Make Awassa a federal city

By Damo Gotamo

The arbitrarily imposed ethnic federalism has affected the lives of millions of Ethiopians who live in different cities of the country. Ethnic animosities and divisions TPLF goons had planted in the country have been exploding like a time bomb in every corner of the country destroying the lives of millions of people after the rogue group has been removed from power. Citizens in Addis Ababa, Awassa (Hawassa), Dire Dawa and other cities have been living under constant fear and mercy of ethnic extremists. People who were born in these cities have been treated as second and third citizens by people who are unfamiliar to a city living.

In cites where they are born, citizens are prevented from participating in a political process, excluded from employment opportunities, evicted from their homes and business places, and harassed and persecuted for no apparent reasons.

The recent unrest in Dire Dawa, which caused the death of innocent people and led to the resignation of the city’s mayor, is the fruit of ethnic federalism. The wind of change blowing in the country is a welcome relief to millions. However, until the government takes drastic action to change the situation, the suffering of citizens at the hands of ethnic lords will continue. Like other cites, Awassa has been a living hell for its multiethnic residents. The federal government has all the reasons to make Awassa a federal city. Removing the city from the jaws ethnic entrepreneurs and making it a city for all is something that should not be left for tomorrow.

Ones dubbed as a ‘small Ethiopia’ and a favorite destination of everyone, Awassa has been under siege by Sidama extremists since prime minister Abiye Ahmed came to power one year ago. In a city where ninety-eight percent of residents are non-Sidamas, a few Sidama extremists are running the city like a private corporation. They have been allowed to create a system similar to the defunct apartheid rule in South Africa. The system they have established helps and benefits a single ethnic group excluding other groups in the city.

Almost all key government positions are held by ethnic Sidamas. Merit system has no place in the city. Ethnicity is the only requirement for employment and advancement. People who don’t have a third-grade education and with forged diplomas have been brought from a place called Benesa and given a free pass to corrupt the bureaucracy. The first thing a new recruit learns is how to ask a bribe. One only needs to visit various government institutions in the city to see how incompetent and illiterate individuals who are unfit to positions they are occupying struggling to read and write simple sentences related to their jobs. Many educated residents left the city and those who remained lost any hope of living. It is also common to see helpless youths chewing khat from down to dusk in every corner of the city.

Education institutions are overrun by those who have nothing to show except forged degrees and diplomas bought. I wonder how many illiterate instructors have infested our learning institutions. We will sure find out their numbers when the government starts cracking down on them. But, I can assure that here in Awassa there are many of them roaming in different campuses where they shouldn’t be in the first place.

Corruption in Awassa is rampant. Non-Sidamas get nothing done for them without paying bribes to ethnic lords who occupy all key positions in the city. The Sidama ethnic entrepreneurs have two sources of incomes: regular government salary and bribe. In addition to paying taxes, citizens must pay bribes to get things done. The ethnic bosses have no shame asking for money the very people they harass regularly. Due to the recent unrest and slowdowns in economic activities, bribe monies are not coming easy. To tackle the problem, ethnic lords have concocted a new trick to get bribes: to visit businessmen of the city at their work and ask them to pay them ‘little money for gas’ and get anything they want.

Awassa residents are being victimized by incompetent judges and law enforcement officers. I have seen people who have committed murders released from prison after serving only six months, while those who are in jail for petty theft locked up for years.

The police force of the city which is almost entirely made up of the Sidama ethnic group is the primary reason for the suffering of Awassa residents at the hands of ethnic lords.

The gun-wielding incompetent and poorly trained police force harass and displace city residents with impunity. Its members accept bribes and collaborate with a terrorist group which calls itself Ejjeetto.

True change in Awassa starts when the current police force is completely disbanded and a new force comprised of the residents of the city is established. People are expecting a multi-ethnic and competent police force which doesn’t serve the interest of a few ethnic lords in the city.

In addition to ensuring the safety of the citizens in the city and emancipating them from ethnic entrepreneurs, the federal government has other important reasons to make Awassa a place for all Ethiopians. The government has made large investments in Awassa with a view of creating employment opportunities and alleviating the people of the country from poverty. One of the largest industrial parks in Africa has been built in Awassa. When fully operational, the park will employe sixty thousand people and expected to generate one billion dollars a year in exports. Since coming to power, Prime Minister Abiye has brought to the park foreign leaders and dignitaries for official visits signaling how important the city and its industrial park are to the nation.

The express highway which will connect Addis Ababa to Awassa is another important investment the government has made in Awassa. When the work is completed, it will take less than three hours to travel between the two cities. The road will help the industrial park ease its supply chain process increasing its competitiveness in the world markets.

The federal government has also spent an enormous amount of money building an international airport in Awassa. When fully operational, it will directly connect big cities like Washington to Awassa. The airport will play an important role in bringing tourists to our county which will help ease the need for foreign currency.

Awassa is big, beautiful and multiethnic city endowed with convenient weather. Its role in helping ease the over-population of Addis Ababa must be taken into consideration when making it a federal city. Addis Ababa is seat to the federal government, African Union, embassies, and different international organizations. It can’t handle all the activities that are taking place all year long. How about making Awassa the seat of the Ethiopian parliament?

Like the United States and other developed countries, Ethiopia also needs multiple business cities to help the country achieve its developmental objectives. Who doesn’t want to have cities like Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York in his country? Therefore, the government has the duty to make Awassa not only a place for all Ethiopians but also citizens of the world.

Awassa was founded in the early 1950s by different ethnic groups in the country. It was only after the TPLF had invaded the country and introduced ethnic politics that some ethnic lords showed up and started telling us the city is theirs. Many are wondering why they didn’t raise the same claim before. Instead of living in peace with their fellow human beings who have contributed to the creation and development of Awassa, ethnic entrepreneurs spread hate and fear among the city’s residents. They want to own things that they haven’t worked for.

By looking at the names of places in Awassa, one can easily find out who the original settlers of the city. Names like Pizza, Harrer Sefer, Wokuro Sefer, Philadelphia Sefer, Gebriel Sefer, and others are sufficient proofs that who was behind the creation and development of Awassa. It is only after the arbitrarily imposed ethnic federalism that Sidama extremists started to replace the original names with their new versions including the name of the city.

At the moment things don’t look good in Awassa. People live in constant fear unsure of what the future holds for them. They all think that something has to happen soon to change the current gloomy atmosphere riding over the city. Everybody is tired of ethnic entrepreneurs who have besieged the city. Business activities have cooled down affecting everyone. Children are afraid of going to school.

The hesitation of the federal government to undertake decisive action against organized tribal gangs in the city is emboldening them to commit further lawlessness. Like Addis Ababa, Awassa belongs to its residents.