By Damo Gotamo
The arbitrarily imposed ethnic federalism has affected the lives of millions of Ethiopians who live in different cities of the country. Ethnic animosities and divisions TPLF goons had planted in the country have been exploding like a time bomb in every corner of the country destroying the lives of millions of people after the rogue group has been removed from power. Citizens in Addis Ababa, Awassa, Dire Dawa and other cities have been living under constant fear and mercy of ethnic extremists. People who were born in these cities have been treated as second and third citizens by people who are unfamiliar to a city living.
In cites where they are born, citizens are prevented from participating in a political process, excluded from employment opportunities, evicted from their homes and business places, and harassed and persecuted for no apparent reasons.
The recent unrest in Dire Dawa, which caused the death of innocent people and led to the resignation of the city’s mayor is the fruit of ethnic federalism. The wind of change blowing in the country is a welcome relief to millions. However, until the government takes drastic action to change the situation, the suffering of citizens at the hands of ethnic lords will continue. Like other cites, Awassa has been a living hell for its multiethnic residents. The federal government has all the reasons to make Awassa a federal city. Removing the city from the jaws ethnic entrepreneurs and making it a city for all is something that should not be left for tomorrow.
Ones dubbed as a ‘small Ethiopia’ and a favorite destination of every one, Awassa has been under siege by Sidama extremists since prime minster Abiye came to power. In a city where ninety-eight percent of residents are non-Sidamas, a few Sidama extremists are running the city like a private corporation. They have been allowed to create a system similar to the defunct Apartheid system in South Africa. The system they have established helps and benefits a single ethnic group excluding other groups in the city.
Almost all key government positions are held by ethnic Sidamas. Merit system has no place in the city. Ethnicity is the only requirement for employment and advancement. People who don’t have a third grade education and with forged diplomas have been brought from a place called Benesa and given a free pass to corrupt the bureaucracy. The first thing a new recruit learns is how to ask a bribe. One only needs to visit various government institutions in the city to see how incompetent and illiterate individuals who are unfit to positions they are occupying struggling to read and write simple sentences related to their jobs. Many educated residents left the city and those who remained lost any hope of living. I know many people who lost their minds. It is also common to see helpless youths chewing Khat from down to dusk in every corner of the city.
Education institutions are overrun by those who won’t mince when they call themselves instructors and have nothing to show except forged degrees and diplomas bought from black-market. Students are advised not to ask questions in the class rooms. Asking questions and embarrassing the quacks would be a sure way to earn a failing grade. The quacks remind me of the recent BBC’s article about an illiterate college graduate teacher who ‘thought’ students for seventeen years before he gave up him job. He could barely read and always asked students to read for him in class rooms. I sometimes wonder if how many illiterate instructors have infested our learning institutions. We will sure find out their numbers when the government starts cracking down on them. But, I can assure that here in Awassa there are many of them roaming in different campuses where they shouldn’t be in the first place.
Corruption in Awassa is rampant. Non-Sidamas get nothing done for them without paying bribes to ethnic lords who occupy all key positions in the city. The Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs have two sources of incomes: regular government salary and bribe. Residents in the city are sources of uninterrupted income to ethnic ticks that survive by sucking the blood of others. In addition to paying taxes, citizens must pay bribes to get things done. The ethnic bosses have no shame asking for money the very people they harass regularly. Due to the recent unrest and slow downs in economic activities bribe monies are not coming easy. To tackle the problem, ethnic lords have concocted a new trick to get bribes: to visit business men of the city at their work and ask them to pay them ‘little money for gas’ and get anything they want.
There is no justice to non-Sidamas in Awassa. People in the city are victims of incompetent judges and law enforcement officers who hail from a single ethnic group. I have seen people who have committed murders released from prison after serving only six months, while those who are in jail for petty theft locked up for years. It is painful to see uneducated and inexperienced so called judges rendering verdicts that affect the lives of thousand of people people in the city.
The police force of the city which is entirely made up of the Sidama ethnic group is the primary reason for the suffering of Awassa residents at the hands of ethnic lords. Extremists use the force to do anything they want including attacking and displacing people they don’t like.
The gun wielding incompetent and poorly trained police force harasses, beats, and displaces city residents with impunity. Its members accept bribes and work with the group which calls itself Ejjeetto in harassing and displacing people of the city. When the infamous Ejjeetto resorts to lawlessness, the police force does nothing except encouraging them.
True change in Awassa starts when the current police force is completely disbanded and a new force comprising the residents of the city is established. People are expecting a multi-ethnic and competent police force which doesn’t serve the interest of a few ethnic lords in the city. In addition to ensuring the safety of the citizens in the city and emancipating them from ethnic entrepreneurs, the federal government has other important reasons to make Awassa a place for all Ethiopians.
The government has made large investments in Awassa with a view of creating employment opportunities and alleviating the people of the country from poverty. One of the largest industrial parks in Africa has been built in Awassa. When fully operational, the park will employe sixty thousand people and expected to generate one billion dollars a year in exports. It is a pride of millions of Ethiopians. Since coming to power, prime minster Abiye has brought to the park foreign leaders and dignitaries for official visits signaling how important are the city and its industrial park to the nation.
The express Highway which will connect Addis Ababa to Awassa is another important investment the government has made in Awassa. When the work is completed, it will take less than three hours to travel between the two cities. The road will help the industrial park ease its supply chain process increasing its competitiveness in the world markets. It will also help other businesses transport their items from one city to the other in a short period of times. Travelers will arrive at destinations of the two cities early, carry out their businesses and will return to their origin on the same day.
The federal government has also spent an enormous amount of money building an international airport in Awassa. When fully operational, it will directly connect big cities like Washington to Awassa. The airport will play an important role in bringing tourists to our county which will help ease the need for foreign currency.
Awassa is big, beautiful and multiethnic city endowed with convenient weather.
Its role in helping ease the activities of Addis Ababa must be taken into consideration when making it a federal city. Addis Ababa is seat to the federal government, African Union, embassies, and different international organizations. It can’t handle all the activities that are taking place all year long and beefing the help of other cities. How about making Awassa the seat of the Ethiopian parliament? It sounds music to the ears of Awassa residents.
Like the United States and other developed countries, Ethiopia also needs multiple business cities to help the country achieve its developmental objectives. Who doesn’t want to have cities like Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York in his country? Therefore, the government has the duty to make Awassa not only a place for all Ethiopians but also citizens of the world.
Extremism elements in the city spread lies to justify their lost cause. Since last year’s massacre of the hard working Wolitas in the city, they have been claiming that Emperor Haile Selasie had displaced Sidama farmers from Awassa to establish Awassa. This narration is taken from the playbook of extreme Oromo politicians who claim that Addis Ababa was established by displacing Oromo farmers. The claim of Sidama extremists couldn’t be further from the truth.
Awasasa was founded in early1950’s by different ethnic groups in the country. All groups had a hand in creating and developing the city. If what the Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs are telling us is true, after displacing the Sidama farmers from their land Emperor Hiale Selasie had settled other tribes in the city. Put another way, the emperor had too much love for Wolitas, Oromos, Kembattas, Gurages, and others he chased out Sidamas to bring other to the city. This a lame and preposterous claim born out of desperation. The truth is Sidamas were complacent with their way of life in places they had settled. They had never tried making Awassa their home.
It was only after the TPLF had invaded the country and introduced ethnic politics that some ethnic lords showed up and started telling us the city is theirs. Many are wondering why they didn’t raise the same claim before. Instead of living in peace with their fellow human beings who have contributed to the creation and development of Awassa, ethnic entrepreneurs spread hate, fear, dread, and apprehension among the city’s residents. They want to own things that they haven’t worked for.
The embittered and despairing ethnic entrepreneurs want to appropriate the lands, buildings, and shops of others. They fail to understand what it takes to be successful. They are victims of ethnic propaganda TPLF goons brought to the country. The venomous propaganda is still lingering in their minds after the TPLF left the scene. They act in impulse and break the laws of the county testing the limits and patience of the federal government. They don’t heed the advice of others. A few days ago, they opened a propaganda war against Abate Kisho, the former president of the region, after he told them that their erroneous path and lawlessness adventures would not help the people of Sidama and others.
By looking at the names of places in Awassa, one can easily find out who the original settlers of the city. Names like Pizza, Harrer Sefer, Wokuro Sefer, Philadelphia sefer, Geberel Sefer, and others are sufficient proofs that who was behind the creation and development of Awassa. It is only after the arbitrarily imposed ethnic federalism that Sidama extremists started to replace the original names with their new versions including the name of the city. Nothing offends the ethnic entrepreneurs more when people call and write the city by its true name, Awassa.
Residents of Awassa are the sole sources of the city’s budget. The city collects its tax revenue from non-Sidamas and big establishments like the Industrial Park, Lewi and Haile resorts. They produce a large part, ninety-nine percent of the city’s tax. Therefore, claiming Awassa as a Sidama only city is a complete detachment from reality and complete nonsense. Why the extremists need a special privilege in a city where every ethnic group has contributed its share in its creation and development is beyond anyone’s comprehension.
At the moment things don’t look good in Awassa. People live in constant fear unsure of what the future holds for them. They all think that something has to happen and happen soon to change the current gloomy atmosphere riding over the city. Everybody is tired of ethnic entrepreneurs who have besieged the city. Business activities have cooled down affecting everyone including Sidama business. Children are afraid of going to school.
The hesitation of the federal government to undertake decisive action against organized criminals in the city is emboldening them for further lawlessness. As I write this piece, the desperate extremists are preparing the Sidama women to go out to the streets and disturb the peace of the residents. They are even threatening to blow bridges that connect the city to different places unless their demands are satisfied.
The prime minster’s responses don’t inspire confidence to Awassa residents. Instead of beating around the bush, our leader must give the extremists absolute, complete, unqualified, and final response so that people of the city can resume their peaceful life. They aren’t afraid of anyone and operate in the open. He must call a spade a spade. Sidama extremists are good for nothing terrorists and must be designated so the government. Handing over Awassa to people who can’t think outside their village and don’t want to see anyone except their own tribe in the city is tantamount to taking the country into the dark ages. Like Addis Ababa , Awassa belongs to its residents