by Damo Gotamo
Lawlessness in Awassa has reached to a new level. A group which calls itself Ejjeetto has been wreaking havoc since violence had broke out during last year’s Fiche Chamebella holiday celebration. The emboldened group now thinks it can commit any crime and get away with it. A few days ago the group ordered the closure of government and private institutions in memory of its five members who died in a car accident. Many people think Ejjeetto alone is responsible for the lack of peace in the city. However, the main culprits behind the lawlessness and lack of peace in Awassa are extremist politicians and businessmen who have controlled the government machinery in the city. Unless the federal government takes swift action against these groups, the problem will get out of hand. How did the extremists have the entire city under their control?
One of the blunders of TPLF was allowing some groups, including extremists in Awassa and its surrounding areas, to do anything they want with impunity. In order to conduct contraband and illegal trade on Addis the Ababa-Moyale highway, the TPLF had forged close ties with corrupt politicians in Awassa. As long as the politicians didn’t interfere in its ‘business’, the TPLF was complacent with gross human right violation that had been perpetrated against people in Awassa and its surrounding Sidama zone. Using their key positions in federal and local governments, the extremists have harassed, intimidated, jailed, and prosecuted peaceful residents of Awassa and its surrounding areas for several years.
Although 56 ethnic groups are represented under Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s Region(SNNPRS), the Sidama tribe has an upper hand in the region’s matters. In addition to running its own affairs, the tribe in Awassa has also been running the affairs of others. The location of the Sidama zone and SNNPRS offices in Awassa has given some extremist politicians a favorable environment to dominate the government of the city. They have established a corruption network composed of a single group. In the city where more than 80 percent of the population is non-Sidma, the Sidamas run the police, the justice, and the federal bureaucracy as if they are their own private firms. The non-Sidams have been treated as second citizens deprived of any political and economic opportunities in the city they call home. Corruption and abuse of power in Awassa are rampant.
Corruption in Awassa is a pervasive problem. Every government institution is affected by it. There is no other city in the country that can rival Awassa in corruption. Purchasing goods and services without lawful bidding process is a standard practices in the city. Similar to what Metec used to do, contracts have been given to people who have connections with politicians. Making illegal payments to network of politicians in the name of per dim (Abel) is one of the ways of wasting government’s money. For example, if someone in government leaves the city for two days, he is paid a per-dime for twelve days. An individual can receive a per-dim more than 600 times a year!
In addition to wasting government monies for personal use, politicians in the region use trucks and various equipments owned by the government for their own personal use. Fore example, heavy trucks that are supposed to be used for road construction have been utilized to transport construction materials for building private homes of high-level politicians. Large and small government vehicles are used as public transportations to generate money for individuals. The writer of this article saw government vehicles picking passengers in the streets of Awassa. The main actors in the corruption ring are people from a single tribe although few people from other tribes are involved in the crimes. Government positions are used to mistreat residents of the city.
Abusing government power is a widespread problem in Awassa. The extremist politicians harass, intimidate, jail, and use their network of people in the city to attack people outside their tribe whom they think are illegal residents of the city. For example, one of the ways extremists politicians harass people is to bring young people from the countrysides to football games and instructor them to taunt and insult football fans particularly Wolitas. After the end of each game, some supporters of the team go out to the main streets of the city to intimidate residents of the city. Hurling stones at buildings and wanton looting of small shops after football matches are common sights. The city’s police force, which is composed of a single tribe, watches, tacitly encouraging, the hooligans destroy and vandalize public and private properties in the city. Attacking residents of the city are common.
When intimidating and harassing citizens of the city don’t work, some extremists resort to, using their position, directly attacking other tribes. For example, they demote people of other tribes, skip their promotions, levy high taxes on their businesses. It is common to see the eviction of other tribes from government owned houses, and their houses being given to people who have close ties with politicians in the city.
Violent attacks against non-Sidamas and their properties is a recurring incident. A few months ago a market with small shops owned by Gurages, Wolitas, Kembattas, Amharas, and Gedeos was razed to the ground by people who haven’t yet been brought to justice. It is widely believed by the city’s residents that a single Sidama business owner ordered the crime, hoping to secure the place for himself. In attempt to cover up the heinous crime and protect the perpetrators, the police of the city rounded up businessmen, teachers, street vendors and office clerks of the Wolita tribe and threw them into jail. How come one of the peaceful and busiest city in the country have become lawless and failed under a rogue group which calls itself Ejjeetto?
Since ethnic federalism became the form of government in Ethiopia, the Sidama extremists have been dreaming to have their own Kelel. They claim to have their own Kelel will improve the living standard of the Sidama people. In the last several years, the Sidama politicians have had ample opportunities to improve the lives of their people because of their favorable positions in the region and the city of Awassa. However, the living standard of the Sidama people hasn’t been improved a bit. The real reason behind their Kelel question isn’t about self administering and improving the lives of people in their region. The kelel question is merely a cover up for a sinister motive.
The corrupt polticans are motivated by the desire to have a complete control over the economy in Awassa and its surroundings. The economic benefits that will be gained by evicting the non-Sidama from Awassa and confiscating their properties is extremely appealing to them. They come up with different narratives to justify their ulterior motives. It will help us understand how the extremists think if we read from a speech delivered to a gathering of Ejjeetto by a recent diaspora returnee. He said, “while our children are sleeping on the streets, they are peacefully sleeping in their homes’. There is no doubt when he said ‘they’ he meant the thousands of the city residents who have worked hard to put a roof over their heads. According to the extremist, the main causes of poverty of some Sidama youths are non-Sidamsas that have worked hard their entire lives to change their living standard and the city of Awassa. It is astonishing to hear such a blunder from a person who lived in western countries. What the diaspora extremist has said isn’t a lapsus linguae. That is the way all extremists in Awassa think and let others know their intentions.
It has been a while since the trouble makers have been demanding the city residents vacate their buildings, shops, restaurants, and other properties and leave the city. They have made threatening phone calls and physically presented themselves at the properties of non-Sidamas to make their intentions clear. Every time the police rounds up the non-Sidmas, it would tell them in uncertain terms that ‘they don’t belong in the city and the sooner they leave the better it is’. In addition to possessing the properties of the hard working people of the city, having Kelel Awassa being at the center will have an added benefits to the extremists.
The federal government has spent billions in the construction of various infrastructures and industries in and around the city of Awassa. The express highway that will connect Addis Ababa with Awassa is in its final stage. A groundwork has been laid to construct a state of the art international airport. The federal government has also spent more than $3 billion to build an industrial park in the city of Awassa. All these investments are very appealing to the extremists. If their dream comes true, they will have a complete control over the economic activities in the city; they will hire their relatives; they will build sky-scrapers; they will enjoy life to its fullest extent. Therefore, they would leave no stone unturned to realize their dream at the expense of the residents of Awassa and the federal government. Awassa is more than a city to each citizen of the country.
Since its inception in 1957, many ethnic groups in Awassa have lived in harmony with each other. No one has questioned their identity, background, and origins. They have built their lives through hard work. In the last few years, many high rise buildings have been constructed, the size of the city has tripled, and business activities have boomed, making Awassa one of the few favorite places in the country to live and entertain. If someone was visiting Ethiopia, Awassa became a ‘must see’ destination. The city was even dubbed as a ‘small Ethiopia’ because of its accommodation of various ethnic groups and their cultures. Awassa is the second largest city in the country. The federal government and all citizens have a stake in the city.
Awassa is the pride of the entire nation. The federal government should never compromise the city of Awassa to appease a few extremists who are trying to make it their private amusement. Even without the status of Kelele, the Sidamas have been allowed to dominate the city’s day to day activities, which allowed them to wreak havoc on the residents of the city. It isn’t difficult to imagine what will happen, if they are allowed to have their own Kelele Awassa being at the center. As I write this piece, Kefa, Wolita,Gurage, and Kembatta and Tanboro zones have requested to have their own Kelel. The government should never allow further fragmentation of the country to fulfill the wishes of a few extreme ethnic lords from every tribe of the region. Change is late in Awassa.
The silence the federal government amidst the continued lawlessness in the city is baffling the residents of the city. Children can’t attend school on a regular basis. Women can’t walk alone in the streets of the city. Businesses including hotels are struggling to survive because of frequent closures. Shops owned by residents of the city are closed regularly because of continued vandalism. Construction activities in the city are at stand still. Something needs to be done and done soon to change the situation.
People demand the federal government to take swift actions to restore law and order in the city. Corrupt extremists politicians and business men who have been aiding and abating Ejjeetto using their government positions and privileges must be brought to justice. Their intention is to derail the change that has been sweeping the county. They must not be allowed to do so.