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Ethiopia: Sidama's self-determination referendum set for Nov. 20

Ethiopia: Sidama's self-determination referendum set for Nov. 20


Ethiopia’s Sidama community will wait one more week to determine their fate after a referendum on their self-determination was postponed.

State-affiliated Fana news agency reported on Tuesday that the new date for the vote is Nov. 20 instead of Nov. 13.

The electoral board explained that the delay of the referendum that would have created the country’s 10th autonomous region, was caused by a lag in preparations.

Ethiopia’s nine regional states enjoy a level of autonomy where they are able to choose their official language and have limited powers over taxation, education, health and land administration.

Agitation for self-determination

Emboldened by reforms introduced by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed since he came to office in 2018, political activists from the Sidama, currently subsumed into one of the nine states, wanted to unilaterally declare a new regional state in July.

At least 17 people were killed that same month in clashes between security forces and Sidama activists, while some leaders accepted an offer from the government for a referendum within five months.

In August, the electoral board said it would deploy close to 1,700 polling stations and 8,500 election officials for the referendum.

Unintended consequences of reforms

At least eight other ethnic groups in Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people, are also seeking autonomy.

Abiy, 43, appointed by the ruling coalition in April 2018, has won praise for political reforms in what was once one of the continent’s most repressive nations.

He won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his peacemaking efforts, which ended two decades of hostility with longtime enemy Eritrea.

But with many activists using the greater freedoms to demand more rights, tensions between rival interests have sometimes led to violence.


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