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New PM’s first real test

It all seemed like the conflict and public uprising that rocked the country for the past three years is finally coming to an end following the change of guard at the very top of the ruling party, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), as Abiy Ahmed (PhD) assumed the chairmanship and the Prime Minister position of Ethiopia.

But, it was not even three months into his tenure when a relatively calmer region of the country, Southern Regional State, was rocked by another ethnically charged violence. The unrest spread to three Zonal administrations in no time.

Wolkite was the first of these three places that saw a bloody ethnic conflict which resulted in huge damages to property and loss of lives. The conflict that broke out between the Gurages and Kebenas, on June 13, 2018, claimed the life of one person while leaving seven others heavily injured. Several kiosks, shops, vehicles and other properties were set on fire.

Perhaps the most distractive of three conflicts is the one that happened on the day of the Fiche Chambalala celebration (June 14) which marks the New Year according to the Sidama people customs and traditions. The celebration is held every year in the regional capital Hawassa. What began as a small clash and throwing of stones grew to be a full-fledged conflict between the Sidama and the Wolayta ethnic groups, according to Solomon Hailu, communications head of the regional government.

Solomon told The Reporter on Tuesday June 19 that 10 people have been killed by the conflict and nine sustained major injuries while 80 people walked away with minor injuries. As a result of the conflict, 3,500 peoples have also been displaced from their residential areas and their properties have been damaged. The conflict also resulted in property damages which are not yet accounted for fully.

Although the conflict in the region assume a different form resembling a question of self-administration, later on, Solomon said that such questions could have been forwarded using constitutional means; and that it cannot be a justifiable action by any reason. 

Wolaiyta was another part of the region to experience a similar conflict after two days on June 16. What began as an opposition to the attack on the ethnic Wolaiytas in Hawassa grew to a full-blown violence and the Wolaiyta Sodo University, Sodo Agricultural College, Sodo Primary and Secondary School as well as government institutions and private properties were damaged and set on fire. Damage to property was unaccounted for and both private and government services have not commenced for almost five days.

Three have also died in this conflict and 10 people injured.

According to the deputy administrator of the Wolaiyta Zone, Getahun Garedew (PhD), the public’s outrage came as a result of the attack on the ethnic Wolaiytas especially related to the annual Fiche Chambalala celebration in regional capital. And the scale of the attack has been growing from time to time.

In his Eid Al Fitr message, Prime Minister Abiy said that the conflicts were caused by groups that do not want peace and the public has to understand that these “daytime hyenas” want the people to kill each other and benefit out of it.

After addressing to the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR) on Monday June 18, the Prime Minister flew to Hawassa to discuss with the society and the administration of the Sidama Zone.

The Prime Minster condemned the attacks and stressed that they should not happen again. While assuring the PM that the attacks on the innocent civilians by no means represent the Sidama people, they presented their questions relating to self-administration to which he replied “the need for self-administration should be discussed thoroughly both at the regional and federal level and its benefits should be analyzed in terms of the projected costs”.

After his discussion, the Prime Minister visited the displaced people camped in various locations in the city.

Meanwhile, similar discussions were held in Wolaiyta Sodo and Wolkite towns where similar questions of self-administration were raised to the Prime Minister.

Getahun, the deputy head of the Wolaiyta Zonal Administration, stated that the acknowledgement of the growing attacks inflicted on the ethnic Wolaiytas by the Prime Minister was a big move as it has never been acknowledged by any governmental body both at the regional and federal levels.

In a meeting that the Prime Minister had held in Wolkite, he urged the leaders of the Sidama, Wolaiyta, Gurage and Kebena zonal and woreda administrators to resign as soon as possible taking responsibility for the damages that happened because of the conflicts.

Following the call of the Prime Minister, five senior officials from the Wolaiyta region have resigned: the head of the Zonal Administration, his deputy, Southern Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM) Zonal head, rural as well as urban politics heads of the SEPDM.

The Prime Minister appreciated the move by the Zonal Administration officials and called for the others to follow suit.