By Damo Gotamo
This year’s Fiche Chambalala holiday ended peacefully. Many people were worried after what happened last year. The federal government should be commended for undertaking the necessary precautionary measures before and during the holiday. The military, the federal police, and the southern region police had played key roles for the peaceful conclusion of the festivity. The city mayor’s claim that the Sidama youth had contributed to the peaceful conclusion of the holiday was a lie. Banning motorcycles was a significant step that was taken by the military to prevent the usual suspects from disturbing the peace of Awassa residents. In this brief piece, I will describe what took place in Awassa before and after the holiday.
The Sidama extremists were breaking the laws before the days of the festivity. They were rounding up non-Sidama residents of the city in the pretext that they were security threats to the holiday. The ‘Reporter,’ quoting the regions’s Police Commission Commissioner, reported that 207 people, who took part in sporadic violence and criminal activities were arrested. The Police Commissioner of the region was being untruthful about the detention of people in the city. Those who were rounded up and thrown into jail were peaceful residents of the city. They had nothing to do with the unrest in Awassa. They are still incarcerated without committing any crime. The unlawful detention was a diversionary tactic by the commissioner from the usual suspects. Innocent people were detained unlawfully by the direct order of the city’s mayor in coordination with the city’s police.
Before the holiday, many residents of the city were forced to place banners written in Latin on their homes and businesses. This is an illegal act and an infringement on the right of citizens.
The victims of this illegal act said that they were threatened by government officials either to post the banners or risk their businesses closed. The Sidama extremists used the holiday as a perfect opportunity to vent their long-held anger on people.
Government officials went to the doors of business owners in the city and demanded them to give money without their consent. Businessmen in the city were forced to contribute between three thousand and five thousand birr for the holiday celebration. This is an extortion of the first class. Why would businesses be demanded to contribute money for the celebration of the Sidama holiday?
According to my sources, millions of birr from the government coffer were spent to celebrate the holiday. I have seen city roads painted with different colors destroying the beauty of the city. In a city where thousands of homeless people live, a lot of money was squandered on unnecessary decorations and payments to corrupt city officials.
Residents of different Kefle Ketemas in the city were also asked to contribute money for the holiday. People of two Kefele Ketemas refused to contribute money and chased away the harassers.
The extremists wanted people to celebrate the holiday in their respective Kebeles without their consent. Many people are expecting a confrontation anytime between the residents who refused to contribute money and the extremists who tried to extort money from the people.
At times people felt that they were following and attending the Ericha holiday rather than the Fiche Chambala holiday. Oromifa and Sidama music was the only music, which was blaring on through the city from the loud speakers. No music from the ethnic groups that make up the southern region and the other people of the country was heard during the holiday.
Why the Ormiga music was preferred over others no one knows except the Sidama extremists who ran the show. For a curious observer, it was a sad spectacle. When Ethiopians celebrate holidays, they don’t prefer one ethnic music over the other. I am not saying the Ormifa music shouldn’t have been played. I am only saying the music of the country’s ethnic groups should have been played sporadically to make the holiday vibrant and inclusive. Many suspected , by genuflecting to the Oromo attendees of the holiday, the Sidama extremists were trying to gain sympathy for their cause.
I noticed many residents of the city chose to stay in their homes rather than joining the party. They felt they were abused, discriminated, and alienated from every activity by Sidama extremists who hijacked the city. The city had a tense atmosphere, and many were glad that the holiday ended peacefully.
Awassa is far away from its old self. Lawlessness and misuse of power are rampant in the city. Women in Awassa have stopped carrying their purses. If they carry their purses, they will get home without it. People don’t leave their homes early anymore to go to churches for fear of being robbed. The police of the city made up of a single ethnic group watch the thieves snatch purses and sneak into the city’s tunnels. The police and the thieves are united in blood and so far no one could stop them.
The residents of the city are abused and ill-thread by people who hold government positions in
the city. Arbitrarily detention at the hands of the city police is common. People in Awassa don’t trust the local government officials and the city police. They are in a self-protecting mode and many, sad to say, have armed themselves with guns and machetes. So far, the federal government has done nothing to protect them from Sidama extremists, who commit illegal acts and get away with it.
The peace of the city will be tested between now and July 11, 2019. The Sidama extremists are openly bragging that they will declare their Kelil on the date. They claim they have prepared a new constitution. So far, one has seen or read the new constitution. The Awassa residents, who lost hope in the federal government are nervously waiting for the upcoming showdown.