Ethiopia: Analyst, Community Members Caution Against Treating Gurage People’s Quest for Self Administration As Threat to National Security

Addis Abeba — As the Ethiopian House of Federation (HoF) prepares to pass a decision on the status of the Gurage people’s request for a regional state status, an expert in political science and members of the community who spoke with Addis Standard cautioned against considering the request to establish a separate regional state as a ‘threat to national security.”

The Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s (SNNP) regional state command post has today issued a decree enforcing restrictions on public gatherings including meetings and demonstrations; ban on boycotting business activities; 8:00 PM local time curfew on motorcycles and three-wheeler Bajajs. On 02 August Alemayehu Baudi, Head of the SNNP regional state peace and security office and coordinator of good governance cluster warned at a security meeting in Wolkite city that the regional government “will not tolerate illegal and irregular activities under the guise of the restructuring request of the Gurage zone,” and that the regional security will be compelled to take strict actions against anyone violating the warnings. Today’s decree from the regional command post came after the administration of Bu’i city, another city in the Gurage zone has issued warning prohibiting residents against activities that it classified as “conflict-inciting” and activities that are not included in the “direction set by the government.”

Amidst tightening security in the zone, the HoF Director of Public Relations and Communication Directorate of Terefe Bedhadda announced on Tuesday 16 August that the House was poised to hold an emergency meeting on Thursday 18 August. The House is expected to pass decisions on various agendas. Addis Standard has confirmed that among the agenda the House is expected to pass a decision on is the “cluster” restructuring of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s (SNNP) regional state, which would see the region get two more regional states. the members of four standing committees of the HoF are holding pre-consultative meeting today “on issues related to the agenda of the emergency meeting,” the HoF said on Monday.

The House’s emergency meeting follows the submission on 04 August by Kiflu Wanna, deputy speaker of the SNNP regional state Council, to the House of Federation (HoF) a cluster of ten zones and six woredas in the region requesting to be restructured in two additional regional states out of the existing SNNP region. The respective Councils of zones and Special Woredas approved the request over the weekend of 31 July.

“these threats circulated even before the zonal council sat for the emergency meeting” on 11 August. “They have gone miles to curb the demand and to make it fruitless,” Mohammed

The new restructuring will merge a total of 16 zones and special woredas in SNNP region into two additional regional states. Accordingly, the six zones: Gamo, Gedeo, Gofa, Konso, South Omo, and Wolayta zones, as well as the five Special Woredas: Ale, Amaro, Burji, Basketo, Derashe Special Woredas will form one regional state after the HoF approved the request. Similarly, four zones: Hadiya, Halaba, Kembata Tembaro and Silte zones, and Yem Special Woreda will be organized in one regional state. Kiflu has asked the HoF to respond to the requests “immediately based on the constitution.”

However, although authorities initially wanted to include the the Gurage zone, the zonal administration objected from being a part of the clustering stating that it has not yet discussed on issue of restructuring to join the other zones and special Woredas. Earlier Alemyirga Woldie, head of economic sector of the Gurage Zone Council, said that the Gurage zone administration was instead waiting for the response from the House of Federation on its earlier request for a regional state status which was submitted on 26 November 2018.

In an unprecedented move that reinforced the zone’s long standing position, at an emergency meeting held on 11 August, the Council of Gurage Zone, In Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s (SNNP) regional state rejected the government’s proposal to be organized in new cluster structure. The Council’s emergency meeting took place a day after the cities and towns in the Gurage zone witnessed a protests against the federal and SNNP regional governments’ move.

However, in yet another unprecedented move, on Saturday 13 August, the leadership of four Woredas and one city administration in the Gurage zone held emergency meetings in their respective councils and approved the government’s “cluster” restructuring.

Accordingly, the council members of Kebana, Mareko, Meskan and East Meskan woredas, as well as the Butajra city administration have decided to accept the “cluster.” Of of them, the Butajra city administration, together with Meskan and East Meskan woredas have decided to form a new zone with a center in Bitajira city; whereas the Markeko and Kebena woredas decided for each to upgrade their status in to Special Woredas.

Caution against labeling

Mohammed Abrar, an expert in political science and economics, and a native of the area, told Addis Standard that the government was considering the question of Gurage people to establish a separate regional state as a “threat to national security” and cautioned that such labeling was dangerous.

According to him, high ranking officials both from the federal to the SNNP region, threatened the members of the Gurage Zone Council that “despite voting for the formation of a new region, it won’t be accepted. Forming a new region for Gurage is a national threat.”. He added that “these threats circulated even before the zonal council sat for the emergency meeting” on 11 August. “They have gone miles to curb the demand and to make it fruitless,” Mohammed said.

In a presser held on Monday 15 August in Addis Abeba, Speaker of the Gurage Zone Council, Arshiya Ahmed, commented that that the members came to the capital to submit “the decision of the council. They [The House of Federation] signed and received our decision. However, we did not meet them in person to give them a comprehensive explanation since we could not meet the leaders of the House,” she said.

According to Mohammed, the cluster restructuring demand was not an actual request from the residents of the of the zone who were waiting for their initial demand for regional state status to be answered. Following the rejection last week by the Zonal council, “the Prosperity Party Cadres are trying to twist the Gurage Zone Council’s decision against the cluster restructuring” he said, stating that political power over the people’s demand as the prime motive of the cadres.

A copy of the resolution document of the zonal council, along with the list of names of council members who attended the meeting that was held on Thursday of 11 August has also been submitted to the regional state’s council and the office of the region’s president Ristu Yirda, who attended the Gurage Zone’s meeting, Mohammed said.

The Gurage Zone’s emergency meeting was attended by 92 of the 97 members of the Council. When voting took place, 52 of the 92 attending Council members voted against the proposal to cluster the zone with other administrative structures.

“All the high ranking officials ranging from the Federal government to the SNNP region, have heavily been involved against the demand of the council’s decision. Many people who stood against the cluster restructuring have since been arrested,” Mohammed said.

More woredas and city administrations have formed a command post before the Zonal council meeting which is an indication that the matter has been handled in an organized and orchestrated chain. Many parts of the zone are now under a command post “and anybody who attempts any move against the cluster restructuring is threatened with arrest,” he added.

“I don’t know why the government seems not willing to rectify our demand of establishing a new regional state. We deserve that,” Sisay

From legal perspectives, Mohammed argues that attempting to disregard the Gurage Zonal Council decision was against the constitution. Article 47 (2) and (3) of the Ethiopian Constitution guarantees that “Nations, Nationalities and Peoples within the States [ regional states] enumerated in-Article 1 of this article [47] have the right to establish, at any time, their own States,” he said.

What do residents say?

Sisay, who declined to offer his last name, is a resident in Wolkite town, where a boycott protest took place last week. “I don’t know why the government seems not willing to rectify our demand of establishing a new regional state. We deserve that,” Sisay said. He argues the geography and the umber of population alone, could have warrantied a positive response to their demand.

A retired high school teacher, who spoke with Addis Standard on the conditions of anonymity, stated that the entire population in Gurbe town, where he is residing now, wanted to have a new regional state and said they do support the Gurage Zonal council decision. “We hope the government, particularly the house of federation will accept the zonal council’s request,” he added.

Abdella, another a resident in Qebena, not far from Wolkite area, has a slightly differing view. He told Addis Standard that be it cluster restructuring or formation of a new regional government, as long as it benefits the people, he is not much concerned about it. Several areas in the zone are experiencing communications interruptions.

Of the constitution and legal arguments

Beyond the caution of considering the Gurage people’s demand and those who push for it as a “threat to security security”, Mohammed states the violation of the Ethiopian constitution by political actors as more worrisome. High ranking government officials who are working to implement the cluster restructuring while neglecting the legitimate decision of the Gurage Zonal Council which has followed all the legal procedures that are enshrined in the constitution is a dangerous precedent.

Enumerating the number of regional states in Ethiopia, Article 47 (3) of the constitution vested

Article 47 (3) of the Ethiopian constitutions stipulates the right of any Nation, Nationality or People to form its own state where it is exercisable under the following procedures:

(a) When the demand for statehood has been approved by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Council of the Nation, Nationality or People concerned, and the demand is presented in writing to the State Council;

(b) When the Council that received the demand has organized a referendum within one year to be held in the Nation, Nationality or People that made the demand;

(c) When the demand for statehood is supported by a majority vote in the referendum;

(d) When the State Council will have transferred its powers to the Nation, Nationality or People that made the demand; and

(e) When the new State created by the referendum without any need for application, directly becomes a member of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

Mohammed worries that against all these procedures, the push, including from the regional president’s office to force the Gurage zone to opt for the cluster restructuring is unconstitutional. “Against all odds, the pressures from such higher officials are being resisted by the Council of the Gurage zone; the people shall prevail” with their demand for right to self govern through a “new region,” he underscored. AS

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