A quest for statehood in Ethiopia: Justifications from Sidamas’ perspectives
by Shiferaw Muleta
The current Ethiopian politics is dominated by discussions over the quest for statehood by many zones in the Southern Regional State. This debate has been sparked after the endorsement of the age-old quest of the Sidamas for statehood by the regional council on November 2, 2018 and similar quests were presented eventually. Notwithstanding its constitutionality, many individuals, including prominent politicians and scholars, have been remarking against such quests. The lingering argument is that the Nations and Nationalities in the Southern Regional State have been administering their respective zones, using their own language and practicing their culture. They argue that the issue of statehood is spearheaded by political elites often described as “political entrepreneurs” who want to dominate “others” living within their region.
Nonetheless, the quest for statehood is not as it is perceived by others. The issues of language and cultural practices are natural rights and no one can deny them. It seems rather that what you have achieved in post 1991 era is “enough” for you so that implicitly saying “don’t ask more” in a supremacist tone. Why have many nationalities in the Southern Regional State requested for statehood? In this short essay, I present the compelling reasons in the quest of statehood by the Sidamas to establish the Sidama Regional State. I hope scholars of the other nationalities in the Southern Regional State will also explain and present their perspectives subsequently. In the case of Sidamas, eight main reasons, which are interrelated to each other, can be drawn from various explanations presented by Sidama elites, politicians and academics in their interviews and public speeches.
Self determination: Unpaid long overdue
The Sidamas have fought for more than a decade against the Derg regime for self-determination. One of its manifestations is having its own regional administrative status. The liberation movements in pre 1991 era have succeeded by establishing regional states. For instance, the Oromos, Tigrians, Afars and Somalis have their own regional state, but not the Sidamas. Hence, the statehood issue is a long overdue that has to be addressed under the FDRE.
Visibility in FDRE and restoring Sidama identity
Despite its fifth rank in Ethiopia in terms of population size, the Sidama identity has been obscured under the fake “south” identity or psychology as recently claimed in the press release of the South Ethiopian People Democratic Movement (SEPDM), the regional party and member of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). With their own region, the Sidamas can easily be visible to the international community and many Ethiopians alike, who better know the Hararis, possibly due to the Harari Regional State. The Hararis who accounted for only 8.65 percent of the population in Harari region in 2007 (15,863 Hararis out of the total 183,451 regional population) have a higher visibility than the Sidamas who accounted for 24.9 percent of the population in the Southern region. Hence, the Sidama region will enable the Sidamas to gain visibility in the FDRE and globally.
According to Article 8(3) of the constitution of the FDRE, the sovereignty of Nations, Nationalities and Peoples is expressed through their elected representatives and through their direct democratic participation. Nonetheless, this sovereignty is vested on regional level not at zonal level. For instance, it’s a region not a zone that has the mandate to promulgate law, enact and execute or implement such laws. However, the Sidamas have lacked this public sovereignty for being under the Southern region. Hence, the new Sidama region will enable the Sidamas to promulgate laws as well as development policies and strategies and enact them with regional priorities.
Internal sovereignty: A vehicle for achieving economic development
The novelist Amartya Sen defines economic development as freedom. Under the Southern region, the Sidamas have lacked the agency to make development plans freely. The top down packages from the Southern region does not often suit to Sidamas’ local contexts. The new Sidama region will inevitably provide the freedom of designing and enacting economic development plans. Hence, the new region will be a means to achieve economic development and bring prosperity to the Sidamas but not an end by itself.
Political bargaining power
Let us assume the Sidama Liberation Movement (SLM), the main opposition political organization in Sidama, won election in Sidama region and the SEPDM, the current ruling party in Southern region, won in the remaining zones. Many people may think that the SLM would administer the Sidama zone and the SEPDM in other zones. This is not actually possible while being under the same roof. Hence, the new Sidama region will give political bargaining power to all political parties and organizations elected in the Sidama region to establish a regional government or form a coalition with others to form the federal government. The SNRS will inevitably provide this power.
Representation at the Federal level
The representation of the Sidamas at the Federal level is very minimal. This is because the power sharing at the federal level considers the Southern region as one entity regardless of the population size variations among its constituencies. As a result, the federal power that can be attributed to the Sidamas goes to other nationalities in Southern region. For instance, until recently, a single position was taken by a Sidama official out of nearly 180 diplomatic posts abroad, which are assigned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). Given the five percent proportion of the Sidamas in Ethiopia, a minimum of nine diplomatic posts could have been filled by the Sidamas.
There is a saying: if California were a country, it would rank sixth in the world in terms of GDP. By the same analogy, with a total population of 4.9 million in 2017 (CSA 2018), if the Sidama region were a country, the Sidamas would rank 123rd out of 233 world countries and territories (see: https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/population-by-country/) or 38th in Africa next to Eritrea and above Liberia, out of the 58 African countries and territories (see: https://www.worldometers.info/population/countries-in-africa-by-population/). How do people expect a smooth administration for the Sidamas under a zonal level? Here, it may be counter argued that Sidama zone can be divided under many zones. However, this has not been effected hitherto and it’s too late now. That even would only possible under Sidama region and not under Southern region. This would inevitably lead to a similar quest by other zones as power competitions have prevailed among the zones in Southern region, which is even the weakness of the South model in FDRE.
The Sidama region is relatively well developed as compared to other zones in Southern regional state. It generates high revenue from coffee export (35 percent share of Ethiopia’s total) and “Chat” (Khata Idulis), among others. However, the Sidama region has been subsidizing other zones in SNNP for the last 27 years due to several criteria used for budget allocation that take into account a distance from the regional capital, among others. For instance, on average, about 513 Million birr per year has been deducted from Sidamas’ budget share that could have been used for the development of Sidama region. Hence, under the Sidama region, this subsidy money to other zones will be used for Sidamas’ development. If it is collected effectively, the internal revenue itself can sustain at least the recurrent budget of the new Sidama region, as roughly estimated data show.
In a nutshell, the Sidamas meet all justifiable claims (demographic, economic, social, political etc) to establish their own region. That even will strengthen the existing federal structure. Hence, it should not be a further debatable issue.
Ed.’s Note: Shiferaw Muleta (PhD) is an Assistant Professor at Addis Ababa University, College of Development Studies (CDS), Center for Environment and Development. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com.