Statehood referendums: Federalism in action

Though Ethiopia’s constitution grants Nations, Nationalities, and People’s of Ethiopia to self-rule and determination, the TPLF-led regime had been ignoring the public demand for a long before being removed from office in 2018.

The TPLF-led regime had been directly or indirectly controlling the affairs of the peoples of Ethiopia and suppressing the political rights and self-administration questions of different nations and nationalities. There is a general consensus that what has been practiced in Ethiopia for the past 27 years was pseudo-federalism. The centralized decision-making system of the ruling party EPRDF has prevented states from enjoying true federalism.

For many, the referendum has addressed the people’s long-held quest and consolidated the implementation of Ethiopia’s multi-federalism system, which was only in a paper in the reign of the now-defunct TPLF junta.

For a long, the public’s demand was ignored and suppressed by force during the previous regimes. Sidama people’s age-old question has got the needed response.

The reform seems to address these concerns. Now, the people have just started to experience the change in the application of the federal system. The Sidama question of self-determination that had been oppressed for the last 27 years is the best case to demonstrate this. Similarly, the southwestern peoples of the SNNP are also seeking self-determination.

However, since 2018, Ethiopia has been going through wider social, economic, and political reforms. The major objective of the reform initiated by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is to transform the country to democracy and prosperity. As the country is a composition of different multi-ethnic groups ensuring genuine federalism is crucial to address the needs of those multi-ethnic nations across the country.

Accordingly, the reform administration has been undertaking many activities in a way to address the question raised by the public. Different political questions related to statehood and others are among the main pressing agenda in which the reform government has been answering to.

In what could be said one of the groundbreaking democratic achievements, the Sidama people in 2019 formed statehood after a democratic referendum. The referendum brought an end to the longtime struggle of the people of Sidama, who had lost their lives during the TPLF led regime.

The Sidama referendum is a significant step toward achieving real federalism and practicing what is written in the constitution. For decades, the Sidama have been longing to break free from the SNNPR and gain regional independence, a right enshrined in the constitution. But years of autocratic rule had failed to fulfill this provision. FDRE Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) commenting on Sidama’s statehood said in one of his speeches said that the move was an “expression of the democratization path Ethiopia has set out on and the voting process is demonstrative of our capacity for taking our differences to the ballot and allowing democratic processes to prevail,” a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister said.

“The referendum is an expression of the democratization path Ethiopia has set out on and called upon citizens to engage in the progress peacefully.”

The favorable result made Sidama the first new state in Ethiopia since the establishment of the current federation of nine semiautonomous states in the 1990s, and it sets a model for the process of obtaining statehood. Other groups within the SNNPR are also considering initiating a referendum process.

True, the Sidama referendum is one of the landmark events in the democratic progress of the country. It has become a common consensus that though the country adopted a constitution that grantees its nations, nationalities, and peoples the right to self-determination, it is the first time that it is practiced on the ground.

House of Federation Speaker Adem Farah said in his previous interview regarding the matter that the government is working to ensure human and democratic rights protection enshrined in the constitution. The establishment of Sidama State as the 10th member of the federation based on the constitutional and legal system is an indication of the government’s commitment to nation building which is aligned with the principles of forming a multi-federalist state. The country’s constitution has provided the right for the people to exercise self-administration socially, economically, and politically.

The multi-national federal system and decentralized form of government are meant to address the age-long questions of Ethiopians.

After a successful referendum in Sidama, this time, the government has staged a referendum for south-western peoples will give their vote for or against statehood. Yesterday, millions of people have been registered and casting their votes for a referendum. The residents gathered peacefully to vote on whether there should be a new Regional State, or whether the region should remain as part of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR).

Kafa, Sheka, West Omo, Bench Sheko, Dawro Zone, and Konta special woreda are among the peoples that quest for the referendum. Accordingly, the residents of the area were lineup starting from early morning to cast their vote for statehood.

As the nation is home to different ethnic groups with diverse languages, cultures, and interests the reform government is, working to ensure a real multi-federalism system practically and, strengthening its unity in a bid to ensure prosperity and nation-building process.

Serving the people and addressing their needs is the government’s priority, and achieving prosperity is possible with a multi-federalism system. The current administration is fostering democratic processes in the country, responding to public questions.



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