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Sidama Liberation Front [SLF] Sidama National Liberation Front [SNLF] Sidama Liberation Movement (SLM)

The Sidama, who number around four million - 9% of Ethiopia's population - make up the largest group within the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region, which is one of the nine members of the Ethiopian Federation. 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 Liberation Movement (SLM) aims to ensure Sidama peoples' national self-determination within the context of Ethiopia. The SLM is ethnically based and has a primarily Sidama-limited agenda. The SLM is an "old-style" (1970s) liberation movement, which claims to be the 'main voice of the Sidama people'. By 2016 it was not a big or flourishing organization, and that although it was part of the opposition, it had no representation in parliament. The SLM claimed to enjoy significant support within Sidama, although it is difficult to provide precise figures given [the] authoritarian political environment in Ethiopia.

In the southwest southern highlands are several groups who speak related languages sometimes called Sidamo languages. The largest of these are the Sidama and the Hadya-Libido, cultivators of ensete and coffee. There are eight distinct groups of Sidama people living in parts of Shoa and Sidamo-Borana provinces. They speak Cushitic and have an 'ensete' (false banana) planting culture. Before Oromo migration, the Sidama inhabited almost the whole of southern Ethiopia. Oromos used the term, 'sidama' meaning foreigner, and one of the eight groups still retains that name.

By at least the late first millennium BC, it appears, the Agew occupied much of the northern highlands, whereas the Sidama inhabited the central and southern highlands. Both played important roles in subsequent historical developments. In the late thirteenth century, an Amhara dynasty moved the center of the kingdom south into Shewa in the southernmost part of the northern highlands. During the succeeding centuries, the Amhara kingdom, a military state, was often at war either with Sidama kingdoms to the west or with Muslim principalities to the east.

About 1529 a Muslim Afar-Somali army overran the highlands, and during the 1530s nearly succeeded in destroying the Amhara-Tigray state and Christianity. At almost the same time, the Oromo were in the midst of a decades-long migration from their homeland in the far southern lowlands. The Oromo moved north through the southern highlands, bypasssing the Sidama on the west, and into the central highlands, where they settled in the center and west. An interchange of Sidama and Oromo institutions took place during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Consequently some are animist, others Christian or Muslim. By 1891 the Sidama people had been incorporated into the Ethiopian Empire.

Sidama Sidama

The SLM's methods of operation are best captured by dividing them into two periods: The first is from 1976 to 1991 when it waged armed struggle against the military Derg government of Ethiopia from its base in Somalia, and the second phase from 1991 to the present where it opted for peaceful methods of struggle. The SLM was an armed group until 1991 but the SLM had not been involved in organized violence since then. The SLM allegedly has an armed wing and there are reports of training camps in Somalia as of 2016.

The SLM was founded in 1975 or 1976, by some accounts. But in his book Ethiopia: The Last Two Frontiers, John Markakis, a professor of African studies who specializes in the political economy of Ethiopia, states that the SLM was founded in 1977. Other sources report the SLM was founded in 1982. The SLM was founded by Woldeammanuel Dubale [also spelled Wolde Emannuel Dubale - not to be confused with his son, Dejene Woldeamanuel, who came to prominence following his father's death November 20, 2007]. Other founding members of the SLM included Roda Utala, Kebede Fokora, Amare Gunsa, Argata Gunsa, and Ginbo Basha.

The SLM has its roots in the Sidama Liberation Front, which was involved in an armed struggle against the Derg government. The SLF was a Sidama nationalist movement mobilizing against the Derg that was involved in a guerilla war against the government, first from peripheral areas of Sidama and later from Somalia during the 1980s. After 1977, the SLM established an armed presence in three woreda and managed to fight off the Derg until 1982, after which the insurgents were defeated, and the SLM leadership fled abroad. The SLM trained approximately 5,000 soldiers in Somalia, and had another 6,000 soldiers who were operating on Sidama soil.

As an organized resistance, Sidama Liberation Movement (SLM) waged an armed struggle, against the military regime for more than 10 years between 1978-1990 and fully liberated three highland districts of Arbegona, Bensa and Aroressa in the South Eastern Sidama land from the then the ruthless Dergue administration. In this struggle, over 10,000 Sidama people lost their lives while fighting for justice and freedom. The name Sidama Liberation Movement was given under the leadership of Woldeamanuel Dubale who led the movement's activities and made tremendous contribution to the weakening and the final downfall of the military regime.

The SLM engaged in armed struggle until 1991, after which it became a political party. After 1991, the SLM had a presence within the transitional government with two representatives in the transitional parliament. The chairman of SLM, Woldeamanuel Dubale, fled to the United Kingdom after an unsuccessful attempt in 1992 to assassinate him. The SLM was part of the transitional government until 1993-1994, when it became an opposition party to the ruling EPDRF. When the transitional government fell apart in 1992, the SLM left the government and its members were subsequently persecuted by the ruling EPRDF regime. In July 1999, the National Council decided to change the name of the organization from a Movement to Front. In 2005, an agreement between the EPRDF and Dubale, the founder of the SLM, was reached, allowing Dubale to return to Ethiopia from exile. This caused a split within the SLM; the faction that broke with Dubale continued to be persecuted by the EPRDF government.

The Political Handbook of the World 2015 (PHW) listed the SLM as a "[s]mall formation". According to the PHW, the SLM was led by Yilma Chamola. Other sources identified Dr. Million Tumato as the chairperson of the SLM. Tumato, a public health expert, had been the SLM chairperson since 2009.

The SLM was part of the Medrek coalition, also known as the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum. The PHW notes that the word "Medrek" means "forum" in Amharic. The coalition consists of four parties: the SLM, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), the Union of Tigreans for Democracy and Sovereignty (Arena), and the Southern Ethiopia People's Democratic Union. The Medrek coalition advocates land ownership for farmers and economic improvement by bolstering manufacturing and services in the country. The coalition was formed in 2008 or early 2009. The Medrek won one seat in Parliament in the 2010 elections, despite being the most formidable opposition to the EPRDF [Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front] with 421 federal legislative and 861 regional council candidates. The Medrek did not win any seats in the 2015 parliamentary and regional council elections despite having presented the most number of candidates from opposition parties; the coalition did however receive 64.3 percent of the votes (over one million) that went to the opposition.

The activities of the SLM included raising political awareness among the Sidama, promoting its political agenda within the Sidama community, campaigning during elections, and carrying out peaceful demonstrations on government agenda issues relevant to its constituency. The SLM has also participated in elections.

SLM members were harassed and arrested regularly in Ethiopia, like members of virtually all other opposition movements and parties. The leaders and members of the SLM were routinely discriminated, marginalized, treated inhumanely, mentally and physically tortured, and even killed. There were some cases of SLM members who had been forced to leave Ethiopia because they feared persecution. The harassment of SLM members took place during the elections of 2005, 2010, and 2015. The SLM complained about a lack of an even playing field, intimidation, harassment, and imprisonment of supporters, members and candidates during elections.

The Addis Tribune reported 31 May 2002 that government security forces in Awasa on Friday, 24 March, killed 38 farmers who were attempting to demonstrate against the government decision to move the capital of the Sidama Zone from Awasa. On the 24th of May 2002, an estimated ten thousand Sidama elders, farmers, business owners, students and the general public staged a peaceful rally demanding the establishment of the Sidama National Regional State and rejecting the proposed relocation of the Sidama administrative capital outside our land of Hawassa. The rally was entirely peaceful with demonstrators holding placards, the Ethiopian flags and branches of trees as a sign of peace.

However, when the demonstrators reached a suburb of Hawassa north of Looqqee, the Ethiopian federal forces (Agazi forces) and the south Ethiopian regional special police forces opened fire on the demonstrators with a deliberate intention to massacre as many of the protesters as possible. As a result, 70 elders, business owners, farmers, primary school children, youth and Sidama policemen were massacred on a broad day light on 24 May 2002. Over 200 were wounded. This tragic event is remembered as “the Loqqe Massacre” by the Sidama Nation. No one has been held accountable for this massacre. Following the massacre, over 1000 Sidama civilians were imprisoned and tortured by the regime forces for a year.

In 2012, a large number of ethnic Sidama were arrested in the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples [SNNPR] region, including around the celebration of Fichee, the Sidama New Year. The arrests were reportedly in response to calls for a separate regional statehood for the Sidama. Many of those arrested were detained only briefly, while some of the community leaders were charged with crimes against the state.

The Sidama Liberation Movement (SLM) and Sidama National Liberation Front (SNLF) agreed 19 October 2018 to work together for the national cause of Sidama. The SNLF returned to Ethiopia on the 4th of October 2018 to be part of peaceful political process in Ethiopia as per the call of theEthiopian new Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed’. The leadership of both organisations thoroughly discussed that their objective is defending the national interest of the Sidama nation. Hence, agreement has been reached that working together is of paramount importance to achieve this objective.

On 02 November 2018 the Southern Ethiopian Region approved its Sidama Zone to become a regional state. Leaders of the Sidama ethnic group in southern Ethiopia had planned to unilaterally declare their own federal state on 18 July 2019 in Hawassa, the would-be capital of the proposed state. In addition to the Sidama there are another 56 different ethnic groups within the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region regional body, all of which could become members of the federation independently. This is in line with the constitution, which requires the government to organize a referendum for any ethnic group that wants to form a new entity. This should happen within a year of the group submitting a request.

The Ethiopian state has been going through a very complex period of transition since April 2018. The challenge began back in 2015, when members of the Oromo ethnic group took to the street to protest. That protest expanded and ultimately brought about a change in government that saw the current prime minister come to power.

The Sidama had been demanding their own regional state since the late 1990s, unlike other communities, which were not pushing this agenda as fervently. However, a domino effect could not be ruled out because there is now a push by other ethnic communities for their own state; some of them do not seem to be willing to continue within the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region.

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Page last modified: 19-07-2019 18:54:55 ZULU