There has been a lot of unrest of late in the Sidama region. Clashes between Ethiopian security forces and Sidama activists in July resulted in many wounded. The Ethiopia Observer even reports that 34 people have deceased.
Sidama activists started rioting when the promised referendum for autonomy would not take place. The referendum was scheduled for July 18, but the government could not organize this within the timeframe. In response, activists hit the streets in protest.
Ethiopia has nine ethnic-based regional states, overseen by the government in Addis Ababa. And because of this, the Sidama claim this is their constitutional right. Which is in fact true. And as the 5th largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, they desire their own officially recognized state.
Many Sidama people also claim that regional governance will benefit their cultural and economic needs, including those of coffee farmers. But today, Sidama remains part of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR). This frustrates a lot of Sidama.
The talk of a referendum goes back to April 2018, when president Abiy took office. Sidama activists submitted their request for governing their own officially recognized region. But after a year of waiting, frustration fumes and leads to the July-violence.
People from other ethnicities were attacked, property was destroyed, and the Aragash Lodge also suffered an attack. Aragash Lodge is a place where a lot of buyers stay during harvest trips.
The government says it will organize the referendum within five months from now. There is a fair chance that this referendum will take place before or during harvest. How this will affect any harvest trips scheduled is still unclear. In our experience, situations like these resolve within weeks, or even days.
In October 2018, there were a lot of tensions between ethnic and political groups throughout Ethiopia. President Abiy enacted a lot of reforms at the beginning of his administration. The opposition criticized these rapid reforms. To this day, they still argue that he must seek more consultation with them. The situation calmed down when harvest 2018/2019 started, and travels were not canceled.
As Trabocca, we are sad about the current situation. We can only hope for a peaceful resolution for the people of Sidama – and other ethnicities that have found a home in Sidama. It is already comforting to hear from colleagues in Ethiopia that the situation has cooled.
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