Splitting Southern Nations region into four can promote peace | ZeHesha

Splitting Southern Nations region into four can promote peace

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October 10, 2020
By Bereket Eshetu Messele

Placing similar groups into multiple states could be the most promising way forward for the troubled Southern Nations region.

For more than two decades, the question of statehood formation has been raised by identiy-based zones in the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ Regional State (SNNPRS).

In particular, the issue proliferated after the collapse of the authority of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and the arrival of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018. Consequently, the question has been raised the Wolayta, Keffa, Gurage, Gamo, Gofa, and Sidama ethnic groups.

Given this political context and the House of Federation’s approval this week of the zonal councils of Dawro, Bench Sheko, Sheka, West Omo and Keffa’s request to form a single region, it is important to assess this new approach to regional statehood in Ethiopia.

Fresh thinking

During Ethiopia’s last transition, Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s Regional State (SNNPRS) was formed by merging five districts following regional council elections in 1992. Furthermore, as a region of more than 56 ‘nationalities, it is one of the largest in Ethiopia, accounting for more than 10 percent of the country’s area and almost a fifth of the population.

Until Sidama established its own region, SNNPRS was divided into 13 zones, 133 and 3,512 kebeles. While the Sidama are the largest ethnic group in the region, each ethnicity is the majority in its administrative zone in terms of number and there are also minorities.

Given the prevalence of statehood requests, a team was established by the now-defunct Southern Ethiopian People Democratic Movement (SEPDM) to conduct a “scientific study” on how to handle several claims for regional statehood. After seven months, the team presented its findings and the following options to the SEPDM Executive Committee:

  • Proceed with the existing region without any change, or;
  • Except for the Sidama, organize the remaining “nations, nationalities and peoples” into one region, or;
  • Not entertain questions of region formation for some time.

Nevertheless, there was not widespread acceptance of any of the above recommended solutions. Given this lack of consensus, another option is actively being considered.

The idea is to re-organize the SNNPRS into four regions, including Sidama, and one Special Zone. This option emerged after the December 2019 establishment of Prosperity Party and is mainly propagated by the national peace ambassadors or Yeselam Ambasaderoch Committee (a committee established under the Office of the Prime Minster to investigate the autonomy demands).

The Committee, the Prime Minister, and the House of Federation (HoF) have subsequently held discussions with representatives from SNNPRS zones and weredas on the issue. As a result, the Committee indicated that there is an agreement to re-organize SNNPRS into four regions and one Special Zone.

Based on the settlement patterns and the consent of the people concerned, this agreement is ready to be submitted to the HoF. The upper house of parliament is expected to reply within 30 days of its acceptance. The suggested regions, one of which has been accepted already, are:

  1. Damotic/Omotic Region: Gamo, Gofa, Konso, South Omo, Derashe, Burji, Amaro, Wolayta, Basketo.
  2. Northern and Central Region: Hadiya, Kembata, Tembaro, Silte, Gurage, Yem, Alaba.
  3. South West Region: Keffa, Sheka, Bench Sheko, Dawro, Konta, West Omo and Konta.
  4. Sidama Region: Sidama, Gedeo.

While Gedeo is to become a Special Zone, it has not been not decided which region it will be part of. Gedeo Special Zone would then have the rights to use its language and approve budgets, while still being governed by regional laws. Alternatively, the Committee recommended the formation of a new region that encompasses Gedeo Special Zone, and the Burji and Amaro people’s administrative districts. Nonetheless, such an option does not appear to be accepted by the people.

So far the Wolayta members of SNNPRS State Council have strongly opposed the organization of the Wolayta under the Omotic Region as they want their own region like the Sidama. Equally, other members of the Omotic Region like the Gamo, Gofa have shown dissatisfaction. As a result, the Prime Minister and members of the Peace Ambassadors Committee have recently gone to the area to discuss and seek solutions.

On the other hand, on 30 September, the zonal councils of Keffa, Sheka, Bench Sheko, Dawro, West Omo including with Konta Special Woreda have unanimously agreed to integrate in to a single region. With the HoF recently approving this approach and requesting the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia to conduct a referendum, this new region will probably be called the South West Region.

The promise

The Ethiopian federation contains constitutional provisions that grant autonomy upon request. While the regional states of Amhara, Oromia, Tigray, Afar and Somalia have dominant nationality groups, the others are multi-ethnic. For example, Benishangul-Gumuz has Berta, Shinasha, Gumuz, Mao and Komo nationalities. Gambella has Nuer, Anuak and Mezenger, and Harari has Oromo, Amhara and Gurage. However, the case of the SNNPRS is peculiar, as the region contains so many groups.

Since the introduction of the federal system in 1995, there have been frequent questions for region-formation by SNNPRS groups and also regular and deadly conflicts in the region. There are several factors that brought this about. One is the failure to find an administrative structure that works for the multiple SNNPRS groups. The current re-structuring will create multicultural regions, even if there is no dominant group, which may reduce conflict, and the claim for independent regions, at least for a while, in most zones.

Another positive aspect of this new arrangement is that it will address some of the administrative problems that stem from the current arrangement. Given that federalism seeks to devolve public administration, if the geographical distance between the government and the people grows, the more difficult it is for the people to make their voices heard, and for rulers to understand their needs, aspirations, and priorities.

Federalism helps to resolve this problem, as it enables substantive powers to be exercised at the regional or sub-regional levels, giving people greater opportunities to exercise democratic control over public administration, resource utilization, policy adoption and law enforcement. For instance, it takes more than three days to go to the regional seat of Hawassa from the most peripheral weredas of Sheka and Bench Sheko zones.

Furthermore, by lumping all ethnic groups together, the existing arrangement does not adequately manage demographic factors, settlement patterns, languages and the consent of the population during region formation, as enshrined under article 46(2) of the federal constitution. In contrast, re-structuring the region into four regions (as recommended by the Committee) will create cluster of communities that have a similar way of life and settlement pattern.

For instance, if we look at the proposed South West Region, while the languages spoken by the Keffa and Sheka people are very similar  except for pronunciation, the two languages (Dawrigna) spoken by the Dawro/Konta people also share words with similar meanings.

The challenge

The federal constitution states that “All sovereign power resides in the Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples of Ethiopia.” In this light, Article 39 grants nations, nationalities and peoples the right to self-determination including secession. At the same time, it further entitles every group the right to establish their own region under Article 47(2). Hence we can imagine 56 regions springing out of the fragmenting SNNPRS. Such extreme fragmentation would further complicate the political, economic, and social state of the southern part of the federation.

Another challenge that the region could face is the issue of minorities. For instance, in the proposed South West Region, which encompasses the major ethnic groups of Keffa, Sheka, Bench, Sheko, and Dawro, there are the Menja people, a minority related to the Keffa.

While federalism can provide minorities a certain level of recognition and autonomy, it can also expose them to discrimination and oppression. This is particularly the case if these minority groups were not part of the deliberations that established new arrangements, as their interests may not be represented.

It is important to also note that, since the idea to restructure the SNNPRS was tabled, there has been competition for the capital city of regional states. This struggle could potentially become a major obstacle to the process.

Finally, the fact that there could be more than four regions could pose a challenge to effective public administration, as the new regional governments may lack the requisite human and financial resources. This risks overburdening weak newly established institutions with demands that they cannot meet and so could cause disappointment, mistrust, and discontent among the public.

 

7 Comments

  1. Ato Bereket you must be naive to think of establishing more regional states ( Kililis) by dividing the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ Regional State would enhance the well-being and peace of the regions population. The Oromia leadership led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Shimelis Abdisa have a hidden agenda to dismantle this region into small and weak states in order to expand and create greater Oromia in the long term. We have been told few months ago by the current Oromia president Shimeles Abdisa his Oromia government’s hidden agenda and plan in strengthening the Oromia language and culture by weakening other Ethiopian cultures and languages. Abiy, Shimelis and Adanech’s main agenda is to strengthen Oromia and to weaken other regional states and entities. That is why Shimelis Abdisa in his recent speech said we build Oromia and support Ethiopia. The recent clashes between the Oromia and the Sidama region is also a reflection of their long term agenda. According to the Zehabesha report recently more than 48, 000 people from the Sidama region were displaced by the Oromia attackers. With out a doubt this attack is instigated by the Oromia leadership and their cadres. The Oromia leaderships ambition is to create greater Oromia and weaken Ethiopia. That is why prime minister Abiy Ahmed and his government is in hurry pushing the agenda of dismantling the Southern Nations and Nationalities and Peoples Regional States into small entities. That would allow them to acquire more land and resources from these southern regions by force and pressure. The Oromia leadership agenda is clear in that to make Ethiopia weak and to create a greater Oromia which control the government political institutions such as the military, intelligence agencies, banks and most of all Addis Ababa. This process is already in progress in which Abiy and Adanech are in hurry to fulfill the Oromia agenda and I suggest those of whom who still see Abiy as a Messiah or the savior of Ethiopia’s problems should question his agenda and think twice before accepting these damaging policies perpetrated by him and his allies Shimelis and Adanech.

  2. Four , fourteen or forty who is to decide ? The people of SNNP region want each ethnicity to have its own region, if
    each ethnicity can not have our own region then abolish the ethnic federalism to make it fair for all Ethiopians. We run out of patience . We lost a generation being led under this unfair ethnic federalism already . We can not survive like this any longer .

    We all know there are over four ethnicities in the region so we will not settle for only four regions . If Southern ethnicities are expected to share then In that case why don’t you combine Somali ethnicities , Oromo ethnicities , Amara ethnicities and even Tigray too and make them share one region , as you are suggesting for the southern ethnicities?

    The ethnic federalism commonly known as Zenawism was advocated by TPLF led coalition . TPLF followed ethnic federalism making Tigray a region who only Tigrayans own. Look how free the Tigray state is. Tigray state is free in many aspects , SNNP region want to be free too. We at least need to be the once come ng up with the number of states regions we want. We don’t want the federal government to impose on is. We the people need to decide whether we want four or more states. Whether we want to end the ethnic federalism constitution. Sidama shall be free!
    Wolaita shall be free!
    Silte shall be free !
    Sebat bet shall be free!
    Gedeo shall be free !
    Konso shall be free !
    List goes on!

    ALL IN ALL THE OVER EIGHTY ETHNICITIES NEED TO BE FREE TO DECIDE FOR THEMSELVES IF THEY WANT THEIR OWN REGION OR NOT.

    SEVENTY PLUS REFERENDUMS NEED TO BE CONDUCTED TO HAVE A FREE , UNBIASED AND FAIR ETHNIC FEDERALISM SYSTEM TO FLOURISH IN ETHIOPIA.

    To hold such referendums there needs to be a government capable of leading Ethiopia . Unfortunately there is no government in Ethiopia , what we got now Is a group of thugs who spread fear and false promises as their prosperity gospel doctrine teaches them. They are just a cult followers who pretend to be gover Inments without qualifying to perform as a government. Abiy is hoping to postpone the election until GERD construction is completed and until the water is completely filled which is definitely not what the 140 million plus Ethiopians want .

  3. Four , fourteen or forty who is to decide ? The people of SNNP region want each ethnicity to have its own region, if
    each ethnicity can not have our own region then abolish the ethnic federalism to make it fair for all Ethiopians. We run out of patience . We lost a generation being led under this unfair ethnic federalism already . We can not survive like this any longer .

    We all know there are over four ethnicities in the region so we will not settle for only four regions . If Southern ethnicities are expected to share then In that case why don’t you combine Somali ethnicities , Oromo ethnicities , Amara ethnicities and even Tigray too and make them share one region , as you are suggesting for the southern ethnicities?

    The ethnic federalism commonly known as Zenawism was advocated by TPLF led coalition . TPLF followed ethnic federalism making Tigray a region who only Tigrayans own. Look how free the Tigray state is. Tigray state is free in many aspects , SNNP region want to be free too. We at least need to be the once coming up with the number of states regions we want. We don’t want the federal government to impose on us how many regions we want. We the people of the SNNP region need to decide whether we want four or more states. We the people of Ethiopia should be free to decide whether we want to end the ethnic federalism constitution or not.
    Sidama shall be free!
    Wolaita shall be free!
    Silte shall be free !
    Sebat bet shall be free!
    Gedeo shall be free !
    Konso shall be free !
    List goes on!

    ALL IN ALL THE OVER EIGHTY ETHNICITIES NEED TO BE FREE TO DECIDE FOR THEMSELVES IF THEY WANT THEIR OWN REGION OR NOT.

    SEVENTY PLUS REFERENDUMS NEED TO BE CONDUCTED TO HAVE A FREE , UNBIASED AND FAIR ETHNIC FEDERALISM SYSTEM TO FLOURISH IN ETHIOPIA.

    To hold such referendums there needs to be a government capable of leading Ethiopia . Unfortunately there is no government in Ethiopia , what we got now Is a group of thugs who spread fear and false promises as their prosperity gospel doctrine teaches them. They are just a cult followers who pretend to be gover Inments without qualifying to perform as a government. Abiy is hoping to postpone the election until GERD construction is completed and until the water is completely filled which is definitely not what the 140 million plus Ethiopians want. .

  4. Amazing!
    Who the hell and what ethnic are you to promote this??
    I want to be rude because many of the lumped ethnics have already want to be Kilil by themselves such as gurage, hadiya, wolayta etc. None of the will accept short of being kilil by themselves. This is something that should be left to them and their experts. Haven’t we given up on this ethnic zoos called kilils?
    If we are still bound with this Balkanization, was there acceptable principle that was followed by legal body? It appears the South has become a game ground for dumbs and dumbers of EPRDF/PP/OPDO stooges

  5. I had posted the following comment in response to the article posted on this site: “Respecting self-determination could prove good governance model for Ethiopia’s Southern Nations”,

    However, after sometime, for reasons I didn’t understand, my comment was removed while other comments were left as they were.
    As I find it appropriate for this article as well, I’m reposting it with some minor modifications for the Editor’s consideration as follows:
    ——
    I thought we buried commi concepts such as ‘self-determination’ along with Meles Zenawi. These are concepts that have withered away with the Marxist/Leninist socialist mumbo jumbo of the past century.
    Look at the nine / ten killils or Apartheid enclaves created by TPLF for its own grand designs.
    1. Amara killil – a concept imposed on people who considered themselves Ethiopians first, and then Wolloye, Gojjame, Gonderie, etc. The killil thing was imposed on them not to make them strong but to weaken their resolves as Ethiopians.
    2. Oromia Killil – created with a set of imaginary enemies to antagonize it with other peoples of the country – Anolle, Minilik, Nefttegna, Amara, etc. The hope of the creators was for Oromos to live the past (victimhood) and to ignore the present and the future (peace, cooperation and development).
    3. Southern Killil – TPLF seemed to think – Ah! What to do with these lot? Just bundle them together and keep them there!

    Now, we have seen the mess this created. The solution is nearer to the following, in my view:
    Dismantle the killil Apartheid system. Roughly, return to the old ‘kifle hager’ system with some readjustments. You don’t like kifle hager? OK, then let’s call them States.

    So, we could have up to 30 (why not?) States that form the Federation
    1. Amara dismantles into => States of Gojjam, Gondar, Wollo, etc.
    2. Oromia dismantles into => States of Arsi, Borena, Wollega, Keffa, etc.
    3. Southern dismantles into => States of Sidama?, Wolayita?, Gurage?, etc. (reorganizing probably into 5 or 6 States)
    4. Somali, Afar, Benshangul, Gambella, etc. stay as they are, more or less
    5. Tigrai stays as it is, more or less, except returning the areas it annexed by force from adjacent states.

    That way people will have State governments, institutions, and facilities very near and close to them. The bottom-line is Citizenship – All citizens living in every state, indeed in all corners of the country should be equal regardless of ethnicity, religious or linguistic affiliation.

  6. What we need, as a nation is to add more working languages. Not add this neoliberal agenda of yours. The way forward is to teach indigenous languages of Ethiopia to our youth. Learning and knowing Amharic, Oromifa, Somaligna, Tigrigna, Afarigna and if possible other languages of Ethiopia, should be considered a blessing. The whole idea of English being used as our working language will not help us on solving our issues. No matter the cost, the way forward is embracing our own languages and developing them so that we can be able to brag about creating a nation that is multilingual.
    And what will bring us together and solve this polarized politics is not the English language, its dialogue between the so called elites and politicians (If they truly care about the people they claim they represent).

  7. This is an inferior people mentality. And Amharic will unite us.

    There is no country in the world that is civilized using another country language… Example, Japan, chinese, korea , Saudiarabien, Qutar . The is no country that you can name who developed studying with other language and who use other language as a national language. I know people with slave mentality like that, people who hate his own country man language but prefer a foreign language to be his national language. Inferior mentality.
    They will make us to lose what we have because that is the plan of the enemy to make us lose one thing that Africans have left ..that is their only written language is Amharic.

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