Abiy Ahmed and the struggle to keep Ethiopia together

Ethiopia’s ongoing liberalisation and ethnic federalism are creating a combustible situation as ethnic groups seek more autonomy on economic, political and security matters.

By the end of 2019, barring an upset, Sidama will be Ethiopia’s tenth semi-autonomous state. A referendum on statehood, which should have taken place in July, is now scheduled for November.

Leaders of the country’s fifth-largest ethnic group are energetically preparing for the enhanced autonomy statehood will bring. Work has begun on a constitution. Billboards have been erected, welcoming visitors to the would-be state as they enter Hawassa, its putative capital.

The result of the vote, assuming it happens, is a foregone conclusion.

The ‘Sidama question’ is a headache for prime minister Abiy Ahmed and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government. Scores were killed in July following the referendum’s delay, with protesters confronting security forces and angry mobs chasing non-Sidama from their homes. The status of Hawassa is contested, and many minorities are worried about their future there.

Meanwhile, the Sidama peoples’ quest for statehood has prompted at least 10 other ethnic groups in the south to follow suit, likely precipitating the break-up of the multi-ethnic and volatile Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR).

“Our country is sliding down,” says Admasu, a resident of Hawassa and ethnic Wolayta, whose home was destroyed by a Sidama gang when violence broke out in June 2018. He plans to leave the city after the referendum: “There is no rule of law, no peace and security. Everything is stuck.”

The south is just one of many hotspots on Ethiopia’s federal map, almost all of which intensified in the wake of Abiy’s appointment and the ‘big bang’ liberalisation he set in motion last year.

This inconsistent and at times chaotic process has consisted, principally, of the release of political prisoners and the return of others from exile; the decriminalising of opposition parties; the unmuzzling of media and revision of draconian laws; improved relations with neighbouring Eritrea; and a package of liberal market reforms……(continue reading full article below)


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