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Berief history of Sidama people

The Sidama land is located in the north east of Africa, and more precisely in the southern part of today’s Ethiopia. The area of the Sidamland is over 7000 sq. km, and the Sidama population is more than 5 million, which is about the population size of Finland or Scotland. The Sidama economy remains predominately agricultural. In other words, the Sidamas drive their livelihood from agricultural sector. The coffee crop, which is also known as the backbone of Ethiopia’s economy, comes mainly from the Sidamaland. This serves as a main reason for the oppression and exploitation of the Sidamas by those who control the Ethiopian empire state.

The Sidama people were conquered by the Abyssinian power under the leadership of emperor Menelik II. Before the conquest, the Sidamas lived under their own form of administrative system, and led by mote (king). Mote executed or ran his government through ‘songo’ (sort of parliament). Elders representing different communities (clans and sub-clans) sat at the mote’s songo, and discussed all affairs of the nation. All decisions were consensual; and at times decisions were achieved through majority vote. Mote could not impose his wish without the will of the people.

King Menelik II of Showa, who later became the emperor of Ethiopia, conquered the Sidama people in 1893. Sidamas fought a very serious war to defend their sovereignty, but lost the battle, owning to the Menelik’s superior arms provided by Europeans. After the conquest, he established a ‘gabar’ system, a form of serfdom. Consequently, the conquerors became ‘malkaygna’ (lords), while the conquered became ‘gabar’ (serfs) on their own land. This system continued after Menelik until the Italian invasion in 1936. Italians conquered Ethiopia and occupied the land. Under Italian occupation the Sidamas got a relative freedom. I dare to say this because the Sidamas got their land right, and the right of their own labour. However, it is not full freedom, for they were simply transferred from one colonizer to another. The European colonizer was, at least during the time of the occupiation (1936-1941), far better than the brutal and barbaric Abyssinian colonizers.

The relative freedom under the Italians ended in 1941 when the Italians were driven out of Ethiopia by the help of the British forces. The British forces fought and defeated the Italians in north and east Africa, namely Libya, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somaliland. The British fought against Italians because Italy, through Benito Mussolini, allied with Adolf Hitler of Germany during World War II. Using this opportunity, Haile Selasie returned to Ethiopia. The Sidamas resisted his re-entry into the Sidamaland; they fought a bitter war for one year and a half (18 months) during which an estimated 60,000 Sidamas were killed. If all other massacres included, this figure would raise drastically.

The Sidamas fought the war under the leadership of its well-known brave men: Yetera Bolle (also known as Aba-Shika, meaning ‘Mr. push forward, never back’) was a commander-in-chief on the eastern front, and Hushula Xadiso (Tadiso) led the western front with a similar rank. In the end, however, with the help of British forces, Haile Selasie managed to control the Sidamaland.

After having regained his control over the whole of Ethiopia, Haile Selasie proclaimed reformation, in which he banned slavery and serfdom, and granted the freedom of religious worship according to one’s belief. He brought very little change for the Sidamas; he established feudalism, which was no better than serfdom. However, as regards religious freedom, following the proclamation, many missionaries (first the Protestant and latter on the Catholic) came to Ethiopia, and then to the Sidamaland. As a result, many Sidamas were converted to these new religions, but mainly, because they hated the Ethiopian Orthodox religion (church), which was regarded as the state religion and an exploiter like any other feudal lords.

Missionaries built churches, schools, clinics and even hospitals in the Sidamaland. In addition to this, after World War II, coffee became an attractive commodity in the world market. This attracted many coffee traders (merchants), mostly foreigners, to the Sidamaland. These two positive factors (missionaries and coffee trade) contributed to the increased consciousness of the Sidama people of their status in the Ethiopian empire state. During the 1950s and 60s, the Sidama’s political and economic struggle had reached a very high level. Sidama people openly rejected political and economic domination of the feudal-capitalist state. At the same time, the Sidamas organised Sidama self-help associations (e.g. coffee marketing association, consumers association, Sidama students association and so on); and all these intensified the struggle of Sidama people against the domination and tyrannical rule of the regime. The struggle culminated in the 1974 Sidama peasants revolt, together with many other groups, against Haile Selasie’s rule. No doubt that this revolution shook the foundation of Haile Selasie’s government.

After the fall of Haile-Selasie’s regime, a communist military junta, known as ‘derg’, took power by gun. The Sidama people never accepted this military or communist dictatorial rule of Ethiopia. They fought a well-organized guerrilla war for 14 years until the fall of the regime in 1991. The armed struggle reached its high level towards the mid-1980s: many areas of Sidamaland (e.g. the district of Hororessa, Bansa, Harbagona, part of Hula (Ageraselem) and part of Hawasa) were liberated. The derg admitted that the fighting was though, and that it brought over 60,000 armed forces, including mechanized brigade, assisted by tanks, helicopter gunship and other heavy arms, which it used against the Sidama civilian population. This time the military support was provided by the then Soviet Union and other communist countries. During these 14 years of fighting, around 30,000 Sidama youngsters fighting on either side were killed. In addition to this, the derg massacred many innocent Sidamas in many different places. Just to mention a few, in August 1979, it massacred more than 300 Sidamas, children, women and elders at Boricha village, located about 25 km. south of Hawasa town. In February 1980, the derg took 32 innocent peasant prisoners from Yirgalem prison house, and executed them without trial in Bansa town, some 130 km. south-east of Hawasa; and their dead bodies were left on different streets of the Bansa town for about 36 hours for exhibition, with a view to terrorizing the Sidama people. But all these did not stop the struggle of the Sidama people. However, the use of tanks and helicopter gunship in highly densely populated areas caused a high casualty among the civilians. The troops of the derg also raped hundreds of Sidama women, including 12 and 13 years old girls; for instance, a derg captain, by name Adamu, used to say ‘ I won’t be satisfied unless I see the blood of a Sidama’. The literal meaning of this is killing of Sidama fighters; and the hidden meaning is raping under-aged girls. These reasons necessitated the Sidama’s retreat in 1984 from the central areas, although fighting never stopped until the fall of the derg regime in 1991.

The current regime of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), or with its more known fake (cover up) name the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front ( EPRDF), is carrying out the same atrocity of its predecessors; perhaps it has even become worse than its predecessors. Since it assumed power by gun in 1991, the regime has performed systematic persecutions, against the Sidama people: harassing, terrorising, imprisoning and even killing numerous innocent Sidama people. This has become clearer in the massacre of more than 100 Sidamas, on 24 May 2002, at the village of Loque near the Hawasa town.