Justifications for the Sidama Regional Self-Administration
1. Legal and Constitutional: The demand for the restoration of regional administration by the Sidama nation is the right enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) Article 39, Rights of Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples, sub Article 3 which states that 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. This demand is also guaranteed in Article 47 (4) which states that member States of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia shall have equal rights and powers (see recent Facebook post by Dr. Tsegaye Ararsa, Senior Expert in Constitutional Law). The Sidama nation has been demanding the restoration of its regional administration since the former 5 separate regions (regions 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11) in the south were merged into SNNPRS in 1993 without consultation. Sidama, Gedeo, Amaro and Burji were region 8. As Dr. Tsegaye has succinctly put it in his post, in accordance with Article 39 (4) of the constitution of the FDRE in 2005 the Sidama Zone Administrative Council had endorsed the Nation’s demand for regional status by 100% vote. This decision has been submitted to the SNNPRS council of nations and nationalities and FDRE Council of Federation to allow the Sidama nation to carry out a referendum to decide on regional self-administration. This demand has never been answered and has been pending until today. Dr. Abiy has promised to implement reforms to promote democracy and rule of law and has been implementing reforms since he came to office three months ago. The Sidama nation has high hopes that he will promptly address the Sidama demand for regional status.
2. The Sidama Regional Question is Not a Boundary Dispute: The Sidama nation has no boundary dispute with any nation. The demand of the nation is for administrative reform in the south in which Sidama will be granted regional status in line with the constitution of the country discussed in 1 above. Therefore, the Sidama regional question cannot be handled by the Boundry Commission. Neither can it be handed over to a new Commission yet to be formed. The Sidama regional question is unique, has been pending for 27 years and should be answered urgently.
3. Population Size: According to the Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia, the Sidama nation had a total population of 4,123,962 in 2017 of which 3,443,223 lived in rural areas while 680,742 people including 335,508 residents of Hawassa town lived in urban areas. An independent estimate by development partners and Sidama scholars put the total population of Sidama at about 5 million in 2017. The Sidama nation ranks the 5th largest in the country after Oromia, 35.4 million; Amhara, 21.1 million; Somali, 5.6 million; and Tigray, 5.2 million according to the same government statistics. However, while Afar with population 1.7 million, Banishagual-Gumuz with population of 1 million, Gambella with population of 409, 000, and Harari with population of 232,000, all in 2015 figures, have been granted regional status, the Sidama nation with a minimum population of 4.1 million has been denied the right to regional administration. This is unconstitutional and must be answered urgently. Sidama has a population that is bigger than the populations of 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 status within Ethiopia is the least the Sidama nation would demand from FDRE.
4. Economic Contribution to Federal Government: The demand for regional status is also in line with the economic contribution of Sidama to the federal government. Between 2009/2010 and 2011/12, Sidama supplied approximately 51,000 tons of mostly high quality commodity and specialty Arabica coffee per year on average to the export market. Over 60% of this is washed and directly destined for export. Ethiopia earns between USD 800 million and USD 1 billion from export of coffee every year. Coffee is produced on about 70,000 hectors of land in Sidama. One third of the coffee exports and the foreign exchange revenue originate from Sidama. This is massive economic contribution. The budget subsidy the Sidama nation receives from the Federal government is not equitable. It does not reflect the economic contribution of the nation. This is one of the main reasons for lack of economic development, high levels of poverty and unemployment. Granting regional administration will go a long way in addressing this challenge. Grossly inequitable allocation of federal government subsidies is the main reason for the high levels of poverty, unemployment and rural underemployment, particularly among the youth.
5. Underdevelopment and social problems: As in many developing nations, the vast majority of the Sidama population is youth. The young population aged 15-34 accounts for over 70% of the population of Sidama. Due to lack of economic development over the past three decades, over 80% of the Sidama youth is unemployed today. For the first time in the history of the country, the Sidama youth is living in the streets of cities and towns and begging in the streets. This is an unprecedented social crisis. Without regional administration and equitable allocations of development budgets, it will not be possible to promote economic development and address poverty and unemployment in Sidama.
6. The Hawassa Question: The Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia reports the population of the Hawassa town separately from the population of Sidama. The Hawassa town is the administrative capital of Sidama as well as the southern region. There is no constitutional and legal basis for the population of the administrative capital of a society to be deducted from the population of the society. The Sidama people have lived in Hawassa land for at least the past 1000 years since the time the ancient Sidama people moved from northern highlands to the south central part of the country. The semi-pastoral Sidama people are the indigenous inhabitants of Hawassa. Hawassa was founded just in 1960, 55 years ago, by the imperial regime. The space for urban buildings was acquired by dismantling the Sidama farms and cattle enclosures known in Sidama language as Hoowe. Today, some attempt to hoodwink us by propagating that Hawassa was built on a barren land and “no one settled on the land 55 years ago”. That is not true. Time to fabricate history to denigrate societies is over. Hawassa, also known as Adaare, has been a Sidama settlement for over a millennium. The status of Hawassa is an emotive issue for the Sidama nation. On 24 May 2002, thousands of Sidama elders and youth marched to the Hawassa suburb of Looqqe demanding that the proposal to remove the administrative seat of the Sidama nation from its land, Hawassa town, be reversed with immediate effect. The protesters were carrying the Ethiopian flags and waving leaves and branches of trees and were entirely peaceful. Nonetheless, the Federal and Southern Region security forces used live ammunition and killed several elders and youth and wounded many civilians. The demand of the Sidama nation for regional administration cannot be traded with the status of Hawassa. The Central Statistical Agency should immediately stop reporting the population of Hawassa separately from the population of Sidama. The capital of the Sidama region is Hawassa and will always remain Hawassa.