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|The Political Economy of the Sidama
Regional Question: Overview
By Hawassa Teessonke
September 13, 2012
Today, the Sidama people are at a crossroads. Structural economic weaknesses and lack of economic transformation amid massive over population has left the majority of the population in abject poverty. Unemployment, particularly among the youth, and rural underemployment remain rampant. The continued economic marginalization amid relative improvements in political space since 1991 has been worsened by lack of capacity and good governance, corruption, and above all disempowering administrative arrangement that denied political voice to the majority of the population. The country has adopted bicameral administrative system since 1993. While the majority of the country is organized in a federal system in line with ethno-linguistic affiliations and delineations; over 45-50 ethnic groups in the South are forcefully lumped together under the Southern Ethiopia Peoples’ Region.
Accordingly to the July 1, 2012 population estimate by the Ethiopian Central Statistical Agency (CSA), Sidama’s population is 3.4 million making it the most populous nation in Southern Ethiopia and the 5th populous nation in Ethiopia after Oromia (31 million), Amhara (18 million), Somali (Ogaden) (5.1 million) and Tigray (4.9 million). Independent estimates put the population of Sidama at about 5 million. Even if we disregard the independent estimates and use the official figures from CSA, Sidama accounts for over 4% of the total population of Ethiopia of 84 million as at July 2012. The other largest nations in Southern Ethiopia have the total population of less than half of that of Sidama. These include Gamo Gofa (1.8 million); Wolayita (1.7 million); Hadiya (1.4 million), Gurage (1.4 million) and Kaffa (1 million). The rest of the 50 or so ethnic groups have population of less than 1 million. The resentment of the Sidama people about the current administrative arrangement in the South of the country emanates therefore from two prime concerns.
First, lack of recognition to the sheer size of the Sidama population by forcefully lumping 3.4 million people (or 5 million) into one region with smaller groups without due regard to the size of the population that needs jobs, that needs access to better social and economic services including access to roads, electricity, water services, telecommunication, railways, schools, universities, health centers, hospitals, and other essential services that uplift human dignity is a violation of fundamental human right.
Secondly, lack of recognition to the economic contribution of the Sidama nation to the country’s economy is intolerable. Sidama produces approximately 35-40,000 tons of mostly high quality specialty Arabica coffee on about 70,000 hectors of land. Over 60% of this is washed and directly destined for export. Ethiopia exported 75000 tons of coffee during the first 8 months of the fiscal year 2011/12 earnings US$411.8 million in foreign exchange. The country exported much higher amounts the previous fiscal year earning nearly US$1 billion from coffee alone. A significant portion of the coffee exports and the foreign exchange revenue originates from Sidama. However, the lives of the ordinary Sidama coffee producers and inhabitant has never improved because successive regimes failed to allocate public funds and government budget for captial expenditure on the basis of regional economic contributions. The coffee revenues generated from Sidama are either wasted by corrupt officials or are utilized to develop the regions favored by the regimes in power.
It is due to these fundamental violations of basic human rights that the Sidama people have been waging armed resistance against the previous successive oppressive regimes and engaged in peaceful demands for regional self-administration since the current government took power in 1991. The demand to have a fair share to the resources generated by the Sidama people to develop the Sidama region to alleviate poverty and create employment opportunities for over 2 million young people, is at the core of the grievances of the Sidama people and will continue to define the nation’s course of action in the future.
The current administrative arrangement in South Ethiopia grossly violates the two fundamental demands of the Sidama people: (1) voice and accountability in line with the population size which is twice larger than any other largest ethnic group in the region, and (2) access to and fair share of country’s national income generated by the Sidama region to be used for economic development, poverty alleviation and job creation. Under the current regional arrangement the Sidama people are grossly marginalized. The capital budget allocated to the Sidama region has been dwindling since the past ten years in the name of developing other more underdeveloped areas in the region.
The alternative local development initiatives that were supported by donors were shut down by the current government with impunity due to pure jealousy and inimical attitude to economic advancement of the Sidama people. The Sidama people have now reached a point of no return. The people are saying enough is enough. The people need real voice and accountability commensurate to their population size and economic contribution to the country. The Sidama people must be granted regional self-administration without any delay.
The government’s political strategy to use the South as bulwark against the Oromo nationalism should not be at the detriment of the Sidama people. The regime can continue with bicameral system of administration with smaller ethnic groups in the South. The Sidama people are not a minority. We are 3.4 million people and are among the top 5 largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia even by the Ethiopian government’s own account. Sidama has a population more than 75 independent countries in the world including Uruguay, Mauritania, Panama, Armenia, Albania, Kuwait, Oman, Mongolia, Jamaica, Namibia, Lesotho, Slovenia, Botswana, Gabon, Estonia, Djibouti, Iceland, Luxembourg, Bahrain, and so on. Regional Self administration is the minimum the Sidama people can demand from the Ethiopian government. Grant the regional self-administration for Sidama now.It is a fundamental human right that no one can deny any people.