The Sidama People (Ejjeetto) Eyeing Their New Regional State is Born Despite Stiff Resistances from Entrenched Interests
by Tesfaye Hillo
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. About a year ago, the newly elected Prime Minster of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed (PhD) convened a meeting with Sidama people at Hawassa. The Sidama’s demand for regional autonomy is fully constitutional and will be dealt with according to the constitution of Ethiopia, he said after attentively listened to their plea initiating a kick-off yet to another legal process. Ethiopia’s federal constitution provides for “unconditional” self-determination.
While less than two weeks remaining to complete setting and declare after passing several hurdles in past several months, with a surprising twist, the PM threatened with violent reprisal if the Sidama people proceed with their demand.
The response of Commander-in-Chief was beyond shocking to over 6 million Sidama people.
Ejjeetto, ‘the last generation to secure Sidama’s regional autonomy’ as they call themselves, responded with their latest press release that they have no room to accommodate unconstitutional responses from anyone including the PM’s irresponsible and violence laden rhetoric. None is on their table, according to their statement, other than declaring it on constitutionally set up time-line, July 17, 2019(11-11-11 – the Ethiopian equivalent).
Embracing their motto - Our demand is Constitutional, Our means is Peaceful - Ejjeetto made persisted calls to the PM’s government to comply with their constitutional demands to which, stubbornly, deaf ears were given. Several peaceful marches (including historic all-woman-march), sit-ins, no-workdays protests throughout the region were not good enough to draw the governments attention which left many in frustration.
Ejjetto, despite conducting their struggle with strict principles of non-violence movement and however hard they try, their one-sided commitment did not yield intended peace throughout the year. With perfectly calculated anti-Sidama media campaigns, staged displacements, deliberately instigated violences, all meant to suppress the Sidama ethnic identities and maintain status quo, the anti-Sidama groups have been able to create chaos now and then to which lives have been lost, properties damaged and mistrust between Sidama and others have been developed. Ejjeetto also have lost over 30 of their comrades over the course of past year alone and no one is held accountable.
Overcoming several of such attempts to portray the movement as violent, Ejjeetto have earned kudos from various organizations and government’s high officials, including security chief of the country, for their peace keeping role, however.
One needs to note that, Ejjeetto is not anymore young determined Sidama youth at frontline of the movement. Every Sidama is now an Ejjeetto. It comprises young and old, male and female. The popular Sidama traditional form of discourse, Affin, is code of conduct for the movement. These days, meetings are convened on regular bases at Gudumaale area that comprises people from every part and every rank of the Sidama society including highly respected elders. Next course of action of the movement is discussed and consulted during these meetings.
Hence, one gets outright wrong if tries to label Ejjeetto as youth segment of Sidama society spearheading the movement.
The demand of the Sidama people is not in excess of their constitutionally guaranteed basic right. Some may try to justify Sidamas motives as an act of belligerence towards others. But for the Sidama people this is more than just securing self-administration right that the other 9 regions of Ethiopia are enjoying. It is pursuit of justice. Justice to these who were rounded up and massacred at Hashesho area by the imperial regime for asking the king Haile Selasie to respect Sidama’s autonomy in 1946. Justice for these who perished in the Ogaden desert while fighting the Military regime of Mengistu while struggling for Sidama’s regional autonomy in 1978. Justice for these who were mercilessly massacred by TPLF led regime at Looqqe while peacefully protecting for Sidama’s regional autonomy in 1994. Justice for members of Ejjeetto whose lives cut short while struggling for the Sidama’s regional autonomy while other regions savoring relative freedom within past year. It’s justice for countless Sidama who paid ultimate prices so generations after them to live free.
Threatening with violent reprisal as his predecessors against peaceful demands is not a wise move for the premier who day and night pontificates he is there to break the cycle of injustice-revolt in the country. After all, no one can afford unpleasant confrontation that risks precipitating yet another violence in the nation that has been teetering at the edge of crises. It doesn’t bring any good to anyone and the Sidama people know this all too well.
The Sidama people still hope and believe Dr. Abiy's government will deliver on his promises as well as submit to the supreme law of the land. National as well as international organizations such as Crisis Group, who sounds the alarm to prevent deadly conflict, are also warning the PM to abide by law of the land to avert looming crisis. The ball now is on PM’s court.
Having justice and truth on their back, the Sidama people (Ejjeeto) are already looking beyond the single day of the year, 11-11-11, to the just Ethiopia.