NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s destabilizing regional frictions could worsen this month if the small Sidama ethnic group threatens to unilaterally declare a new semi-autonomous region in defiance of the federal government, a think tank said Thursday global.
The Sidama, who make up about 5% of Ethiopia’s 105 million people and are the largest of more than half a dozen ethnic groups in the Southern Nations region, say they will declare their own region July 18, unless a referendum is granted.
Ethiopia already has nine regional states, mostly ethnic, with considerable autonomy that the Sidama also want.
They are encouraged by a more open political climate – and a weaker ruling coalition – since reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in April 2018 and eased the iron first of his predecessors.
However, it also resulted in a wave of long-suppressed rivalries between Ethiopia’s more than 80 ethnic groups, forcing 2.4 million people from their homes and killing hundreds, according to the UN and watch groups.
The Crisis Group, which seeks to help reduce conflicts around the world, said joining Sidama could encourage other groups to follow suit and cause more chaos.
But blocking them could lead to mass protests that could turn deadly in Ethiopia’s volatile and violent climate. “All options for handling Sidama’s statehood claims carry risks,” he said, criticizing the government’s negligence on the issue.
While Abiy has been widely praised for releasing prisoners and easing restrictions, unrest in the regions has raised global concern about the future prospects of a regional power with one of the growing economies. the fastest in the world.
The Amhara region security chief last month led what the federal government described as a failed coup attempt in which dozens of people, including five senior officials, were killed. .
Abiy addressed Sidama’s issue on Monday, telling parliament the government had received his request for a referendum.
He urged patience and warned against “illegal” actions.
âThe government will not negotiate the unity of Ethiopia,â he said.
Reforms and regional muscle building weakened his ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which had to face years of protests and unrest before appointing him.
Ethiopia’s constitution guarantees all ethnic groups the right to vote for the formation of a new regional state if their leaders so request, as Sidama did on July 18, 2018.
Obtaining this status would give them the right to collect taxes, choose their official language, lead their own security force, and pass laws on matters such as education and land administration.
Sidama activists staged a rally Thursday in Hawassa, the capital of the Southern Nations region and the city they want to be their capital.
“People have already decided and we are making a lot of preparations,” said activist Tessema Elias, 33, an assistant professor of law at Hawassa University.
“The government just has to recognize us and if it refuses it will lead to a crisis.”
Crisis Group said at least eight other ethnic groups were campaigning for region status.
In response to the report, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Abiy’s office said Crisis Group was “wrong” to assume that the government was neglecting Sidama’s issue.
âThe federal government has heeded the demand of the Sidama people and is following the due process which is currently being prepared by the National Electoral Council,â she said.
Additional reporting by Dawit Endeshaw in Addis Ababa; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Andrew Cawthorne