By Staff Reporter
July 19, 2019 (Ezega.com) -- The government of Ethiopia on Thursday tightened security in Hawasa city, thecapital of the South Nations and Nationalities of Ethiopia (SNNPE), as protesters demanded for statehood of Sidama zone.
The protesters, wearing traditional red, white and yellow striped Sidama scarves and hats, marched to the zone's council's office to celebrate the declaration of Sidama's statehood by the Sidama Liberation Movement (SLM) based on the council's resolution on July 18, 2018.
In a recent speech to the Ethiopian parliament, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s said the federal government would use force to supress any activities related to formation of a new regional state in any part of Ethiopia.
The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) on Wednesday said it was making a preliminary preparation to conduct referendum on ethnic Sidama’s demand for statehood within the coming five months.
The board's announcement came a day before officials of the Sidama people, southern Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, were threatening to unilaterally declare the formation of a new regional state within Ethiopia’s federation on Thursday July 18, 2019 unless the government meets a constitutionally-mandated deadline to organise a referendum on the issue before that date.
Security personnel represented from the federal police, national defence and regional forces prevented the protesters from reaching the meeting venue, and that mobile data internet had been blocked in an apparent move to impair their means of communication.
The NEBE said the referendum will be carried out within the time frame granted by Ethiopia’s Constitution, article 47/3/b/, which calls for a referendum within one year after a demand is received.
Witnesses told Ezega that those residents who are non-ethnic Sidama have been leaving their homes to other places as their homes were being targeted. Businesses were closed and a small number of cars were on the road as military vehicles carrying heavy machineguns were patrolling the city.
The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia however said it received the Sidama zone administration council’s demand through the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ (SNNP) regional state on November 20, 2019.
The Board is currently preparing code of conduct, recruiting and training independent election executives, organizing security arrangements, holding discussion with stakeholders and preparing documents, amongst others, to carry out the referendum in the next five months.
The protesters were reportedly blocking roads and burning tires after security forces thwarted the meeting.
Hawassa, 275 km south of Addis Ababa, is the capital of a multi-ethnic Southern Ethiopian Nationalities. However, many Sidama - who make up the largest group there - want it as the capital for their own new entity.
Belay Berguda, an official in Hawassa University, said the electoral board's decision angered the Sidama youth who believe the board had intentionally delayed the date the referendum should have been taking place.
The Sidama who represent about 5% of Ethiopia’s 100 million plus people, say they have been sidelined due to not having separate identity. In addition to the Sidama, at least eight more ethnic groups are campaigning to have their own regions.