Ethiopia referendum: Dozens killed in Sidama clashes


At least 25 people have died in clashes between Ethiopian security forces and activists in southern Ethiopia, hospital officials have told the BBC.

Celebrations followed plans to declare a breakaway region last week

The officials said security forces fired bullets during the protests across the Sidama region.

Activists from the Sidama ethnic group were set to declare their own federal state on Thursday.

They accused the government of failing to hold a promised referendum on the issue.

The Sidama are Ethiopia’s fifth biggest ethnic group, making up 4% of the population and are mainly based in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s (SNNP) regional state.

The four bigger communities all have their own regions within Ethiopia’s ethnically based federal system.

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Map showing the Sidama region of Ethiopia
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Reports from activists and opposition groups cite a higher death toll with fatalities as high as 60, but the local acting security head, Andinet Ashenafi, warns against what he called exaggerated numbers, reports the BBC’s Kalkidan Yibeltal from Addis Ababa.

Mr Andinet confirmed to the BBC that four people had been killed in the city of Awassa and 26 others sustained wounds.

Members of other ethnic groups were also killed after being attacked by angry mobs.

Local media reported that protesters had attacked a tourist lodge, leading to 12 tourists being escorted out by troops.

The internet has been blocked in parts of the south of the country since Thursday, including the main city of Awassa.

What started the protests?

Shortly after Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came into power last year, promising sweeping democratic reforms, Sidama activists submitted their request for a referendum on having their own officially recognised region.

As part of the constitution, the Ethiopian government must hold a referendum within a year of a request from any ethnic group which wishes to form a separate entity.

A protester waves the unofficial turqouisem blue and red Sidama flagImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionA protester waves the unofficial Sidama flag

The deadline for the Sidama referendum was Thursday 18 July, but after a complex period of transition following Mr Abiy’s first year of leadership, as well as a wave of ethnic tensions and an alleged regional coup, the government did not organise the vote in time.

The Sidama announced they would declare their own federal state on the deadline for the referendum: Thursday 18 July.

Large-scale violence was avoided as Sidama opposition groups agreed with the government to delay the declaration and hold a referendum in five months.

But for some Sidama people, this compromise was not enough, resulting in the protests and violence.

Why do the Sidama ethnic group want their own region?

As the fifth largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, the Sidama want the same level of autonomy as the four larger communities.

Most Sidama people are farmers and coffee is a particularly prominent source of income.

If the Sidama get their own region, it would mean the regional government could pass policies to suit their economic and cultural needs.

Chart showing the ethnic make-up of Ethiopia


  1. I have mentioned to you, my very dear countrymen, that bigots who have honed and hardened their plan from the safe distance here among us and the dumpsites in Asmara have gone back to the old country to go about their chores of spewing their poison unsupervised among the desperately unemployed youths there. These demons are roaming practically in every region. They may have a free ride easier in some regions than others but even in those where they seems to be overwhelmed by the level heads it is a matter of time before taking matters in their own hands. From what I hear from the old country is that these so-called elites have given a homework for the gullible and enraged youth to come up with a list of anyone who they think he/she is not one of her own. These elites from every region are making very good use of the so-called social media and internet to achieve their objectives which is set that gem of the colored ablaze. They have managed to go even further as founding their own media companies based overseas as non-profit outfits.

    The sad and upsetting thing about this mayhem is that bigots have been swaggering their murderous knives in the open for quite some time now and with ultimatums. The government should have anticipated this savage act all along. This is happening under the watchful eye of every official in charge of keeping the citizens there safe. They share the responsibility for this cruel act just for not doing the job they are hired to do.

    O!! Bigots!!!! Damn, damn, damn you lump of human refuse bigots!!! Damn, damn, damn you bigots!!! You heathens!!!! You must be ashamed of yourself!!! Burn in hell!!! It seems there are no devils in hell now and they are all there inside of you!!! You damn, damn, damn bigots!!!

  2. The loss of lives and destruction of property are regretable and all the Sidamas should not be blamed for. There are extremist and noisy groups in every part of Ethiopia especially in the Oromo region who are trying to export hate and violence to the neighbouring ones. The Sidama youth should be wary of these Oromo extremists and hate mongers whose intention is to derail the legitimate Sidama demands and concerns. Their main mission and aim are instigating violence, chaos and instability in our Sidama region. These extremists and agents of violence should not be allowed to damage the fraternity between the Oromos and Sidamas.


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