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Any Decision on the status of Hawassa Administration and the Sidama Regional Question without Referendum will remain Illegal

28 Sep

By Hawassa Teessonke

28 September 2012

The ongoing meeting in Hawassa called by the EPRDF President of Southern region about which our various reporters have provided an excellent account is said to have continued as misguided as ever. Reports indicate that the meeting has discussed the following five agenda during the past three days:

1) How the development of Sidama can be sustained.

2) Why the people of Sidama do not accept the concept of EPRDF/SEPDM. The Oromo people are more numerous than the Sidama people but they are under the EPRDF/ OPDO rule.

3) As long as the Sidama people are forced to be under SEPDM rule, they would be forced to allow joint administration of the Hawassa town. The Sidama cadres should apologize for not letting that happen up till now.

4) The question of regional self-administration is not possible for now and for ever.

5) Anybody who is interested to fight for the freedom of the Sidama people can continue to fight but the members of the SEPDM/EPRDF will always be guided by the rules of their party.

 By looking at the way the discussion agenda are framed, I wondered whether these are prepared by a historic enemy of the Sidama people than any one who claims to have come out of the womb of a Sidama woman. I leave the answer to this question to history, as it is the ultimate judge of the heroes and the villains in the struggle for freedom and justice in Sidamaland. Let me return to the so called agenda of the meeting and scrutinize them closely:

Agenda 1. How to sustain development in Sidama????

Sustaining development presupposes that there is an adequate ongoing effort by government aimed at improving the plights of the 3.4 million people through investments in economic and social infrastructure, in various sectors of the economy such as agriculture, mining, manufacturing, tourism, and the like. The reality on the ground proves that there has not been any meaningful development activity in Sidama after the ERDF government shut down the Sidama development activities that were supported by donors 11 years ago. The Sidama people, who have always ensured food security through subsistence and cash crop production and family safety net systems, have for the first time in history became dependent on food aid under the current regime.

This was because the government neglected the main stay of the economy, the agriculture sector that accounts for 90% of employment and livelihood in Sidama. The Sidama region is endowed with vast water resources, including its lakes and rivers that could feed the entire Southern region. Did the government build any irrigation scheme to increase agricultural productivity during the past 21 years? Please any one in Sidama inform us if there is any single irrigation project in Sidama that was aimed at increasing agricultural production and food security in Sidama built during the past 21 years.

Among the 3.4 million Sidama people the youth is estimated to account for a minimum of 60% of the population. About 80% of this youth are  either unemployed urban dwellers or underemployed in rural subsistence farms. In such highly subsistence rural economy, governments throughout the world create employment opportunities through agro processing schemes and by building labour intensive manufacturing sectors to shift surplus labour from the subsistence agricultural sector to the manufacturing sector. This will have a multiplier effect on the development of small and medium rural enterprises (SMEs) that will further shift redundant rural labour to more productive activities. This will in turn boost the productivity of the small holder rural farmers as less labour will sustain the current level of agricultural output. This will eventually lead to the structural transformation of the Sidama economy away from one dependent on subsistence agriculture to the one dominated by modern manufacturing sector with gainful employment by the majority of the people.

Before this is ensured the government must make massive investment on education particularly on technical and vocational education and training (TVET) to create the skills required by the manufacturing sector. Does anyone indicate to us how many agro-processing factories were built in rural Sidama during the past 21 years? Does anyone tell us how many TVET schools were built in Sidama during the past 21 years?

The land holing in Sidama has diminished significantly during the past two decades as population density rose rapidly. The population density in Sidama is currently over 450 one of the highest in the world with average land holding less than 0.3 hectares. Unless the redundant rural labour is provided an alternative employment opportunity, the Sidama region will not be able to sustain life as we know it today.

We acknowledge that few infrastructure projects were built including electricity supply and telecommunication in rural towns by the current regime, but these are minuscule compared to the demand of the 3.4 million people residing in a small area of land. What then does the regional EPRDF cadre like to sustain in Sidama? Does he plan to sustain poverty and underdevelopment or development?

The Sidama people are well ahead of the regional EPRDF president. They are saying that the  current inappropriate regional administrative arrangement perpetuated underdevelopment in Sidama instead of development and must be changed and changed now. Because the regional president is rich through graft and misappropriation of the Sidama resources, he may not feel the pain of the people. It is estimated that over 70% of the Sidama people live below the poverty level of US$1.25 per day in spite of massive cash crop, coffee, they supply to the central market. The main reason for this is that the current administrative arrangement in the South limits the people’s access to adequate government capital budget for development besides the massive maladministration.

Development in Sidama is impossible with the current system of  administrative arrangement. Therefore, the Sidama people must be granted regional self-administration now before it is too late. Otherwise rest assured that the continued poverty, political marginalization and underdevelopment will push people to the edge and and to the point of no return.

Agenda 2. Why the people of Sidama do not accept the concept of EPRDF/SEPDM????

This is the most ridiculous and the stupidest agenda to be discussed in front of any people during the 21st century. This is a crux of the usual lies and deceptions of the system. The Sidama people have never rejected the concept of EPRDF. As we have made uncountable sacrifices fighting the successive oppressive regimes in the country, we welcomed the TPLF/ERDF regime with open arms when it overthrew the previous regime in 1991. What the Sidama people are demanding is respect to ERDF’s own laws that each nation and nationality in Ethiopia has the right to self-determination up to and including session. If EPRDF respects this and grants regional self-administration to the Sidama people, we are with EPRDF. If it does not respect its own constitution, how does EPRDF expect the Sidama people to respect it?

The analogy with the Oromo people being under EPRDF rule is stupid. The Oromo people have been granted their own ethnic based region. They are not mixed with any other ethnic groups. How can the Sidama and Oromo situation be compared here?

Agenda 3. Forced change to Hawassa administrative arrangement????

If ERPDF decides to forcefully takeover Hawassa town and place it under federal administrative system, it begins to dig its grave as far as, the Sidama people are concerned. The Sidama EPRDF cadres are not elected by the Sidama people. They are handpicked by the regime and have no legal right to decide on the Sidama regional question and the status of the Sidamaland, Hawassa. Any decision made without a referendum in which all eligible voters out of the 3.4 million Sidama people have fully participated will remain illegal and the Sidama people will reject it unequivocally. Make no mistakes; the will of the people will always prevail.

Agenda 4. The question of regional self-administration is not possible for now and forever????

What is not possible for ever is to crush the will of the people. Regimes have risen and fallen. But the will of the people will never fall. The Sidama people will achieve the regional self-administration sooner or later whether the regional enemy of Sidama accepts it or not. This is a fundamental hum right. It is not a chart from any one. Nobody thought before 1989 that the former USSR would become 15 independent countries, the former Yugoslavia 6 independent countries; South Sudan to two Sudans; Indonesia gives birth to East Timor, you name it. Do not hoodwink us with baseless threats.

Agenda 5: Anybody who is interested to fight for the freedom of the Sidama people can continue to fight????

The Sidama people accept advice only from their heroes not villains. We have fought injustice in Sidama for 120 years and do not need an advice of amateur belly politicians to continue to fight for the freedom and justice in that land. Let us remind those who are gathered in Sidama cultural hall once again. Refrain from making historic mistakes by singing rogue documents on the Sidama regional question and the status of Hawassa town before the 3.4 million Sidama people approve the proposed decisions in referendum. The dissolution of regions 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 are already illegal according to the EPRDF’s own law. If you sign these documents, you will add two more illegal documents into the history of the EPRDF misrule in Sidama. That would not be forgiven by the Sidama people and history.


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!!

Implications of the Election of the new PM from Southern Ethiopia on the Sidama Regional Question- A Brief Analysis

17 Sep


Hawassa Teessonke

17 September 2012

A sudden ascendancy into the helm of the Ethiopian politics dominated by the Amhara and Tigray ruling elites for the past 120 years, by a national of a minority Wolayita ethnic group from Southern Ethiopia symbolizes a “radical” shift in Ethiopia’s political tradition. Haile Mariam Desalegn, 47, and a former University Professor at Arba Minch Water Technology, who was elected as the country’s new PM over the weekend,  is the first leader of Ethiopia from the South in the history of the country. Despite talks of continued behind the scene rule by the Tigray ruling elite; I assume that it is not entirely feasible to have two puppet leaders in one country- the President and the PM- at the same time. I therefore am inclined to believe that the PM will have a reasonable political leverage to exercise.    

Although South Ethiopia and Oromia together account for 58% of the country’s population,   they have never had assumed any political leadership in the country since the country took its current shape over a century ago. Three quarters of the stated period had seen an obsolete feudal system that had robbed land and human dignity from the peoples in Oromia, southern, western and eastern parts of the country leading to economic stagnation, illiteracy, poverty, and underdevelopment.  The much hoped revolution in 1974 had failed in every respect except the nominal transfer of land to the tiller, which was later monopolized under state ownership killing private incentives for investment, economic development and rural transformation. Forced collectivization and villagization under the military-cum-socialist dictatorship led to drastic fall in food production contributing to the catastrophic famine that killed over a million Ethiopians in 1984.     

The hope for democratic transformation, economic recovery and development that ushered in with the demise of the military dictatorship was not easy to come by.  Encouraging initial inclusive arrangements such as the formation of all inclusive Transitional Government of Ethiopia in 1992 and the creation of 14 federal regions in the country including 5 regions in the South (regions 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11) were swiftly reversed without consultation with the stakeholders.

Instead the ruling party fabricated democratic organizations in each of the Southern and Oromia sub regions to constitute the two of the four leading coalition members of the EPRDF: OPDO and SEPDM. While this has secured the long term survival of the ruling party, it has been to the detriment of democracy and development in the South.

In particular, the forced and illegal dissolution of the 5 independent regions in the South has preserved the economic and political marginalization of the largest ethnic group, the Sidama people. The Sidama people have waged armed struggle against two successive regimes for the very regional autonomy that was taken away from them in 1993 when the current regime dissolved region 8, that was composed of Sidama, Gedeo, and Burgi. The right to regional self-administration is a foundation for economic recovery and development in Sidama. A people that has no say in the process of  decision making about the allocation, production , use and distribution of its resources in its land has no future as a nation.

The current  movement in Sidama for regional self-administration is therefore a continuation of an age old demand by the Sidama people who according to the official Ethiopian statistics number 3.4 million as at  July 2012, and remain one of the 5 majority ethnic groups in the country  who make up 74% of the population of the country.

What then is the implication of the election of Haile Mariam Dessalegn as the new PM of Ethiopia on the Sidama regional question? My gut instinct dictates me to assume that as a person from the oppressed sisterly nation in the South, who assumed a historic responsibility by becoming the first leader of the country from the South in over a century and whose people have shared the same pain and suffering under the previous successive regimes, he would be able to transcend a minor ethnic strife and uphold the genuine demand of the Sidama people for regional self-administration.

I expect that the new PM would work closely with the Sidama people to ensure that their demand for regional self-administration is answered with in the constitutional prerogative as a matter of urgency. I would like to defy the adage that the oppressed people are their own worst enemies and would like to think that the oppressed peoples in the South are no enemies of each other. I defy assumptions that there are certain rogue elements in Sidama society that would strive to use this opportunity to undermine the genuine demand of the Sidama people for better governance, political empowerment and economic development that would ensure peace and harmony with their neighbors and the various peoples living in their land.

We in the South have learnt a lot during the past two decades. Forced imposition of perceived changes against the will of the people can never be sustained. The disastrous Wogagoda project that was scrapped after an outlay of millions of Birr and the loss of tens of lives in Wolayita zone in mid 1990s was the clear testimony that impositions of the will of few ruling elites on the masses of the people will be resisted whatever the cost to that people. My hope is that sanity will prevail and the voices of the oppressed people will reign supreme all over the world.

The Political Economy of the Sidama Regional Question-Overview

13 Sep


Hawassa Teessonke

September 13, 2012

Today, the Sidama people are at a crossroads. Structural economic weaknesses and lack of economic transformation amid massive over population has left the majority of the population in abject poverty. Unemployment, particularly among the youth, and rural underemployment remain rampant. The continued economic marginalization amid relative improvements in political space since 1991 has been worsened by lack of capacity and good governance, corruption, and above all disempowering administrative arrangement that denied political voice to the majority of the population. The country has adopted bicameral administrative system since 1993. While the majority of the country is organized in a federal system in line with ethno-linguistic affiliations and delineations; over 45-50 ethnic groups in the South are forcefully lumped together under the Southern Ethiopia Peoples’ Region.

Accordingly to the July 1,  2012 population estimate by the Ethiopian Central Statistical Agency (CSA), Sidama’s population is 3.4 million making it the most populous nation in Southern Ethiopia and the 5th populous nation in Ethiopia after Oromia (31 million), Amhara (18 million), Somali (Ogaden) (5.1 million) and Tigray (4.9 million). Independent estimates put the population of Sidama at about 5 million. Even if we disregard the independent estimates and use the official figures from CSA, Sidama accounts for over 4% of the total population of Ethiopia of 84 million as at July 2012. The other largest nations in Southern Ethiopia have the total population of less than half of that of Sidama. These include Gamo Gofa (1.8 million); Wolayita (1.7 million); Hadiya (1.4 million), Gurage (1.4 million) and Kaffa (1 million). The rest of the 50 or so ethnic groups have population of less than 1 million. The resentment of the Sidama people about the current administrative arrangement in the South of the country emanates therefore from two prime concerns.

First, lack of recognition to the sheer size of the Sidama population by forcefully lumping 3.4 million people (or 5 million) into one region with smaller groups without due regard to the size of the population that needs jobs, that needs access to better social and economic services including access to roads, electricity, water services, telecommunication, railways, schools, universities, health centers, hospitals, and other essential services that uplift human dignity is a violation of fundamental human right. 

Secondly, lack of recognition to the economic contribution of the Sidama nation to the country’s economy is intolerable. Sidama produces approximately 35-40,000 tons of mostly high quality specialty Arabica coffee on about 70,000 hectors of land. Over 60% of this is washed and directly destined for export. Ethiopia exported 75000 tons of coffee during the first 8 months of the fiscal year 2011/12 earnings US$411.8 million in foreign exchange. The country exported much higher amounts the previous fiscal year earning nearly US$1 billion from coffee alone. A significant portion of the coffee exports and the foreign exchange revenue originates from Sidama. However, the lives of the ordinary Sidama coffee producers and inhabitant has never improved because successive regimes failed to allocate public funds and government budget for captial expenditure on the basis of regional economic contributions. The coffee revenues generated from Sidama are either wasted by corrupt officials or are utilized to develop the regions favored by the regimes in power.

It is due to these fundamental violations of basic human rights that the Sidama people have been waging armed resistance against the previous successive oppressive regimes and engaged in peaceful demands for regional self-administration since the current government took power in 1991. The demand to have a fair share to the resources generated by the Sidama people to develop the Sidama region to alleviate poverty and create employment opportunities for over 2 million young people, is at the core of the grievances of the Sidama people and will continue to define the nation’s course of action in the future.

The current administrative arrangement in South Ethiopia grossly violates the two fundamental demands of the Sidama people: (1) voice and accountability in line with the population size which is twice larger than any other largest ethnic group in the region, and (2) access to and fair share of country’s national income generated by the Sidama region to be used for economic development, poverty alleviation and job creation. Under the current regional arrangement the Sidama people are grossly marginalized. The capital budget allocated to the Sidama region has been dwindling since the past ten years in the name of developing other more underdeveloped areas in the region.

The alternative local development initiatives that were supported by donors were shut down by the current government with impunity due to pure jealousy and inimical attitude to economic advancement of the Sidama people. The Sidama people have now reached a point of no return. The people are saying enough is enough. The people need real voice and accountability commensurate to their population size and economic contribution to the country. The Sidama people must be granted regional self-administration without any delay.

The government’s political strategy to use the South as bulwark against the Oromo nationalism should not be at the detriment of the Sidama people. The regime can continue with bicameral system of administration with smaller ethnic groups in the South. The Sidama people are not a minority. We are 3.4 million people and are among the top 5 largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia even by the Ethiopian government’s own account. Sidama has a population more than 75 independent countries in the world including Uruguay, Mauritania, Panama, Armenia, Albania, Kuwait, Oman, Mongolia, Jamaica, Namibia, Lesotho, Slovenia, Botswana, Gabon, Estonia, Djibouti, Iceland, Luxembourg, Bahrain, and so on. Regional Self administration is the minimum the Sidama people can demand from the Ethiopian government. Grant the regional self-administration for Sidama now.It is a fundamental human right that no one can deny any people.

An Epic Sidama Poem: A Guidepost for Freedom and Justice

2 Sep

What more guidepost do we need other than the poem from our legendary singer and song writer below. A wake up call?

Womu seemma, roori;

Kaayu eena, roori;

Seemma taalo coyiri;

Amate ka’ani baxisari nooni??

Ane ama, geercho jawa, roori;

Seema taalo coyi’ri;

Ani womu seemma;

Ane giwisae lame hayyo adha;

Qaaffinsanitanna bosalita ma’na;

Boosalo giweema goxa gadaddana;

Dirifatumaro giira amaddana;

Qaafiichcho giweema mariwa maddanna;

Bushurini xaade seyanyote abanna;

Ani womu seema qaafichcho giweema;

Hiito qaafinsayie mammichcho taenna;

Mayira dugugurso ma aniya reena.

Aduyna Duumo (A Vetran Sidama Singer and Song Writer)

Wallelign Mekonnen on the Question of Nationalities in Ethiopia

30 Aug

 Side Goodo

 August 24, 2008 

 The question of nationalities in Ethiopia has been the most contentious issue since Ethiopia took its current shape between the late 1880s and the early 1900s. The northern part of the present day Ethiopia, inhabited by the majority Abyssinians and the minority Kushitic Agews existed for over 2 Millennia in the name of the Abyssinian Kingdom with remarkable civilizations such as Axum, Lalibela and Gonder. However, Ethiopia as we know it today is the result of the internal expansion by King Minelik II of Shoa during the late 1880s until the early 1900s.

The majority (70%) of the current Ethiopian population, which lives in the southern, western and eastern regions of the country became part of the present day Ethiopia only during this period of internal expansion. The majority Kushitic peoples such as Sidama, Oromo, Afar, Ogaden, etc and the Omotic peoples such as Wolayita, Gamo, Gofa, Dawuro, Konta, etc and the Nilotic peoples living in the border between Ethiopia and the Sudan all became part of the present day Ethiopia between the 1880s and early 1900s. Historical evidences suggest that the rivalry between the two colonial powers, Britain and France in the horn of Africa, during the Scramble for Africa, facilitated the rapid Abyssinian expansion towards the south, the east and the west during this period. The two colonial powers provided King Minelik II ample rifles and other war materials that other ethnic groups living in the interior lacked. Therefore the King was able to easily subdue these hitherto independent African Kushitic, Omotic and Nilotic states with in a relatively short period of time.

Although these peoples were annexed over a century ago, due to lack of sustainable economic development and industrialization as well as limited urbanization, 85 % of them still live off subsistence agriculture in rural areas. The peoples of the South, the East and the West have therefore fully preserved their unique cultures, languages, histories and economic systems until today. Due to the failure of nation building arising primarily from failed economic development and successive dictatorial political systems, the country remained an amalgamation of nations and nationalities who constantly resented being part of a failed state.

It is based on this reality that Ethiopians from the South, the East and the West often voice concerns about the issues of nations and nationalities in the past and current Ethiopian politics. This is often misunderstood by their Abyssinian compatriots who unwittingly or intentionally refuse to accept the diversity of the country. This is in contrast to the spirit of the 1960s Ethiopian student movement which fully recognized the diversity of the peoples living in the country and their brutal and inhuman oppression and exploitation by the Abyssinian political elites. The most eloquent analysis of the issues of nations and nationalities in Ethiopia was provided by the late Wallelign Mekonnen, who was the most progressive Abyssinian in the history of the country, and one of the leaders of the student movements in Haile Selassie I University (the Current Addis Ababa University) in the late 1960s. Given the internal and international political developments during that time, his article was unsurpassed by its intellectual rigor and ability to portray the reality on the ground in the country. It was an epic essay.

However, I would like to warn readers that I do not endorse the ideology of the writer of the article. Wallelign´s analysis of the question of nationalities in Ethiopia was based on the socialist premises. His thoughts were influenced both by the contemporary global political trends and the domestic archaic political system of the feudal monarchy. Unfortunately, Wallelign did not have an opportunity to live and witness the down fall of the brutal Ethiopian feudal monarchy in 1974 and the brutal global socialism in 1991. I believe that if he had a chance, he would have radically altered the premises of his analysis. Our basic objective in publishing Wallelign´s article is only to reemphasize the fact that the question of nations and nationalities in Ethiopia of the 1960s is equally relevant and burning in Ethiopia of today. This is not the negation of the current tendencies for African and global unity. Africa can not be free and united if it does not respect the rights of the 2000 nationalities and peoples living in the continent.


 By Walleligne Mekonnen

Arts IV, Haile Sellassie I University  

Nov. 17, 1969  

The main purpose of this article is to provoke discussions on the “sacred”, yet very important issue of this country-the Question of Nationalities. The article as it was prepared for a special occasion (where detailed analysis was due time and other inconveniences impossible) suffers from generalizations and inadequate analysis. But I still feel it is not mediocre for a beginning. I expect my readers to avoid the temptation of snatching phrases out of their context and capitalizing on them. Instead every point raised here should be examined in the light of the whole analysis. We have reached a new stage in the development of the student movement, a level where Socialism as a student ideology has been taken for granted, and reaction with all its window dressing is on the defensive. The contradictory forces are no more revolution versus reform, but correct scientific Socialism versus perversion and fadism. The Socialist forces in the student movement till now have found it very risky and inconvenient to bring into the open certain fundamental questions because of their fear of being misunderstood. One of the delicate issues which has not yet been resolved up to now is the Question of Nationalities-some people call it ridiculously tribalism-but I prefer to call it nationalism. Panel discussions, articles in STRUGGLE and occasional speakers, clandestine leaflets and even tete-a-tete groups have not really delved into it seriously. Of course there was indeed the fear that it may alienate certain segments of the student population and as well the fear that the government may take advantage of an honest discussion to discredit the revolutionary student movement. Starting from last year, a small minority began to discuss this delicate issue for the most part in secluded places. Discussions, even private, leak out and because they were not brought into the open they normally led to backbiting, misunderstanding and grossly exaggerated rumours. I think students are mature enough to face reality even if they are very sensitive. And the only solution to this degeneration, as witnessed from some perverted leaflets running amock [amok] these two weeks, is open discussion.

What are the Ethiopian people composed of? I stress on the word peoples because sociologically speaking at this stage Ethiopia is not really one nation. It is made up of a dozen nationalities with their own languages, ways of dressing, history, social organization and territorial entity. And what else is a nation? It is not made of a people with a particular tongue, particular ways of dressing, particular history, particular social and economic organization? Then may I conclude that in Ethiopia there is the Oromo Nation, the Tigrai Nation, the Amhara Nation, the Gurage Nation, the Sidama Nation, the Wellamo [Wolayta] Nation, the Adere [Harari] Nation, and however much you may not like it the Somali Nation. This is the true picture of Ethiopia. There is of course the fake Ethiopian Nationalism advanced by the ruling class and unwillingly accepted and even propagated by innocent fellow travellers. What is this fake Nationalism? Is it not simply Amhara and to a certain extent Amhara-Tigre supremacy? Ask anybody what Ethiopian culture is? Ask anybody what Ethiopian language is? Ask anybody what Ethiopian music is? Ask anybody what the “national dress” is? It is either Amhara or Amhara-Tigre!! To be a “genuine Ethiopian” one has to speak Amharic, to listen to Amharic music, to accept the Amhara-Tigre religion, Orthodox Christianity and to wear the Amhara-Tigre Shamma in international conferences. In some cases to be an “Ethiopian”, you will even have to change your name. In short to be an Ethiopian, you will have to wear an Amhara mask (to use Fanon’s expression). Start asserting your national identity and you are automatically a tribalist, that is if you are not blessed to be born an Amhara. According to the constitution you will need Amharic to go to school, to get a job, to read books (however few) and even to listen to the news on Radio “Ethiopia” unless you are a Somali or an Eritrean in Asmara for obvious reasons. To anybody who has got a nodding acquaintenance with Marxism, culture is nothing more than the super-structure of an economic basis. So cultural domination always presupposes economic subjugation. A clear example of economic subjugation would be the Amhara and to a certain extent Tigrai Neftegna system in the South and the Amhara-Tigre Coalition in the urban areas. The usual pseudo-refutation of this analysis is the reference to the large Amhara andd Tigrai masses wallowing in poverty in the countryside. For that matter during the heydays of British imperialism a large mass of British Workers had to live under inhuman conditions. 

Another popular counter argument is that there are two or three ministers of non-amhara-Tigre Nationality in the Cabinet, one or two generals in the army, one or two governors and a dozen balabats in the countryside. But out and out imperialists like the British used to rule their colonies mainly by enlisting the support of tribal chiefs, who were much more rich than the average citizen of the British Metropolis. The fact that (Houphet) Boigne and Senghor were members of the French National Assembly and the fact that they were even ministers did not reduce an iota of Senegalese and Ivory Coast [Ivoirians] loss of political independence. Of course the economic and cultural subjugation by the Amharas and their junior partners the Tigres is a historical accident. Amharas are not dominant because of inherent imperialist tendencies. The Oromos could have done it, the Wellamos [Wolaytas] could have done it and history proves they tried to do so. But that is not an excuse for the perpetuation of this situation. The immediate question is we must declare a stop to it. And we must build a genuine national- state. And what is this genuine national-state? It is a state in which all nationalities participate equally in state affairs, it is a state where every nationality is given equal opportunity to preserve and develop its language, its music and its history. It is a state where Amharas, Tigres, Oromos, Aderes [Harari], Somalis, Wollamos [Wolaytas], Gurages, etc. are treated equally. It is a state where no nation dominates another nation be it economically or culturally. And how do we achieve this genuine democratic and egalitarian state? Can we do it through military? No!! A military coup is nothing more but a change of personalities. It may be a bit more liberal than the existing regime but it can never resolve the contradiction between either classes or nationalities. The Neway brothers and Tadesse Birus could not have done it. Talking about Mengistu and Tadesse, one cannot fail to remember the reaction that the Mengistus coup though a family one and at that by a sector of Shoa Amharas (with few exceptions, of course among the Workeneh) was very popular just because it was staged by “Ethiopians”-Amharas. With Tadesse, it was automatically a tribalist uprising. Why? Tadesse an Oromo cannot stage a nationalist coup but Oromo Supremacist. I am not equivocal in condemning coups, but the Tadesse coup had at least one significant quality and a very important one too. It gave our Oromo Brothers and Sisters self-respect. And self-respect is an important pre-requisite for any mass-based revolution. Even the so-called revolutionaries who scoffed at the coup just like the mass of the student body, could not comprehend this quality. You can clearly see in this instance the power of the Amhara-Tigre supremacist [supremacist] feelings. They clearly proved that they were nothing more than the products of government propaganda on this question. 

Can the Eritrean Liberation Front and the Bale armed struggle achieve our goal? Not with their present aims and set-up. Both these movements are exclusive in character, led by the local Bourgeoisie in the first instance and the local feudal lords in the second. They do not have international outlook, which is essential for our goal. They are perfectly right in declaring that there is national oppression. We do not quarrel with them on this score. But their intention is to stop there. They do not try to expand their struggles to the other nationalities. They do not attempt to make a broad-based assault on the foundations of the existing regime. They deliberately try to forget the connection of their local ruling classes with the national oppression. In short these movements are not led by peasants and workers. Therefore, they are not Socialists; it would only be a change of masters for the masses. But for the Socialists the welfare of the masses comes first. The same can be said for the Gojjam uprising. But I would like to take this opportunity once again to show how much Amhara supremacism [supremacism] is taken for granted in this Campus. To applaud the ELF is a sin. If anything favorable is written out, it is automatically refuted by both USUAA and NUEUS. But the Gojjam affair was different. Support for it was practically a show of identity to the so-called revolutionaries. Mind you, I am just saying that these movements are not lasting solutions for our goal-the set-up of a genuine Nationalist Socialist State. I am all for them, the ELF, the Bale movements, the Gojjam uprising, to the extent that they have challenged and weakened the existing regime, and have created areas of discontent to be harnessed later on by a genuine Socialist revolution. One thing again is certain. I do not oppose these movements just because they are secessionists. There is nothing wrong with secessionism as such. For that matter secession is much better than nationally oppressive government. I quote Lenin, “…People resort to secession only when national oppression and national antagonisms make joint life absolutely intolerable and hinder any and all economic intercourse. In that case the interests of the freedom of the class struggle will be best served by Secession. I would also like to quote the resolution on the question of nationalities from the London International Socialist Congress of 1896 attended, supported and adopted by the Bolsheviks who brought about the October revolution, “This Congress declares that it stands for the full right of all nations to self-determination and expresses its sympathy for the workers and peasants of every country now suffering under the yoke of military, national or other absolutism.”  

 As long as secession is led by the peasants and workers and believes in its internationalist obligation, it is not only to be supported but also militarily assisted. It is pure backwardness and selfishness to ask a people to be partners in being exploited till you can catch up. We should never dwell on the subject of secession, but whether it is progressive or reactionary. A Socialist Eritrea and Bale would give a great impetus to the revolution in the country and could form an egalitarian and democratic basis for re-unification. To come back to our central question: How can we form a genuine egalitarian national-state? It is clear that we can achieve this goal only through violence, through revolutionary armed struggle. But we must always guard ourselves against the pseudo-nationalist propaganda of the regime. The revolution can start anywhere. It can even be secessionist to begin with, as long as led by the progressive forces-the peasants and the workers, and has the final aim the liberation of the Ethiopian Mass with due consideration to the economic and cultural independence of all the nationalities. It is the duty of every revolutionary to question whether a movement is Socialist or reactionary not whether a movement is secessionist or not. In the long run Socialism is internationalism and a Socialist movement will never remain secessionist for good. To quote Lenin again, “From their daily experience the masses know perfectly well the value of geographical and economic ties and the advantages of a big market and a big state.” From this point of view of the struggle as well, a regime like ours harassed from corners is bound to collapse in a relatively short period of time. But when the degree of consciousness of the various nationalities is at different levels, it is not only the right but the duty of the most conscious nationality to first liberate itself and then assist others in the struggle for total liberation. Is that not true of Korea? We do support this movement, don’t we? Then, what is this talk of tribalism, secessionism, etc…..?

South Ethiopia’s regional EPRDF ruler said to have demanded cadres to undergo self-criticism

7 Aug

The South Ethiopian regional EPRDF ruler has demanded that the rank-and-file Sidama EPRDF members should undergo  the Stalinist notion of political self -criticism for tolerating the Sidama people’s demand for regional self administration. Political self-criticism was widely practiced in the former communist dictatorships such as the USSR, China, and the former East Eurpean  socialist republics where the rank-and- file cadres had been punished for falling out of favour with the dictators.

The  “samokritika” in the USSR,  the “jiantao” in China and the “gille hiss” in Ethiopia have all one thing in common. To threaten the ordinary members  of political parties to either abandon their dissent or ensure that the dissent of their constituency have been covered up and silenced.   

News from the meetings  chaired by the regional and zonal rulers higlight that a sizable number of the Sidama EPRDF members have emphatically rejected the notion of political correctness stating that the Sidama regional demand is based on the rights of nations and nationalities stated  in the very constutition drafted and enacted by EPRDF itself.  They courageoulsy asserted that they would rather lose their jobs than betray the Sidama  people (their constituency)  and their demand for regional self administration.

Demanding the rank-and-file members to self-criticise  for not inteferring in a legal and peaceful demand of the fundamental rights of a nation is intolerable.  It is intolerable for two reasons:

First, it presupposes that the majority of the Sidama people, our elders,  our university students, our mothers, our sisters and brothers who have stood in unison to voice their dissatisfaction with the current admininstrative arragement in the region, do not have any voice and do not matter as citiznes of the country. Instead of facing the people, the rulers are facing the handpicked party members some of whom have now joined the majority of the people in spearheading the legal demand for dismantling the illegal southern Ethiopian regional administration.    

 Second, the basic objective of the self -criticism manouver is aimed at trivializing and converting the legal demand into an illegal political revolt that should carry a warning “It should never have happened while we were around” and “It will never happen again” . It is aimed at intimidating the lower  echlon of the the EPRDF membership into giving in to an illegal pressure to betray the people. It’s  goal is to divide and weaken our legitimate demand.

However, dictatorship also has its bounds. It can intimidate, imprison and torture but it can not kill the human spirit. The human spirit defeated dictatorships throught out history; and in most recent past it forced many of them in the Arab world to succumb to popular demand with a lightining speed. 

Then why do our rulers not learn?

I have one explanation. My explanation was inspired by  yesterday’s successful landing of Curiousity Space craft on Mars by the American space scientists.  The gap between the brains of the people who made it possible for a robot to travel 8 months and over 500 million kilometres in the solar system to find and land on the surface of another planet, Mars and the chaps in Sidama who think that a world will come to an end if the Sidama people are granted regional self administration is equally 500 million kilometres apart. The EPRDF rulers who think that demading a regional self  administration, which is the most simple and basic demand of any group of people on this planet, is the most difficult political puzzle to unlock , have not yet completed their evolutionary process and should not be counted as true humans.  They just have  limbs to walk and receive bribes and eat, mouth to talk and private parts to procreate and die. That is their sole function on this planet. While other human beings explore life beyond planet earth, our sub-humans could not distinguish between right and wrong in their village.   

Ultimatley, however, whether  EPRDF rulers and their surrogates understand it or not, accept or reject it, the fundamental rights of any people will always remain their fundamental rights. And the will of the people will always reign sovereign!!

Never give up the fight for your right!!!!!