. He receives two or more supplementary ideas for the suggestion provided. Following this the leader invites members to forward views against the suggestion. Maintaining application of the system he invites two or three members to forward evidences supporting the one who objected previous suggestion. After giving adequate time for both groups to vent out their opinion he further calls up on all members of the assembly to actively participate on this essentially all rounded discussion the outcome of which is expected to produce reliable findings very important to make plausible conclusions and recommendations.

 To collect evidence based information from suggestions /opinions or comments which serve as pro or against the groups the chairperson opens the floor and invites members to enable them actively involved in discussions through asking questions, make comments, amendments, clarifications, participating in dialogues and debates, forwarding decisions, making critical evaluation of evidences given by the two groups, suggesting possible conclusion and recommendations and the like. Adequate time will be allocated by the chairperson for discussants to enable them participate whole heartedly on such thorough and indeed detailed and all rounded discussions meant to produce most dependable evidences which is of vital importance to make credible decisions. In the discussion process ideas which instigate irrelevant disputes, disregard, disrespect, insult, under estimations, gossips, and blabs, black mailing and related opinions which create hostility between supporters of two parties will not be entertained.

Application of aforementioned steps of the Affini system procedure is so strictly observed for it is considered as not only essential but also mandatory to produce reliable evidence very much needed to pass non partisan resolution, produce evidence based findings needed to fortify strength of conclusion and recommendations made to be declared on behalf of represented public and its spiritually trustful socio-cultural heritages (Sidama).

The purpose of undertaking such meticulous Affini system implementation activities found its basis in that Sidama people believe in Magano (God) who is omnipotent, omnipresent, the all can do , creator of everything that exists, among others he is Truth. Based on this opinion of their own they believed that Magano (God) is Truth and during our stay on this land all activities we undertake/behave should be concordant to general truth (where creator remains disposer of everything). Depending on this governing idea Sidama people believe that while living in this world we have to try our level best to find out correct pathway of truth and live with. It is the opinion of Sidama people that no matter huge sacrifice demanding the cost of truth becomes we have to be bound to do, behave, act, talk, etc and all our deed in life should conform with reality(Truth).

 It is to realize this belief that they dedicated themselves to be so meticulous to critically evaluate deeds, behaviors, innovations and the like on reality basis before declaring public issues of importance which need to be implemented to serve development enhancing purpose of the people. Mentioned description of events was deliberately made to avoid confusions that innovative activities of Sidama’s Ayyantto (local astrologists) which enabled the people have their own new year (Fichchee) to celebrate as one of indisputable gains of Sidama calendar the establishment of which was an outcome of relentless and indeed unprecedented efforts of Sidama people made before 2000 years. Over all events that led to establishment of Sidama calendar was based on Moon’s position, movement, shape, color, direction, etc and courses it follows to rotate on itself, revolves around the earth and the sun. Moreover its spatial relations to other stars and their position, movements (appearing separated or close to the moon and/or to each other) were some the events which Sidama astrologists had close observations and investigated their overall function to produce evidences of vital importance to establish the calendar.

 Based on investigation findings of the Ayyantto (“Sidama astrologists”)   and according to established calendar Sidama has a week comprising of five days. Names of days of the week were derived from market days occurring in different places and were name as Diko, Deella, Kawaado and Kawalanka respectively. According to the calendar a month has 28 days and each day has its own name. According to the Ayyantto some days of the month on which day some work is done, travel made, foundation of new establishment and the like done may end up in good luck or bad luck to performer. Declaration of first day of next month and that of first day of New Year (Fichchee) will be announced when the Ayyantto see close approximation of the moon to five constellations of stars with defined movements observed in relation to each other and to that of the moon. Since establishment of the calendar activities have been undertaken by Ayyantto in each month and year through out in regular basis till present time.

History of Sidama calendar with its relationship with overall socio-economic, socio-cultural and related affairs is broad and so wider that it cannot be exhausted in such very limited description and for simplicity only few events encountered in relation with Fiche (Sidama’s New Year) events will be entertained briefly.

 Preparation to celebrate forth coming new year (Fichchee) will start soon after second month of the new year celebration  has occurred in mid year (6th month) most house wives start preparing through processing the Enset plant after cutting it mashing its stem and root together with mixing it Gamancho (preserved root serving to ferment it thereby giving it desirable flavor). After lapse of months prepared kocho will be squeezed to let it dry and become ready to be used for preparation. Squeezed liquid coming out from solid kocho will be let to settle and dry to produce high quality kocho which is otherwise known as Bulla (kocho which is paper white in color and indeed of best quality).  Better to be used on the celebration day will be started to be collected and reserved before 04 months of celebration. To put / save adequate reserve house wives engage in working collectively so that every house hold has sufficient amount of better to be used on celebration day. Collection and putting as reserve of wood will be made several months before the celebration for on that day no one is expected and even culturally allowed to go to bush to gather it. Every necessary materials (wood, kocho, better, water, furniture, goods, utensils, etc) will be ready at least one week prior to celebration day.

 One month prior to celebrating anniversary of Fiche particularly community elders, leaders and cultural leaders will start one month lasting fasting. During their fasting period they pray longer hours per day praising the lord (Magano). They initially pray for their own selves praising the lord that he forgives them from whatever sins committed and misdoings they underwent in the last year. After that start to pray through  praising the lord on behalf of their people (indigenous) other people living with them by and large the country so that almighty who is the all can do forgive them all and the country at large from all sins committed, misbehavior, misdoings, malpractices done and the like. Moreover they use left period of time to communicate with members of communities who got involved in conflicts, disputes and the like between each other, families, sub –clans, ethnic groups, religious groups and the like in attempt of bringing about reconciliations /conflict resolutions. In addition to this they communicate with  representatives of other communites cultural and religious leaders, local administrators,  representatives of other social groups including women, youth, farmers, workers, professionals, intellectuals and others involved and concerned to effectively deal with problems of various sorts encountered in their geared attempt of bringing about reconcilations doing away socio – economic , socio – cultural, ethnic, religious and other related clashes, disputes and/or clashes occurred between  (individuals, families, ethnic groups and others involved and concerned before  declared time for eve of  new year’s celebration approaches.  Moreover fulfillment of  socio – cultural heritages  including Fiche  celebration, respect, preservation and protection directing cultural law strongly presupposes that each adult element or every member of Sidama is expected to meet  requirement for set objectives of Fiche celebration among which says that the people being  led by community elders, leaders and cultural leaders should make inner heart felt prayer with their leaders including praising the creator/ God /Magano  from 1st day of fasting and praying to 30th day (1 month) through period of which they make prayer and respectfully demand magano/God to bring about realization of  best wish they have to  all human beings  that let coming new year  of Fiche celebration be time of health, peace,unity, work, prosperity, security, tolerance of diversity and by and large welfarity to all living things (animals and plants as well)  particularly in this strict sense to all humans irrespective of race, ethnicity,citzenship, age, sex,location of residence, religion, culture, ideology,outlook, education/intelligence levels, wealth, social status, difference in levels/status of responsibilities or rank of power they possess to lead people in given localities or countries and the like) so that forthcoming new year  be made to serve purpose of maintaining love with each other, harmony, fraternity, brother/ sister hood, harmony, unity and such conducive atmosphere be used to increase levels of productivity in all sorts of efforts to enhance and strengthen levels of health development and development advancement in the country.

Before two weeks of celebration day the Ayyantto of Sidama get out of their residential house at mid night and very carefully observe and investigate situations occurring in and around the moon and after they confirm relation of the moon to constellations of the stars they unanimously reach to agree as when the day of new year celebration will be  and they declare this event celebration day usually on market days and using other means heralding day of celebration of new year as decided by all of them.


 Eve of the New Year is popularly called Fitaari (eve of Sidama’s new year: Fiche). During this event households residing nearby most elder person and family gather in house of this eldest father to celebrate the event. As mentioned above preparation made by each household to celebrate new year was over long before several months and Kocho / preferably Bulla prepared and mixed with needed amount of butter  depending on type of  (waasa preparation requiring increased amount of butter as that happens/seen  in Chukame, Buurisame and Shaqishame which is contained in material made of clay soil called Shaafeeta or Shaaqqo respectively).together with milk collected will be served to those who gather as a feast prepared to welcome  the new year. Similar events celebration occasions occurs on that very special event in each household in the communities.

On such event celebration day only Waasa/Bu’la/ kocho full of butter and milk is served in the meal no meat included. Even on that very night meat should not be left in any of Sidama household. Early on the first day of new Fichchee year sons/ daughters, grandsons/daughters and other relatives come to house of the eldest leader and say Ayidde Cambbalaalla (Happy new year!) and Mam and  Dad of their children and grand children will respond by saying Iille/ Iilli (Happy new year to you and to all!). In the mean time water full of Tiltte (Utensil on which kocho is served) will be presented infront on whose upper edge small better is put on the top edge of it taken to anoint on ones forehead and there after everybody say let Fiche comes every year, happy new year,  and also say long live Fiche and its celebration!!!!. .

Ever body who appears to this eldest father’s home shares from what is available.  Exactly similar events occur in every household of sidama communities. On this day young children of communities will go to every household of which their parents have preferably better relationship even if this is not mandatory and they share from whatever staffs available after consuming of which they play cultural songs and dances relevant to and indeed chosen for celebration of Sidama’s newyear (Fiche). On this very day children are left to relax and enjoy from the celebration and they are not expected to be fetch water, look after cattle, and perform any tasks in and out of their houses, compounds and villages. Moreover due attention is placed on domesticated animals (cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, horses, mules, etc) and they will be made to graze from grass left to flourish for months to be used by animals on this very day which shows that utmost emphasis has been placed even to enable animals enjoy the day and as a matter of fact way no animal is slaughtered on this very day for consumption of their meat. After enjoying from the feast prepared for the celebration every social group will go to chosen place for celebration of the newyear and show their participation on celebrating the event. Boys and girls join group of cultural songs and dance called Faaro / Lembbo and those group of married men and women join Hano (Cultural dance involving only married women and men) , other group which include matured male particularly and women and boys./girls to some extent join songs/ dances prepared to adore and witness importance of this great Fichchee new year celebration.

 Even though culture of Sidama people strongly presupposes giving alms and providing of any available and affordable support to the poorest of poor, this new year’s celebration gives utmost emphasis on providing support to those who are poor, infected and affected by communicable diseases including HIV–AIDS .STIS, vulnerable children, the elderly and those who were handicapped as a result of which providing support to such groups has been considered as most essential part of Sidama’s new year celebration. Celebrating the newyear will continue till one month in every area most importantly newyear’s celebration will continue through making/playing cultural songs, dances and chanting on various market places. Moreover this occasion of celebrating new year’s anniversary incidentally used by overwhelming majority of Sidama people to actively participate on escalating coordinated efforts being made to bring about concerted and conjoint collaborative efforts of all which is of vital importance to reduce further spread of communicable diseases including HIV–AIDS and mitigate its adverse effects and reduce poverty levels in Sidama zone in particular and our country in general. This is only most precise and concise description made pertaining events in most likely encountered and  well taken care of in  Sidama’s new year ( Fichchee ) celebration.


The Audacity of Guile

28 Apr

By Hawassa Teessonke

28 April 2013

The recent rapid advances in ICT have empowered human spirit like never before in human history. Social media has galvanized social activism like a wildfire from one corner to another within or outside of territories.  The Arab spring that led to sweeping political changes in three North African countries in matter of months would not have been possible without social media. Some social networking platforms have also become online markets for goods and services advancing easy access to human material needs.     

Nevertheless, communication technology can also be abused and misused if it does not fall into the right hand. More often than not social media is used by criminals who lure their victims by disguising their true being behind electronic platforms and spitting honey while producing venom. The weak and the vulnerable in particular women and children have become frequent victims of the abuse of the technology.

In less fortunate societies where freedom of expression are curtailed by draconian government regulations, individuals that opt to  express their opinions using the social forum  have been hunted down by the same technology invented to advance human interaction. FinFisher’s surveillance software which is used by repressive regimes to hunt down opposition political party members is typical case in point. FinFisher is a line of remote intrusion and surveillance software developed by Munich-based Gamma International GmbH in Germany. How many of you know how the Ethiopian government uses FinFisher to hunt down members of certain opposition groups. Nevertheless, Ethiopia is not the only country that abuses advances in ICT to squash freedom of expression and divergent political views. It is used in a number of other countries with questionable human rights records to target human rights activists and opposition campaigners. Vietnam and Bahrain are cited among 24 other countries where the Fin spy server has been routed.  

These are typical sophisticated abuses of fascinating human innovations meant to advance human interaction, skills development, human freedom and economic prosperity to advance their selfish and narrow interests.  

Electronic social platforms could also be misused by ordinary marginal users through innuendos about individuals posted on their mini discussion group forums. My advice to such guile acts is that they should unequivocally stop posting hodgepodges against individuals. To err is human. But to try to defend malicious acts with perjury would be unforgivable and does not serve any purpose.

We are not short of outright sellouts that we need to tackle on daily basis. We have no time to spare to appease guile by unbalanced beings every single day. For the good of our society, let us all grow up and be men enough to admit mistakes and ask for forgiveness when mistakes do occur.  This is expected from any Sidama older than 18 years. Any Sidama older than 18 years is a man, whose voice we dearly need to advance our cause for freedom and justice.  Let us grow up.

As to debates about who can write; please, we have not reached that level at this stage. I laughed about it for hours when I heard about we can write story, although I did have time and the gut to peruse through it.

Let me conclude about debate about writing by quoting the most powerful philosophical responses to the most controversial philosophical propositions by one of the two most respected philosophers human kind have ever witnessed: In 1846 the famous French socialist politician, philosopher, and economist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon wrote a book on ‘‘The Philosophy of Poverty”. The following year Karl Mark, a German revolutionary socialist, one of the founders of social sciences and a famous economist, responded by publishing: “The Poverty of Philosophy”. I urge you all to read both books. Ideas thrive when they are framed through a hypothesis; not via innuendos.


15 Apr

Press Release

United Sidama Parties for Freedom and Justice

14 April 2013

The 14 April 2013 local government elections in Ethiopia have been marred by widespread abuses of the representatives and supporters of the Sidama Liberation Movement (SLM), which remains the main opposition political movement in the Sidama region. The SLM accuses the regional and Sidama EPRDF cadres of continued intimidation, harassment and persecution of its representatives and supporters during the period leading up to the elections. 

The SLM members in all 19 districts of the Sidama administration who were nominated to contest in the stated elections have often been arrested and imprisoned for prolonged period of time to intimidate them and deter them from contesting the elections. The elected SLM representatives were barred from freely campaigning in the Sidama region. To the astonishment of the Sidama people and in an outright contempt to any democratic principles, Duka’le Lamisso, the Vice Chairperson of the Sidama Liberation Movement continues to languish in EPRDF jail in Hawassa. The hope for his release to campaign for the local elections was dashed as the EPRDF regime chose to unleash further crackdown on the remaining elected officials of the movement.

The ERPDF administrators in the Sidama region and Southern Regional State blocked any access by the opposition political parties to the media. Opposition political parties in the region including SLM were barred from accessing the government owned regional television services, as well as the only radio services in Sidama that broadcasts in the Sidama language.  The latter was established by the support of donor funds under the Sidama Development Programme to broadcast academic and adult education programs and promote the development of the Sidama language and culture. The radio station was however confiscated by the ruling EPRDF cadres and is currently being used as the party propaganda machine.

Following the botched general elections in 2005 and 2010, the EPRDF government closed any political space for its political opponents throughout the country turning the country in to a virtual one party state. Currently there is only one representative in the legislator, the House of People’s Representatives, with 545 members. The continued intimidation, harassment, arrest imprisonment and torture of the representatives of the opposition political parties decimated any hope for political pluralism, good governance and accountability in the country. Citizens’ democratic and human rights have been abused at massive scales with impunity throughout the most regions in the country.  The country is in downward spirals in democratic dispensation.

The support for EPRDF in the Sidama region evaporated following the failure of the regional and federal governments to address the age-old demand of the Sidama people for regional self-administration. The demand for regional self-administration was re-echoed from all corners of Sidama in 2012 following the announcement by the regional EPRDRF cadres to place the administration of the Sidama capital city, Hawassa, under the federal government. The main objective of such announcement was to permanently silence the Sidama question for equitable political voice and accountability in the country. The Sidama nation rejected the forced amalgamation by EPRDF in 1993 into the Southern Ethiopia Regional Administration, which constitutes 56 different nations and nationalities in the Southern part of the country stretching from the Ethio-Kenyan boarder in the South to the country’s border with South Sudan in the west.

As an organization founded on heroic Sidama anti-feudal resistance movement since the late 1960s, the SLM spearheaded the Sidama demand for regional self-administration during its armed struggle with defunct military–cum-socialist dictatorship between 1975 and 1982 during which the movement liberated three former high land districts from the then brutal regime. During the armed struggle the Sidama nation lost over 30,000 heroic fighters.

Following the downfall of the socialist regime in 1991, the Sidama Liberation Movement was one of the few opposition political movements that formed the Transitional Government with the EPRDF. However, the alliance was short-lived as the EPRDF systemically purged all the national liberation movements and free political organizations and replaced them with “people’s democratic originations” that it quickly fabricated after 1991.  In Sidama, it created the Sidama    People’s Democratic Organization (SPDO) in 1992 which was dissolved recently to create a single EPRDF branch for the 56 nations in the South.

In essence, therefore, SLM remains the only political organization that is operating in Sidama today outside of the Sidama political parties primarily based in Diaspora, notably the United Sidama Parties for Freedom and Justice.

As the sole voice of the people SLM therefore echoed the voice of the Sidama people under the prerogatives of the very constitution promulgated by the EPRDF itself. However, this was not to be. In few days leading up to the 14 April 2013 elections the EPRDF regime made it impossible for the SLM representatives and its supporters to hold meetings, travel to districts to visit polling  stations, and contact the electorates. The elected officials, members and supporters of SLM have been arrested and beaten and imprisoned. One member in Hawassa district was beaten unconscious and dozens were wounded across the 19 districts. Nevertheless, this did not intimidate the Sidama people. They rose in unison from corner to corner and rejected the regional cadres who attempted to visit the 19 districts to garner support for EPRDF candidates.   In all districts the regional puppet president visited, he faced stiff opposition. The Sidama people told him to his face that he was a traitor who denigrated the Sidama people due to their rightful demand for regional self-administration. In most districts civilians chanted slogans with the Sidama wise words: “lukkichchu quuppe qallano. Gobba mama mani hiranno!” roughly translated as: “even chicken give birth to eggs; who betrays his land?” 

Cognizant of the total rejection by the Sidama civilians, the regional puppet president requested military assistance from the federal government to quell the “unrest” in Sidama leading up to the third botched elections on 14 April. Sidama is again like a war zone, soldiers roaming in districts towns reminding the people of the brutal Loqqe massacre of 2002.

Preliminary assessment by the election observers of SLM who managed to reach to the polling stations have confirmed that the Sidama EPRDF cadres have been filling ballot boxes with fake electorate names and distributing them to all polling stations. EPRDF has made it clear for the consecutive 22nd year that it does not care about the voice of the people. Even if SLM was able to contest, the votes of the electorate do not matter. Results are predetermined making a mockery of democracy in East Africa where our neighboring country, Kenya, just conducted the most democratic and successful elections in the history of the continent, praised by the international community.

Under these circumstances, SLM had no choices but to announce its unequivocal withdrawal from the sham election; while affirming to the Sidama people that it would continue its peaceful struggle until the Sidama people achieve self-determination.

The United Sidama Parties for Freedom and Justice, therefore,

  • Condemns the gross  violations of the fundamental  human rights by EPRDF in Sidama; and call up on the regime to desist from further ill treatments of the Sidama people;
  • Calls up on all democracy loving institutions in the country to condemn the ongoing atrocities in   Sidama;
  • Calls up on the international community to condemn the Ethiopian regime for continued violations of fundamental human rights in Sidama.
  • Calls up on the African Union and the United Nations organizations to condemn the brutal acts of suppression by the Ethiopian regime in Sidama.


Is Sidama’s bottleneck an opaque system or an opaque whim?

8 Mar

By Hawassa Teessonke
8 March 2013

In brutally suppressed societies such as ours, struggle for liberation becomes a daunting task not only because of the sheer enormity of the machinery of subjugation unleashed against the society, but also because of the pedagogy of the oppressed. As Paulo Freire succinctly puts it people in oppressed societies often lack cognitive power to reflect, analyze and understand the reality in which they live in order to equip themselves with critical level of consciousness that would enable them to transform the reality and liberate themselves from the oppression.

Oppressors will never wittingly endorse or encourage the cognitive development of their subjects. To the contrary they never leave any stone unturned to maintain the status quo either by coercive means or use of the conformists who consider their situation as normal and support it more often than not. These individuals have acquired a naïve consciousness and think that others outside of their peers are either outliers or diehard trouble makers. The typical conformists in today’s Sidama constitute the mainstream cadres who have openly or tacitly endorsed the bid by the regional rogue administrator to brand the Sidama struggle for regional self-determination as unlawful and unwarranted.

Yet there are a third group of individuals in any oppressed society who construct their own reality, liberate themselves from the oppression only to go to the other extreme and create stumbling block to the very notion of liberation they pledged to anchor. This could emanate from a number of misperceptions: First, such individuals overvalue their modest emancipation and undervalue major contributions made by other groups or individuals in their society. This could lead to wrong conception of achievement and arrogance leading further to a complete detachment from the reality on the ground. These individuals often lack experience and are likely to hard land as they move on and are confronted with more pervasive reality. And second, narrow, clannish sentiments could impair their vision to see beyond what is at hand. In traditional societies liberation is complicated by lack of a unifying ideology that transcends the narrow clan lines within an ethnic group. The challenge of Somalia, another Kushitic group of ours, is a typical case in point. Some individuals, who have fully reflected, analyzed and understood the reality surrounding them and ready to confront them for better may become the victims of the capricious whims of this failed group or individuals. This group could be more dangerous than the group with naïve consciousness because of the inherent inability to learn. This group is delusional and endangers the aspirations for freedom more so than the naïve conformists. On the other hand, better education, training and exposure could unlock the real potential of the naïve group in the medium to long term.

Societies under perpetual systems of subjugation such as ours should therefore confront liberation from two broad angels- the oppressive system and the opaque societal behavior. This opaque behavior should be confronted openly be it conformist or delusional.

This brief article is meant to incite debate and discussions among the Sidama scholars. It is under no terms comprehensive; but is expected to ignite thoughts and reflections. The reader is cordially invited to lament about home sweet home.

Duka’le Lamisso and Abuse of Civil Liberty in Sidama

23 Feb

 By Hawassa Teessonke

23 February 2013

In a land where state does not have any contractual obligation to protect residents from abuse of political power, civil liberty vanishes into thin air.  A local stooge of a rogue political establishment can torture, imprison, kill and maim civilians under his jurisdiction who he perceives to be disobedient to his instructions with impunity when and where he wishes.  The continued persecution, bogus criminal charges and sentencing of the Sidama civil rights icon, Duka’le Lamisso bears testimony to this sad state affairs.

The common adage: “Power corrupts; but absolute power corrupts absolutely” could not be truer in today’s Sidama and an amalgam of 56 nations in Southern Ethiopia. The people are forced to live in dark ages. Any new idea is regarded as a threat to the political establishment. Effective economic development interventions in Sidama which were established 19 years ago were dismantled 11 years ago because they were considered to be threat to the political establishment. Sidama’s quest for economic development, and poverty alleviation was dashed to ensure political equilibrium in the South.  We were told that Sidama’s faster economic advances could destabilize the region and should be slowed down. Slowed down they did. In effect we were told that we could develop only as far as the political establishment would want us to reach. We were powerless the more so because our own Sidama stooges were the main singers of the demonic poems. That was when I reminded myself that the worst enemy of the oppressed people remains to be the oppressed people themselves. We gave up. But we never despaired. Our spirit remained and remains unshakable today and forever. We have seen the results of the political actions today 11 years on: abject poverty, famine, hunger, unemployment, disease and you name it.  

But my ingenious fellow countrymen never gave up. They unequivocally told the political establishment and the Sidama stooges that enough was enough. They knew the devil causing them ills-lack of political power; lack of power to decide on their own affairs- regional self-determination, for which their forefathers sacrificed their precious lives during the past 50 years.  Once again the shameless Sidama stooges stood in unison denouncing their own mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, and aunts, that they should obey the political establishment and die in hunger, famine, poverty and misery.  Lest rot in jail. Duka’le Lamisso questioned the sincerity of the verdict, but never confronted the political establishment.

He said: “Respect to civil liberty is as old as human history; in 24th century BCE the Sumerians enacted laws protecting civil liberties of orphans and widows and created checks and balances to prevent abuses of power”. On he lamented: “The 13th century English Magna Carta Libertatum was promulgated to protect civil liberties of the English people 700 years ago.”  What does the reader of this brief article say about an absolute lack of respect to civil liberty in the 21st century Ethiopia, Sidama?

Duka’le Lamisso is an icon of the struggle to preserve an institution 4400 years old-civil liberty in Sidama. He is not a criminal. The criminals are the Sidama political stooges and their Ethiopian mentors.

Release Duka’le Lamisso today!!!


The EPRDF cadres in South Ethiopia continue to commit crimes against humanity in Sidama: Cry the Beloved Country!

17 Nov

By Hawassa Teessonke

November 17, 2012

Africa is shining. From the Economist Magazine’s “Hopeless Continent” in just 2000, it has become a formidable force to reckon with within less than a decade. The continent’s real economic growth rate, which averaged between 5-6 percent for the past decade, is second only to the fast growing Asian region.   7 out of the top ten fastest growing countries in the world are in Africa. Africa and Asia are now the main drivers of global economic recovery and growth.

Africa is reclaiming the economic development that eluded it for half a century and there is every hope that the 21st century would become the African century. Africa is also reclaiming political pluralism that was a foundation of its pre-colonial egalitarian traditional system of governance. Over a dozen countries in the continent have made a startling transition from autocracy to democracy. A level playing field has been created to opposition political movements in a number of African countries. Incumbent parties have conceded defeat and a peaceful transition of political power from a ruling to opposition political parties took place in a number of African countries including Kenya, Zambia, Ghana, to name a few.

Amid such hope for transformation of the world’s least developed continent, we confront a grim reality where countries continue to slide backward. A typical case in point is my country, Ethiopia. Cry the beloved country!

Ethiopia is an anti-thesis of the African renaissance. A glimmer of hope that shone with the over throw of the brutal socialist-cum-military dictatorship in 1991 was dashed when the new regime began to shut down political space, and space for voice and accountability as early as in 1993. The first major manifestation of the disaster in waiting was the purging of the opposition political parties that constituted the Transitional Government in 1991. These parties included the Oromo Liberation Front and the Sidama Liberation Movement, among many others.  The purging of the opposition political parties that were fighting the previous oppressive regime side by side with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (the dominant party in EPRDF) dashed the country’s hope for much anticipated political and economic transformation.

To make matters worse, in the South, the new regime took further sinister measures with utter disregard to the peoples that lived in the region. It unilaterally dissolved the five independent regions formed by the Transitional Government and forcefully amalgamated 56 ethnic groups under one pseudo region known today as southern Ethiopian nations, nationalities and peoples’ regional state (sennprs), perhaps the longest name of a province in the world and the biggest joke of all. The 56 nations, nationalities and peoples had never been consulted to form one region.  Their voices and concerns have never been heard. They have never been under one province since that part has been annexed to the Ethiopian empire. The current Southern region was part of 4 different provinces during the feudal regime including Sidama (often confused with a degrading and humiliating misnomer Sidamo),  Gamogofa, Kaffa, and Shewa provinces and over 8 administrative regions during the final years of the derg.

The justification provided by the current regime to restructure the previous administrative arrangement in the country was to establish an ethnic based federal administrative system to ensure self-administration by each nation and nationality in the country. However, as I indicated in one of my previous articles, the major fallacy of this approach lies in the fact that regional administrative boundaries are made to be based on ethno-linguistic identity in all regions except South Ethiopia. This reduces the current Ethiopian constitution to an Orwellian analogue where “All animals remain equal but some animals remain more equal than others.”

Under the current regime, ethno-linguistic identity matters in the rest of the country except in South Ethiopia. Is this not a gross violation of human right?  If it is not, then what is.

The Sidama people objected to the forced amalgamation into the Southern region from day one. This is for the following main reasons:

1)      Ethino-lingusitic dissimilarity between most of the 56 nations: the Sidama people belong to the family of Kushitic speaking group of nations including Oromo, Afar, Somali, which were the ancient settlers in Northeast Africa stretching from Southern Egypt through northern Sudan to Tanzania. Therefore, whether the current regime likes or hates it, the   Sidama people prefer to become a zone in Oromia than a zone with an amalgamation of alien groups. The Government can not force the Sidama people to become what they are not.

 2)      The right to self-administration:  the Sidama people demand justice and impartial application of the constitution in the land to all peoples. Our geographic location in the South does not justify our forced amalgamation with other minority nations while our population is the fifth largest in the country. As long as Tigray is a region of its own there is no justification for Sidama not to become one. As long as a city state Harar, with a population of 100,000 is a region of its own, there is no justification for Sidama with a population of 3.4 million not to become one.

 3)      Economic development and fiscal allocations:  the Sidama region is the backbone of the Ethiopian economy.  We produce and supply to the central market at least 40,000 tonnes of mostly washed specialty Arabica coffee. Most of the producers of this green gold, nevertheless, remain in abject poverty due to unfair commodity trading systems and undue government interferences in the commodity market. The Sidama people deserve a proportional fiscal allocation from the central government to develop the region. Under this regime, the Sidama people have for the first time failed to ensure livelihood security. An estimated 20-30% of the Sidama people depend on food aid today thanks to a deliberate government policy of underdevelopment.

 4)      To reverse this catastrophe, the Sidama people must be able to administer their affairs by themselves; receive proportional share of fiscal allocations from the central government to investment in socio-economic development and livelihood security.   This can only be realized if Sidama becomes a regional state in line with the provisions of articles 39 and 47 of the current Ethiopian constitution.

 The points I tried to articulate above are not exhaustive. Further reasons have been provided in my previous articles.  The gist of the argument is that these points are founded on basic principles of human rights, voice and accountability and fair treatments of all citizens before law. However, in Sidama today any person who voices these concerns is regarded as a de facto criminal.

Hundreds of the Sidama civilians who voiced these concerns are rounded up and thrown into the various prisons throughout the 19 districts with impunity.

I learned the re-arrest of Duka’le Lamisso, a veteran Sidama Human Rights Activist, who was just released from jail a month ago with utter shock and dismay.  Duka’le did not commit any crime. Iyasu Ragassa and Legesse Jillo, two leading religious leaders in Sidama, are languishing in prison for alleged comments they might have made on Sidama’s right for regional self-administration. 

Let me ask fellow Ethiopians, fellow Africans, and the international community at large, where in the world is the demand for a provincial status with in a state a crime?

The ERPDF cadres in Southern Ethiopian region, who are perpetrating these atrocities against the innocent Sidama civilians, are committing crimes against humanity. The international community should bear witness.

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.