Coronavirus live updates: What you need to know

View More

Ethiopian PM's headache as Sidama vote on self-rule

By Abuga Makori in Nairobi , Garowe Online

ADDIS ABABA - Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's liberalism approach to reforms would be tested on Wednesday when Sidama province votes for autonomy.

For 18 months, Ahmed's radical reforms have brought about mixed indicators as people express their political desires more freely than in previous regimes.

About 2.3 million people are expected to cast their votes in the region which borders Kenya and South Sudan after months of violence and lawlessness.

Sidama people have traditionally accused the state of economic and political suppression, the major reason why Abiy allowed them to go for a referendum to define their destiny.

In July this year, close to 20 people were killed following protests that were waged by Sidama Liberation Movement, which on Tuesday warned against irregularities during voting.

“Should there be irregularities and should autonomy not be declared, that would be a danger for Ethiopia itself because of course there will be violence,” said Dukale Lamiso, head of the Sidama Liberation Front, an activist group told Reuters.

If the referendum passes as expected, the Sidama will control local taxes, education, security and laws in a new self-governing region that would be Ethiopia’s tenth.

The Horn of Africa nation’s regions are emboldened by a more open political climate - and a weaker ruling coalition - since Abiy took office in 2018 and eased the iron rule of his predecessors.

Ahmed is currently struggling to stamp authority ahead of 2020 polls, with ethnic violence claiming lives of hundreds of people. Should Wednesday's referendum pass, Abiy's regime would witness more calls for autonomy from other regions.

In the past, the PM has accused his opponents of seizing freedom brought up by his government to antagonize his leadership.

“In the last year, there have been so many attempts. I am not going to tell you of those you don’t know, but some you already know," he said in a past interview.

Last month, over 78 people were killed in the Oromia region following violent protests waged by media entrepreneur Jawar Mohammed's supporters who clashed with the police.

With ethnic violence escalating, the Sidama region's successful referendum could further weaken Ahmed's grip on the power given the economic repercussions that come with self-determination.

"The danger is, autonomy encourages self-rule and degrades the grip of the central government. It's something that could weaken him if more regions follow that route," says Vincent Moracha of Kisii University.

The Sidama people want Hawassa city to declare the region's capital should Wednesday's vote go through. Abiy won Nobel Peace Prize in October this year for political reforms in the Horn of Africa.