By Damo Gotamo
The speech of prime minister Abiye on his yearly report to the parliament, particularly his response to the Kelil question in the South, has thrilled the residents of Awassa. After the speech, people were seen high-fiving each other in the streets of the city.
For all residents of the city who have been under siege by the Sidama extremists for a year, the prime minster’s firm response was the only good thing that has happened to them since the new leadership came to power. For many, the tough response was long overdue. The response was what people have been expecting. The saying better late than never couldn’t be more appropriate. I don’t think the people in Awassa would show the emotions they have shown if the Ethiopian national football team were to win a World Cup.
Awassa residents have suffered under Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs for a long time, and the spectacular forewarning of the prime minster may be the sign of good thing to come. Many are hoping good things will happen soon. The frustration of Dr. Abiye was born out of many criminal activities and mindless acts of the Sidama extremists and their minion the so called Ejjeettos. People in Awassa, including myself, have been demanding the government take sever action against the ethnic lords in the city. When it comes to the extremist elements in the region, Awassa residents are behind the prime minster. What prompted the prime minster to fire a warning shot?
No other rouge group has challenged the patience of the new administration like the Sidama extremists. The dictators of the past regimes wouldn’t have tolerated the rogue group the way the Abiye administration did. Time and again, the Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs have acted like a spoiled child. Those who had been hiding during the 27 years of the TPLF rule, suddenly woke up from their hibernation to pose a threat to the country during the time of hope.
Barely a few months after Dr. Abiye became the prime minster of the country, the extremists ordered the killings and displacements of peaceful Wolita residents of Awassa. Many innocent people were burned alive. Thousands lost their homes and properties. Women and children stayed in shelters for several months. The effect of the heinous crime is still lingering in the minds of many residents of the city. To the dismay of many residents of the city, the government didn’t take action to punish the perpetrators of the crime. Emboldened by the government’s inaction, the ethnic entrepreneurs have continued to commit several crimes in a span of a year.
Shortly after the Wolita massacre, the Sidama extremists blazed to the ground a big market place in the center of the city. The shops belonged to the non-Sidamas residents of the city. People who worked hard to own small businesses were left penniless overnight. The motive of the heinous crime was to chase out the non-Sidamas from the market and give the place to a Sidama business man. Many people are still out on the streets begging to survive. As yet, no one has been apprehended to face justice.
Many times during the past months, the Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs have forced government institutions, schools, banks, and other businesses to latch their doors during working days. As a result, for many days, the government institutions couldn’t provide services to their customers. Schools closed their doors to students. Children couldn’t attend school on a regular, which has affected their progress. Banks lost in millions negatively impacting their businesses. Even some factories at the Awassa Industrial Park had to cease operations due to the security concerns caused by ethnic thugs. Again, the government chose not to act.
The Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs have used football stadiums as a convenient venue to promote their political agenda. They have trained and marched unemployed youth to the stadiums, on many occasions, to insult and taunt players and fans.
The lawlessness at football matches in Awassa reached a climax when the notorious Ejjeetto with the help of the city’s police physically attacked football fans. Fans, including off duty members of the military, who were in attendance to watch the match between Wolita Dicha and Sidama police were assaulted and injured. The members of the Ejjeetto continued their crime spree outside the stadium by engaging in mass looting and destruction of properties.
Worried by the ongoing violence at football stadiums in the country, on May 7, 2009, I wrote a short piece entitled, “Suspend Football in Ethiopia.” I was thrilled to hear the prime minister rose the issue to the parliament and vowed to take appropriate action against ethnic entrepreneurs who use the government money to launch their ethnic agendas.
Three months ago, the Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs had carried out one of the brazen acts to date. Their action was eerily similar to what took place in Bahri Dar a week ago except no that no shots were fired. The criminals easily passed the security check, which was protected by the Southern Kelil Police Force. They entered into the meeting that was taking place among the members of the Southern Nations and Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR). They removed the country’s flag and placed their rag, and beat and injured many members of the party. A government official sustained serious injury to his body.
The Police Force, which was supposed to protect the government officials, did nothing to stop the thugs. Apparently, as I have later found out, the Sidama extremists easily infiltrated the force and attacked the government officials. It isn’t difficult to imagine what would have happened if the criminals had carried guns. Once again, the government ignored the crime and failed to bring the perpetrators to justice.
In addition to the above criminal acts, the Sidama extremists have been engaged in extortion, forceful displacements, harassment, and economic crimes in the city. In the midst of all these illegal acts, the government didn’t punish the criminals.
Motivated by their prolonged crimes and the inaction of the government, the Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs have openly started bragging about declaring their Kelil on July 18, 2019. They have told us that they have prepared their own constitution and flag. People who are preparing to declare a new country don’t brag the way the Sidama extremists have been bragging.
Politically naive people with a third grade education, who have infested the government bureaucracy in Awassa don’t realize what their illegal action would mean to the fragile peace and stability of the country. They think the government that squashed Abdi Mohammed Omar(Abdi lley) and his well armed Liyue force in a matter of days would succumb to a few extremists, who would run to the countryside if a single shot is fired.
Extremists who have no courage to show their faces while sitting on the back of their motorcycles and leading young people to distribute the peace of Awassa, thought that declaring a Kelli is as easy as harassing helpless street vendors. Declaring Kelli illegally isn’t as easy as accepting a bribe.
The people of the Southern Kelil, especially residents of Awassa can’t tolerate the empty bravado and pompous speech of the ethnic extremists any longer. People were extremely upset with the recent illegal meetings in the hotel conference rooms(hotel owners are forced to allow their conference rooms for free) called by ethnic entrepreneurs to lecture people about the new Kelil. In one of the meetings, the non-Sidamas were told how to behave if a new ‘Sidama Kelil’ is declared. If any resident leaves Awassa after a new Kelil is declared, they were told, he/she will never be allowed to enter Awassa again! The Sidama extremists are extremely bold and full of themselves.
It isn’t difficult to see that the extremists in the South of the country have serious problems. Those who didn’t commit a single crime during the twenty-seven years of the TPLF rule, resorted to all sorts of criminal acts in the last one year. Since Abiye came to power, they have acted as if they are above the law. They have miserably failed to understand that exercising one’s democratic rights comes with responsibility.
The extremists mistook the government’s extreme patience as a sign of weakness. They became laws unto themselves. They chose to genuflect to ethnic lords and the lobbying offices of ethnic chiefs like Juhar Mohammed to achieve their wicked agenda. Instead of heeding the advice of the government officials within the SNNPR and their brethren in the South, the Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs chose to belittle them. The extremists thought spreading hateful messages about the new head of the Electoral Board and the Peace Minister would help their cause. Appeasing the Oromo extremists and waving the OLF flag, they thought, would take them to the promised land.
The Sidama Extremists should put their acts together. First, they need to stop fighting with their Sidama brothers that live in the surrounding Awassa areas who oppose Kelil. . Secondly, Kelil isn’t a path to heaven. Without the people of Ethiopia, even if they have Kelil, it means nothing. Look how you have destroyed the economic activities in the city within a year, chasing away home buyers and investors.
Thirdly, they need to stop day dreaming about owning everything in Awassa. Awassa belongs to its residents, and every Ethiopian has a stake in the city including those who are not included in the so-called southern region. The Ethiopian government has also heavily invested in the city and has an upper hand when it comes to matters that affect the lives of Ethiopians.
Prime minister Abiye has every reason to get angry with the extremists in the South. The people in Awassa Awassa have been angry for decades and they will continue to enjoy the prime minister’s display while awaiting positive in news about the status of Awassa.