By Damo Gotamo
TPLF’s ill-conceived and arbitrarily imposed ethnic federalism has been the reason for a multitude of problems in Ethiopia. Since its introduction in the country, it has ruined the lives of millions of Ethiopians. The TPLF separatists used it to divide and rule the country for twenty-seven years. While various ethnic groups were fighting over minor differences, the TPLF goons plundered everything in the country, making it one of the poorest country in the world.
Last year, the country was on the brink of civil war. The new leadership has restored some semblance of order and prevented the country from total collapse. It has introduced serious reforms and undertook some tangible changes.
The country has also descended into lawlessness under the new leadership. We have witnessed mob and vigilante justices rendered against innocent people. Ethnic lords in all corners of the country have tried to take advantage of the leadership change in the country, and wreaked havoc killing and displacing many people.
Lawlessness is still prevalent in many parts of the country. The federal government is either incapable of containing the lawlessness or simply chose to ignore it while ethnic extremists are distributing the peace and security of the people.
Motivated by their own self-interest and unable to feel the misery of millions of Ethiopians affected by ethnic federalism, ethnic entrepreneurs everywhere are working tirelessly agitating people to ask for a new language based regions.
Sidama extremists are even openly boasting and warning the government that they will declare their own Kelil on July 18, 209 unilaterally. They are claiming that they have prepared their own constitution and offering administrative training to people for the new.
Among the fifty-six ethnic groups in the so-called southern Kelil, nine zonal administrations have already made their intentions clear to have their own language based independent regional statehood. A week ago, the Wolitas held a huge rally asking for the establishment of their own region. It followed a gathering in Awassa by Sidama women for a similar cause.
The Gurage, Kembatta, Hadeya, and Kefecho people have also been holding rallies asking to have ethnically based regions. In addition to demanding for the creation of their own Kelil, many ethnic groups, led by ethnic lords, are also asking for their language to be the national language of the country. The number of questions that are popping out from all corners of the country seems to have no endings.
Instead of working together and find solutions to our common problems, each group is advancing its own interest. It is doing so at the expense of the others. Dividing the country further into small ethnic enclaves will make the existing situation worse, and the government must not allow the further Balkanization of the country. Language based federalism has many pitfalls our people have experienced for nearly three decades.
Ethnic federalism is very divisive. It has divided Ethiopians, destroying their long held-bond. Sporadic conflicts over grazing lands and borders existed before. The deep divisions and animosities that have manifested themselves in the country in the last twenty-eight years between different groups were hatched in Dedebit pit and introduced into the country by the TPLF.
The ethnic politics the TPLF gang had brought from the Dedebit pit has shaken the country to its core. Differences rather than similarities among groups have been preached using news media funded by the tax payers money. People who lived in love and harmony for centuries have been made bitter enemies. Even happily married couples divorced because of ethnic differences.
One of the ugliest features of Kelil is its exclusion of citizens from living in peace in their own country. It doesn’t allow people living in places where they were born and prevents them from taking part in their own affairs. Those who were born and lived in different parts of the country are constantly reminded to leave the only homes they know. Millions of people are asking themselves every day if Ethiopia is really their country.
Because of ethnic politics, millions of people in different cities of the country have been living at the mercy of ethnic entrepreneurs. For example, people who were born in cities like Diredaw and Awassa are treated like second and third class citizens. As I write this piece, ethnic entrepreneurs in Diredaw are rounding up members of the Satenaw, who oppose the so called 40/40/20 system.The system is similar to the defunct apartheid system, which excludes citizens from participating in economic and political affairs of their country. In Awassa, the city’s police are rounding up and throwing into jail the non-Sidama residents of the city. Innocent citizens are rotting in jail in the pretext that they a security threat to the upcoming Fiche Chambalala holiday.
Language based ethnic federalism is the source of constant conflicts and wars between different ethnic groups in the country. The Oromo fought with Somali causing the death and displacement of more than a million people. The Gujis in Borena fought with the Somalis, destroying the lives of thousands of people. The Gumuz clashed with Oromos, causing the death and displacement of many people.
There is no peace between the Afar and Somali Kelils, as we have seen frequent clashes between the Afar and Issa tribes in the border areas of the two Kelils. The Amhara and the Tigraye Kelils are at loggerheads because of the TPLF’s illegal annexation of the land of the Amharas. The confrontation may lead to a full blown war at anytime.
The human tragedy of the Gideon people that is unfolding in the so-called southern region is the product of ethnic federalism. Less than a month after the Gedeon extremists had displaced different ethnic groups from Dilla and surrounding areas, the Gedeon tribe became a victim of mass displacement in the hands of Guji Oromo extremists. In Awassa, some Sidama extremists killed and displaced the Wolitas because they thought the Wolitas had sabotaged their desire of becoming a Kelil. Is it practical to divide the country into further ethnic enclaves?
The country has eighty ethnic groups. What will be the fate of the country if every ethnic group is granted a status of Kelil? The ill-conceived article 47 of the current constitution of the country clearly states that any ethnic group in the country has the right to ask for its own Kelil. If the Wolita Zone is allowed to create a Kelil, why not the Sidama or Gurage zones? Once a Pandora box is opened, there is no way of closing it.
Those who are asking for Woreda today will undoubtedly demand to have their own Zone tomorrow; those who want their own Zone today will demand to have their own Kelil tomorrow. Can the country survive by dividing itself into Eighty Kelils? What is the guarantee if those who ask for Kelil today won’t demand their own separate country in the future? In fact, article 39 of the TPLF manual allows a Kelil to declare independence if it deems necessary. Abdi Eli, the deposed Somali Kelil president, cited article 39 and tried to separate the region before he was stopped. The TPLF criminals are using the article as a propaganda and fear mongering tool to wage psychology war after they ran to Dedebit pit.
The Kelil questions in the so-called southern region will raise many difficult questions. What will be the fate of Awassa? When it comes to Awassa, every Ethiopian is a stakeholder. All Ethiopians have invested in the city and have a role in developing it. The 56 ethnic groups under the current ethnic southern region, and the Amharas, Tigers, Oromos, and many others have a share in Awassa.
Besides, the federal government has a huge stake in the city and has invested in billions.
It has constructed one of the largest Industrial Park in Africa. A state of the art international Airport is near completion. The express highway that will connect Addis Ababa to Awassa is under construction.
The Sidama extremists are also lamenting over Awassa everyday. They want to have complete control over the city, and to snatch properties from people, who have worked hard for it. Anything short of making Awassa a federal city will have a devastating effect on the entire nation.
The madness of Kelil has to stop somewhere before the country disintegrates into small states.
Allowing each group to have its own Kelil is adding fuel to a burning fire. Million Mathewos, who is the current president of the Souther Nations Nationalities and People’s Region( SNNPN recently said that granting a status of Kelil to all fifty-six ethnic groups in the south will make administrating very difficult. He was right. The problem with Million is that after making a statement like this, he immediately flip-flops and tries to lecture people on the importance of having a Kelil.
Many extremists in the south raise the Kelil question not because it will help the people grow and prosper better. They raise the question because some groups have their own Kelil, and it is better than a Zone to enrich their pockets. For extremists everywhere asking for Kelil is a fashion.
What has Kelil brought to the people of Somali, Oromo, or Amhara? Haven’t we seen millions of Oromos displaced from the Somali region? What about the Amharas who have been harassed and displaced from all corners of the country? The Somalis, Wolitas, Kembatta, and others have been victims of Kelil. For the last twenty-eight years, no ethnic group has been immune from displacement and death as a result of ethnic Balkanization.
Some of the reasons given for having a Kelli are preposterous. Many leaders of the ethnic groups claim that once they have their own kelil, Industrial Parks will pop up in their region. Can the country afford to build Industrial Parks in every Kelil?
When new Kelils are created conflicts and displacement are inevitable. The new Kelil will try to assert its power over its territory and ventures to annex more land from bordering regions.
For example, the Oromos are claiming that some areas of Sidama region, particularly Tula and Abela belong to the Oromo Kelil. If Sidama becomes Kelili, there is no guarantee that the Oromos won’t go to war with the Sidamas to take the land that they claim is theirs. I heard the Oromos had filed a petition to the prime minster’s office pertaining this matter. The Sidama also has borders with Gedeon and Wolita. We have seen frequent border clashes between the Sidamas and the Wolitas in past years. It very likely that they will wage war at each other once they have their own Kelils. The members of the TPLF and Oromo extremists are trying to tell us that there is no inherent problem with the existing ethnic federalism. For them, the deaths and displacements that have been taking place everywhere in the country are not caused by ethnic federalism. They engage, in futility, to convince us that the problem is with the implementation of the system.
How can one make ethnic federalism work, which confines Ethiopians to live in one area like wild animals and forces people to leave the areas they were born? How does the current federal system prevent mass deaths and displacements, which are still going to these days?How can it protects people from being discriminated in places where they call home?
Will the OLF make the current ethnic federalism in Ethiopia work for everyone? Shall we expect the second coming of the TPLF to make ethnic federalism it had established work? Is Bekele Gerba, who publicly says to business owners ‘don’t sell merchandises to people who don’t speak Ormigna,’ will make the ill-conceived ethnic federalism serve everyone?
Many believe Federalism is not an option for Ethiopia. I do agree. Alternative forms of federalism like federalism based on geography should be explored since the current ethnic federalism has become a disaster for the country. Articles 47 and 39 must be expunged from the constitution with other divisive articles.
In conclusion, ethnic federalism has been the cause of death and displacement in Ethiopia.
In Ethiopia, three million people have been displaced because of ethnic federalism. The country ranks first in the world in the number of internally displaced people. For a country, which boasts as a cradle of mankind and a history of three thousand years, the matter is an absolute disgrace. The government must declare a state of emergency if necessary and stop ethnic entrepreneurs, who are working tirelessly to dismantle the country. Our poor country can’t afford another Kelil and deaths and displacements that come with it.