Ethiopia’s ethnic Sidama population to vote in self-determination referendum

The Sidama people of Ethiopia vote in a referendum today on forming an autonomous region. If it passes, the community

sidama self determination referendum

Photo: Reuters/Tiksa Negeri

The Sidama people of Ethiopia vote in a referendum today on forming an autonomous region. If it passes, the community would be afforded limited power over regional land, health, education and tax policies.

The community’s political activists have pushed for autonomy since July, following PM Abiy Ahmed’s sweeping reconciliatory political reforms. The Sidama people make up 4% of the Ethiopian population and have demanded that the regional capital Hawassa be handed over to them—this may be assuaged by a recent, short-term solution that will allow the current regional government to stay in the city for two five-year election terms. However, the situation has been marred by violent clashes between rogue activists seeking immediate autonomy and government security forces.

Today’s referendum will act as a barometer for other Ethiopian ethnic groups who may also seek regional autonomy in their respective states. Meanwhile, though, other minority groups in the proposed Sidama autonomous region, such as the Wolaita people, fear disenfranchisement and institutional discrimination should the referendum pass. Addis Ababa has not openly accounted for this, due to the need to placate Sidama activists.

The security fears that have plagued the region will likely abate, should the referendum pass, given the recent agreement over Hawassa’s governance. Indeed, the spokesman of the Sidama Liberation Movement, Desalegn Mesa, may have assured the short-term safety and security of the region.

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