We end this brief introduction by formulating an alarming warning for the devious international community our decayed times: when you focus on one, and forget numerous other genocides, more genocides will happen to you.
Supporting the Sidama Pledge for Independence today is not a matter of mere Humanism; it becomes an issue of instinctive self-defense against Evil.
Sidama: An Overview of History, Culture and Economy (part 2)
By Wolassa Kumo
VI. Sidama Today
The Sidama people had made tremendous and historic contribution to the weakening and the final down fall of the military regime. However, the TPLF, which overthrew the military regime in 1991, ignored the historic contribution of other peoples in the struggle against the socialist regime and monopolised political power in the country. The current regime continued to deny human and democratic rights of the Sidama people by denying the people its basic right to regional self determination.
The current regime follows an outdated system of indirect rule used by the British Empire in the colonies before the 1960s. The regime assigns handpicked loyalists who often lack education and experience to serve as the representatives of the Sidama people. The purpose of these people is to use them as informers to the central TPLF leadership instead of as leaders of their people. Whenever the informers fail to inform properly or try to voice little concern about the people they are supposed to represent, they are removed immediately and either sent to jails in Awassa or Addis Ababa or are left jobless. The Sidama administrative sub region (also called zone) witnessed 11 administrative changes in 13 years, one informer (leader) serving less than 1.1 years. One can imagine how economic and social progress as well as the provision of justice can be attained with such highly volatile political environment. The irony is that the volatility is deliberately maintained by the regime that claims to be the champion of the oppressed peoples.
This derives from the strategic plan of the regime to suppress the Sidama struggle for regional self determination which the regime successfully reduced to the struggle for regional status. The regional questions are crucial in the Ethiopian politico- administrative structure. Sidama as a nation of an estimated 5 million people have undisputed democratic right to be an independent region in Ethiopia. The Sidama people resent being bullied by the current regime with 45 smaller tribes. The continued suppression of this fundamental democratic right by using naïve loyalists who end up in jail turn by turn, only increases the resentment and the determination of this heroic people to fight for their total independence.
Following the genocide of the peaceful antigovernment Sidama demonstrators in Looqe, Awassa, by the regime’s defence and police forces, on May 24, 2002, in which over 70 Sidamas were brutally murdered and hundreds of others were wounded, the Sidama nation has witnessed unprecedented violations and abuse of the rights of its citizens. Mass imprisonment, torture, harassment and intimidation became the order of the day. The abuse of human rights continued until today because the people have intensified their struggle for recognition of regional status.
Awassa town was established in 1964 by removing the Sidama dwellers near lake Awassa. The Sidama people have been living in the present land of Awassa for over 1000 years. However, the current regime in Ethiopia tries to rewrite history by denying the right of the Sidama people to ownership of the city. The current regime made several attempts to remove the Sidama capital from Awassa and send it to remote districts in the hinterland of Sidama. In a similar manner, the regime tried to remove the Oromos from Finfine (Addis Ababa) but when the people of Addis Ababa rejected the current ruling party in May 2005 elections, the Oromos were re-granted their right of living and working in Finfine as their capital. Several such examples of double standards and policy inconsistencies of the current regime can be listed but time and space are not always on our side.
After the massacre the Sidama people living in the town were considered as second class citizens. Most of the people were systematically removed from the town and sent to districts in the name of restructuring of the civil services. Hundreds of ethnic Sidama civil servants were removed from their jobs following the massacre. Many civil servants have fled the country. In Sidama history mass emigration took place only twice. The first was during the war of 1977-1983 between the Sidama freedom fighters and the military regime. And the second was during and after the massive human rights abuses following the May 24, 2002 Looqe massacre. For a comprehensive and pioneering study of the Diaspora identify and forced flight of the Sidama people refer to Seyoum Hamesso (2007). Moreover, several hundred ethnic Sidama members of the police force have been removed for their alleged support of the cause of the Sidama people. On the other hand, the naïve loyalists were promoted to various lucrative positions.
People were also removed from Sidama land in the name of resettlement to reduce population pressure. The genuine solution to the over population of a given area is to establish an alternative employment schemes by investing on alternative manufacturing, mining and services sectors. Deportation of the people from their home lands to an area which is less developed than their own home land can not be justified by any reason. Forced resettlement and villagization programmes carried out by the socialist regime were utter failures. There is no guarantee that an equally unpopular regime can bring a miraculous success by forcing people to move from their lands and settling them in remote areas of the country.
VII. The Sidama Economy
The Sidama economy is based primarily on subsistence agriculture characterized by archaic production techniques. However, a substantial proportion of the Sidama land produces coffee which is the major cash crop in the area. Coffee has been the major sources of income for the rural households in the coffee producing regions of the Sidama land. However, the recent plunge in international coffee price coupled with inimical government policy on Sidama drew most of these households back into the subsistence production and absolute poverty. In fact, Sidama is one of the major coffee producing regions in Ethiopia. In particular, Sidama supplies 45-50% of washed coffee to the central market. Coffee is the single major export earner for the country. Export earnings from coffee ranges from 55-67% although the country’s share in the world market is less than 3%.
The Sidama people have never faced hunger and famine in the history of their society because they had always produced enough for themselves. The society has been characterised by what one may call the long run equilibrium. Even the 1984 great famine that hit all other parts of the country did not affect the Sidama land. However, the subsistence nature of agricultural production which is dependent on archaic technology and vagaries of nature coupled with massive growth of rural population and inimical government policy, made the Sidama land prone to frequent hunger and famine that characterizes the country. Thus, it is not surprising to see that, today, about 1/4 of the total population in Sidama is directly or indirectly dependent on food aid from the international community.
A semi narcotic crop called Chat has recently become another major cash crop in the Sidama land. A crop whose leaves are chewed as stimulants has become another major export earner for the country and a substantial amount of this crop comes from the Sidama region. Given the dramatic fall in the world coffee price and subsequent loss of revenue and deterioration in living standards of the rural households in Sidama, it is feared that farmers may root the coffee plants out and replace them with Chat permanently.
Other major crops produced in Sidama include Enset (also called false banana or Weese in Sidaamuffo), wheat, Oat, maize, barley, sorghum, millets, sugar cane, potatoes, and other cereal crops and vegetables. Enset is the main staple food in Sidama. Apart from being the main source of food, parts of the Enset tree can be used as inputs in other economic activities like construction of houses, production of containers like sacks, and for handling food items during and after preparation of food. Thus, the pattern of Enset and coffee production and consumption over the years has substantially shaped the nature of the Sidama culture and hence the name the Enset culture.
The role of livestock was highly significant in medieval and early 20th century Sidama society. However, recently the importance of live stock has been dwindling because of two factors. First, a rapid increase in population reduced the size of grazing land for large stocks, and second a severe ‘Tse-Tse’ fly disease in low land areas has virtually wiped out most of the livestock population during the last quarter of the 20th century. However, livestock is still the most important source of livelihood for people living in the peripheral areas of the Sidama land.
Although agriculture is a key to the development of the country, successive regimes failed to successfully transform the traditional agriculture in Ethiopia. The transformation of traditional agriculture as an engine of growth and development was emphasised by one of great economists, Theodore Schultz (1964), who states that all resources of the traditional type are efficiently allocated, and hence the rate of return to increased investment with the existing states of the art is too low to induce further saving and investment. According to Schultz, therefore, the development of traditional agriculture depends on breaking the established equilibrium. Based on a theory of the price of income streams, he suggests that breaking such established equilibrium requires the introduction of modern inputs in the form of human and material capital. The author is certain that when Schultz talks about the modern inputs (human and material) he does not mean dumping fertilizers to the poor who have no clue as to how to use them.
Worse still, in Ethiopia the modern input is not only incomplete but also is a means of enriching government companies at the expense of the poor. Where the poor manage to produce surplus in one bumper season, there will be no market to sell the products. Therefore, during the next season the farmers are bankrupt and unable to sustain the previous level of production. This perpetuates an endless cycle of poverty in Sidama land.
Forestry and fishery are underdeveloped in the Sidama area. Fishing activities are limited to the most prominent lakes in Sidama: lake Awassa and lake Abaya. Although Sidama has several perennial rivers these rivers have never been exploited. Although commercial forestry is underdeveloped, Sidama is well known for its traditional agro forestry system which saved the land from erosion and desertification for centuries. Every household in Sidama practices planting crops with trees. However, this tendency has also brought a negative impact in recent times. Farmers began planting Eucalyptus trees near other crops. Because the later plant has a poisonous effect, it destroys other crops planted near it. Most farmers are aware of the problem. However, the economic benefits of the eucalyptus tree outweigh the cost of losing small crops near it for individual farmers. But this trend is dangerous for the overall environmental sustainability of the Sidama land.
Sidama is characterized by a very low level of industrial development. There are very few manufacturing factories in Sidama land. A very few factories available in the area are all located in Awassa town and its environs. The government owned textile and ceramic factories are the only notable manufacturing activities in Sidama. A chip wood factory built in recent years and a meat processing factory in Malga Wondo are the only major private manufacturing activities in the entire Sidama land. Small scale manufacturing activities are highly underdeveloped because of the inimical government policies. No attempt has been made by the government to develop industrial sector to create jobs for the massive redundant labour force in the rural area.
The agriculture development led industrialization strategy of the current regime is a policy document for donor consumption. We have not seen the strategy in practice for 15 years now. The conventional agriculture development led industrialization involves the building of agro processing industries that process the local agricultural inputs that can be sold in domestic or export markets thereby adding value to the primary products.
This plays a crucial role in reducing rural poverty. The poverty reducing impact of such projects is twofold: first, the market for the agricultural products is readily available at the door step of producers. Second, processed products fetch better price both in domestic and foreign markets than primary products. The writer has never witnessed any agriculture development led industrialization activity in Sidama or other parts of South Ethiopia during the past 15 years. The writer has witnessed successful agriculture development led industrialization in the Philippines where there are over 70 medium and large scale sugar processing factories located through out the country which is the size of the Oromia region in Ethiopia. Varieties of other agro processing factories are found in this country and the country follows an exemplary agriculture development led industrialization policy.
Mining is virtually non existent. Although Sidama is said to have a good potential of mineral resources particularly in the Great East African Rift Valley and the eastern highlands of the Sidama land, nothing has been done to exploit these resources. The absolute lack of industrial development in the area, which is characterized by massive overpopulation in rural areas, means that the Sidama people will continue to suffer from poverty, illiteracy and starvation for years to come.
The development of both economic and social services is very low. Economic infrastructure is severely underdeveloped. The Supply of electricity, water and telephone services is the monopoly of the government and hence its supply is severely curtailed. Many of the capital towns of the main districts do not have electric supply connected to the national grid. All whether roads are not more than 400 km. Asphalted roads are non existent except for the 90 km stretch of the Cairo - Addis Ababa- Gaborone road that passes through the Sidama land. The private financial services are beginning to operate in the area but are still insignificant. Trade and transport services are severely underdeveloped and limited mainly to very few urban areas. Trade activities in rural Sidama heavily depend on purchase and sale of coffee. The coffee slum has severely affected these activities.
There is a great tourism potential in Sidama land. The rift valley lakes like Awassa and Abaya are already some major tourist attractions in Sidama land. However, the access to Lake Abaya through Sidama land has been opened only five years ago and is not well developed and not open for potential tourists. The agro forestry and the mountain ranges of eastern highlands are other potential tourist attractions in Sidama. However, they have not been exploited so far.
Unemployment and underemployment is rampant. An estimated 1.5 million people in rural Sidama are either unemployed or under employed. Employment in modern sector is very much limited. The total estimated number of the labour forces employed in modern sector in Sidama is less than 1%. Out of the estimated total population of 5 million, an estimated 2.5 million people are in the active labour force of which 1.5 are estimated to be underemployed or unemployed in Sidama. If properly utilised huge supply of labour can make positive contribution to economic development. As early as the middle of 20th century economist such as William Arthur Lewis, the first black economist to win Nobel Prize in economics, have emphasised the potential of economic development with unlimited supply of rural labour. Lewis’s (1954) paper on ‘Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour’, elaborates how the dual sector model can be successfully used in promotion economic development in poor countries with unlimited supply of labour.
The deliberate dismantling of the donor assisted development initiatives in Sidama by the current regime has made matters worse. Last week the author watched a feature film on international media that showed the Sidama people from Awassa and Borrichcha districts queuing for food hand outs while the woman carried emaciated children on their backs. I was told by my colleagues to watch people who are starving to death in Ethiopia, but when I watched, the people were from my own village. Their story inspired me to write this article.
The Sidama people had enjoyed an independent and egalitarian socio-economic life before the 1893. They had a unique indigenous political system led by the Mote (King) assisted by Ga’ro. The Mote serves as the political and administrative leader of the nation and rules in consultation with the council of people’s representatives called the Songo. The cultural affairs of the society were the responsibility of the Woma who is responsible for carrying out religious sacrifices (Kakalo) and other cultural duties. The most prominent Sidama culture is the Seera (the grand social constitution) linked to the Sidama moral code of halale (the ultimate truth), “the true way of life”.
Varieties of sub Seera’s or constitutions were developed based on the grand Seera such as Minu Seera (building societies), Jirte (association during mourning and other social events) and economic cooperations such as Dee (labour contribution for farming), Kotta ( producers’ cooperatives) and Shuffo (revolving commodity credit). Sidama had such unique and beautiful indigenous and egalitarian, social, political and economic arrangements that it could offer to the international community.
However, this beautiful indigenous socio-cultural and socio-political set up was disrupted with the imperial conquest of Minelik. The consequent feudal system not only deprived the Sidama people their right to the ownership of their basic capital land, but also converted the people into a virtual slavery.
The abolition of the feudal system did not bring fundamental changes to the lives of the Sidama people. Although serfdom and direct slavery were abolished, misguided economic polices based on the socialist ideology of the military regime brought further suffering. Forced collectivisation and villagization programmes led to massive fall in agricultural production. The resistance to such unpopular policies led to the war between the military regime and the Sidama people between 1977-1983 and various other uprisings in Sidama which were all brutally crushed by the military regime. In this war over 30,000 Sidamas were killed. This seriously undermined the Sidama struggle for freedom and democracy but did not kill the spirit of the nation.
At present even though the fundamental problem of the Sidama society is perpetuation of underdevelopment with all its manifestations: hunger, poverty and illiteracy, the lack of regional representation in the country is considered to be a major step backward in the history of the society. Economic development and poverty reduction can not be thought of when the people do not enjoy their fundamental rights. Continued resistance for regional recognition have not only led to high volatility in Sidama political administration, but also to a massive abuse of human rights ranging from massacre to imprisonment and torture. However, a society that survived over a century of suppression will not at all despair.