The Escalating Suppression of Southern Ethiopian Nationalities
Makonnen Tesfaye, July 27, 2019
No sooner had the blood of the martyred Sidama People dried - with over 100 deaths to date and perpetrated by the Federal and Regional forces - when the Abiy Government put the whole of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) under a State of Emergency (dressed up as Military Command Post). This is the culmination of the Government’s brazen acts and unconstitutional interventions against the SNNPR over the last year; and signifies a constitutionally illegal and politically anti-democratic action.
1. Undermining the Quest for Regional Statehood
The stifling of constitutional and democratic rights of nations, nationalities and peoples for statehood is contrary to the Sub-Article 3 of Article 47 and by extension Sub-Articles 1-5 of Article 39 of the Constitution of the FDRE. The callous and brutal handling by the Federal Government of the essentially peaceful, legal and democratic demand of the Sidama people for statehood is a clear, unprovoked violation of the constitutional rights of nationalities in Ethiopia. Moreover, it further confirms the anti-federalist and chauvinist politics of the Government.
2. Banning and Repressing Regional Administrations and Political Parties
The banning of the Zonal Administrations and parties in Sidama and Hadiya is the further escalation of the increasingly dictatorial disposition of the Abiy Government and is intended to stifle and repress the legitimate aspirations of nations and nationalities for statehood, in particular in Welaita, Kaffa, Hadiya and Gurage Zones. Those acts are contrary to rights conferred by the Constitution under Articles 39 and 47.
3. The Military Occupation of Regions
The State of Emergency declared in the SNNPR is the de facto military occupation and subjugation of the Region, as was the case in the Ethiopian Somali Region. The PM, in his recent speech in Parliament, had threatened openly and boastfully to use force in the SNNPR. The primary motive is to silence legitimate and democratic demands for statehood that are prevalent in the Region. The reason of restoring law and order is a sham excuse, because in the first instant it is not the people who are primarily breaking the law and the Constitution (needless to say that unlawful acts must be condemned if and when they happen), it is the Federal Government that is the principal instigator of the violence and violator of the rule-of-law and the Constitution in Ethiopia. The Abiy Government is imposing state of emergencies on a piecemeal basis and willy-nilly without the approval of the Ethiopian Parliament and contrary to the provisions of Article 93 of the Constitution. Even legally imposed state of emergency cannot be used for the purpose of undermining self-determination, where Sub-Article 4(c) of Article 93 stipulates that: “In the exercise of its emergency powers the Council of Ministers cannot or limit the rights provided for in the Sub-Article 1 and 2 of Article 39” (Source: The Constitution of the FDRE).
The onslaught on the SNNPR is an attack against 53 Nations, Nationalities and Peoples, which is an extremely dangerous development and signifies the deepening crisis of the Ethiopian federal order. The chief architects of this ominous development are none other than the Government and external forces with the agenda of destabilising and disintegrating the country. This is entirely consistent with the modus operandi of the PM, first, the military occupation of the Ethiopian Somali Region, followed by “Military Command Posts” in parts of the Benishangul-Gumuz Region, Gedeo in SNNPR and the Guji Zone in Oromia. These are excluding attempted and rebuffed (for how long?) illegal federal interferences in the Afar, Tigray and Amhara Regions. With tens of millions population, the SNNPR is a “Mini” Ethiopian state and society with its diverse nationalities and peoples, and its peace and security is critical to the stability of the country. Could this yet be another instigated/manufactured reason by PM Abiy to justify the postponement of the General Election in order to buy more time to consolidate his power and increase his chances of forming the next government? Time will surely tell.
4. The Federal Take-Over of the SEPDM and SNNPR
The present state of emergency in the SNNPR signifies, for all intents and purposes, the take-over of the Southern Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM) and by extension the SNNPR by the Government and the ruling “EPRDF”. The SEPDM has lost its authority and legitimacy as the democratic voice of the peoples of its Region by becoming an instrument and facilitator of this treacherous act against its own peoples.
From day one of his assumption of power, the PM began to systematically undermine the unity and collective strength of the SEPDM, which is one of the constituent parties in the EPRDF. He banished tried and tested leaders, such as Siraj Fergesa and Shiferaw Shigute, on the pretext of bring-in new leadership, who for the significant part are subservient to his political machinations and Big Nation Chauvinism. Many of the leaders of SEPDM are out of their depths in managing the understandably very complex regional issues, such as the demands for statehood. However, instead of addressing the paramount issues of democracy and constitutional rights, they were side-tracked by the administrative implications of the creation of regional states, which are of second-order magnitude in political significance by comparison. The PM’s Machiavellian divide-and-rule politics has rendered it inept and powerless, resulting in the current rather sorry state and political limbo (many would argue politically dead/demised) of the SEPDM as demonstrated by its mal-handling of the Sidama question and other statehood demands from Welaita and Kaffa nationalities, to mention but a few. The shameful and treacherous collaboration with the PM in the declaration of State of Emergency is, perhaps, the final nail in the coffin of the SEPDM.
5. What Next?
5.1 First, the illegal misuse of the power of state of emergency by the Government to undermine and supress the constitutionally enshrined democratic rights of self-determination must be condemned by all peace-loving, democratic and federalist forces.
5.2 Second, even in the events of the declaration of legitimate state of emergencies, it is important to recognise that the rights of self-determination, as stipulated in Articles 39 and 47, cannot be limited or suspended according to the Ethiopian Constitution. Therefore, the peaceful and lawful demands for regional statehood must continue to be supported. For example, the steadfast and principled support of the Sidama people’s quest for statehood by the OLF must be commended, and should be emulated by other democratic forces.
5.3 Third, the virulent attack on the democratic demands of the nations, nationalities and peoples of the SNNPR by the chauvinist, anti-democratic and anti-federalist parties (e.g. Ezema) and media (e.g. ESAT and Ethio 360 Media) must be exposed and countered.
5.4 Fourth, the biased reporting, and deliberate miscategorisation and misrepresentation of the democratic demands of the nationalities and peoples in SNNPR by the foreign media must be exposed. For example, the most recent (27 July) reporting by the Economist Magazine, a leading mouth-piece of right-wing neo-liberalism, which deliberately mischaracterised the demands for regional statehood in the SNNPR as “Ethnic Separatists”, is a case in point. First, separatist is a value-laden and prejudicial wording instead of calling it independence, or liberation for example, to which they are, at any rate, constitutionally entitled. Second, it is a deliberate falsehood because it is widely known that the demands for regional statehood (a lower threshold democratic aspiration) are not demands for political secession (separation).
5.5 Finally and looking at the big picture, given the PM, in league with the anti-federalists, is undermining the democratic and federal state order in a piecemeal fashion leading the country to deeper societal and constitutional crisis, only by forging of strategic alliances can the gains of self-determination are protected and the unity of the country is preserved.