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Systemic starvation as a political tool: The jerry-can Protest case in Guraghe, Ethiopia - By Desalegn Birara

Systemic starvation as a political tool: The jerry-can Protest case in Guraghe, Ethiopia

By Desalegn Birara*

Introductory Discussion 

Ethiopia is one of the countries with federalist government structure. The federal structure is organized based on ethnic distinctions where each ethnic group is constitutionally guaranteed all the rights to self-administration up to independence. Following the application of these rights and political exercises in the country, ethnic diversities turned up to be the sources of violence and hatred against other ethnic groups. Depending on the size of population and geographic area of ethnic settlements, the levels of administration were Wereda at the least governmental ladder, zones at the middle, and regions at the top, where regions make up the federal government. The current problem in Ethiopia is the quest of each level of ethnic administration to attain the next higher level of self-governance – which demands an approval by the federal government.  

The ever-growing interest of Weredas to become zone, zones to become regions, and inevitably, regions to become a nation of own. Theoretically, self determination and administration is what societies can quest the moment their consciousness meets the demand. As long as it is the interest of the people, weredas, without any hindrance, can become independent nations. This is the paradigm that the current constitution stands for. When we see it in practical manifestations, Sidama zone in the Southern Nations Nationalities & Peoples Regional State (SNNPRS) claimed and attained the regional state status, recently. It was implemented on the basis of constitutional pillars and ‘democratic values’. The formation of Sidama region completely separated Gedio Zone from the Southern Nations & Nationalities Region. Thus, Gedio renders reasons more than it suffices to claim itself a “region” – on the basis of normative procedures. Besides, there were more zones claiming the same status on the list such as Wolaita zone and Guraghe zone while Sidama realised it. Special weredas and weredas that recently “grew-up” to a zone status and those which will claim and get, have the rights to bring their regional state claims to the desk, as well. It can not stop any where. Because the federal government can not allow one and deny the other as they share the same constitutional traits, theoretically. 

Clustering adjacent areas to make up zones and regions has been another approach brought about as an alternative by the officials’ side. The new Southwestern Ethiopia regional state came in to being in this technic. Albeit no one knows how long this can last. Because everyone in the cluster is subject to further claims again, and this can not be judged pessimistic as we have seen SNNPR- the bigger cluster, divided into smaller clusters now. In all these aspirations, requests, and formations, even after attaining the aspired “nation” or “region” status, it is most likely that more hostile liberation fronts/parties emerge as both tools of struggle and political exercises. 

The second paradigm is the peoples’ interest for demo(geo)graphic reintegration. This quest stands on the other corner from self deterministic aspirations. Because there is no claim of the people to become region or whatever self administrative level, unless the government itself imposes. The main issue in this bloc seems maintaining cultural identities, and economic rights unlike the others’ objective to secure a certain level of self administrative government. For example, the quests of Dera, Metekel, Raya, Welkaite and others on similar foundations, can not be served same solutions as Guraghe and Wolaita. Nevertheless, the federal government is showing tendencies to use ‘self deterministic’ approaches universally, including for the claims in disputed lands and populations. This aggravates the problem even more; and the government seems determined not to do things right.  Because the government is Oromuma; and it devises strategies to divide, conquer and Oromize nationalities until the far dreamed Great Oromia is realized.  

Inception of the ‘Guraghe is Region’ Movement 

Guraghe is among the most hospitable and less violent community in Ethiopia. This social asset attracted the interest of culture and identity invaders from near and far. Kebena people, who are governed by a self-administered wereda in the Guraghe zone, repeatedly attempted to expand; even by attacks motivated by slogans “sending the Gurage’s to their country.”  (1) Kebenas claimed the very zone seat – Welkite town and the surrounding as their exclusive lands. These groups are associated with a broader network of ‘Cushitic alliance’ that takes advantage of the current Oromuma regime. The Cushitic alliance is led by Oromuma – an expansive ideology devoted to Oromize every nationality in the country. “The true Cushitic integration will be de’facto Oromia”. (2) “Oromo renaissance (integration of Oromo progeny that includes all nations makes up Great Oromia” (3). Thus, having Kebena in Guraghe has been considered as having one leg inside the house, so long as they stand as comrades of the Cushitic alliance. 

Accordingly, Oromuma sought rigorous plans to Oromize Guraghe, which later is inevitable for Kebena itself. (ibid) The moment Oromuma seized the power of the federal government, put up billboards, and marks at the heart of Guraghe land that reminds the place as ‘odda abba Gedda’ – a place where the Oromo traditional administration meeting conducts. Literally, it was claiming the land. The message was specific to the extent that mentioned ‘there existed Geda system in the area before 158 years.’ (4) It implies that Guraghe people were ruled by Geda system, which then, makes them possible Oromo progeny (as the Oromuma protagonist Assefa Jalata argues); otherwise, the land belonged to Oromos before Guraghe has ever arrived. Both ways ‘claim’ the land is about Oromo. The tactical intervention followed the placement of Geda marks in Guraghe. 

The Oromuma regime led by Abiy Ahmed dissolved the SNNPS region into different clusters so that the areas soon to be Oromized can be singled out. In this maneuver, Oromo activists and officials gave unreserved support to the Sidama zone’s quest for regional administration which had a multifold advantage for Oromuma and none for Sidamas per se.  The Sidama region bisected the Southern region and made Gedio zone completely detached from the Southern region, and the latter became just a pocket place surrounded by Oromia. The dissembling of South region was primarily intended to bring about parcels of South region into Oromia and establish special zones under Oromia. It was at this juncture that Guraghe elites seemed to be aware the undergoing and demanded self-administered region by deviating the government’s proposal to member it in any cluster. 

Injustice Protests

Officials, businesspeople, and the intelligentsia mobilized their public and voiced the request to be recognized as ‘Guraghe Region’ in a synchronized motion. This was bad news for Oromuma as it comes against the ‘divide & conquer’ plan to Oromize ethnicities one by one. So, the regime started to detain officials separately at different times and tried to grip the “Guraghe is Region!” campaign. However, the imprisonment of elites couldn’t frustrate the public and made the movement even more fierce. People started to demand the unconditional and immediate release of their leaders and elites. The government on contrary, declared a state of emergency in the zone and took complete grip on peoples’ routines. This in turn led the public to take a “stay at home strike” (5) – protesting by closing all sorts of daily business that lasted for weeks, having everything shut down. 

The federal government and officials from the southern region organized meetings that can sabotage the Guraghe movement. Few ex/officials from the zone participated in meetings at Butajira towns. (6) These meetings were intended to endorse the formation of regions with clustered zones where Guraghe will be a member. To put the long story in short, it was ‘about Guraghe without Guraghe’.  Therefore, the cluster arrangement was instantly, rejected by the Guraghe zone council and the larger public (7). The meetings in clandestine were expressively, flabbergasted. 

Then, the government designed a highly militarized intervention, as a last resort of forcing the people, to accede the ‘clustering’ deal. Albeit the public was not easy for such a submission and no significant changes observed, positively. Ultimately, water service was cut in Wolkité town. Besides, Guraghe leaders, influential persons, elites, and businesspersons are detained and still are in jails. The entire process attested that the interest of Guraghe cannot be addressed by the Prosperity Party [through its representatives in the ruling party] – if they ever had the safety and security of themselves, under the intimidation of Oromuma. Consequently, a new political organization called “Gogot for Guraghe Unity and Justice” (8) came into existence. Yet, Oromuma is yawning at the door to swallow Guraghe and the future holds how Gogot keeps unchewed through the digestive process at least to be able to scratch its throat and chock its breath.  

Systemic starvation as a political tool? 

Residents of Welkite town in Guraghe ‘region’ have been in a desperate need of potable water for too long. (9) Many believe that the water shortage has been a deliberate deprivation by the government and hence, people at different times, demonstrated their grievances in multiple occasions (10). The last and perhaps the deadliest demonstration of the type was conducted on 14 January 2023. On this demonstration, the public protested carrying empty jerry-cans (11) that symbolize the water deprivation. The peaceful demonstration sooner went tumultuous as the security officers opened gunfire straight on to the people. Demonstrators are shot dead by the South Region Special Forces that were deployed to disperse the protesters. (ibid) Innocent people, for the only reason that they demanded drinking water, are ruthlessly killed. People described this horrible act of the government as “ውሃ ለጠማው ህዝብ ጥይት አጠጡት” which means ‘for the water yearning is provided burning’. 

Guraghe is prevented access to potable water to suppress its demand of regional self-administration. It is prosperity party (Oromumma’s) salient approach to appease the public with service provisions to enforce grand manipulations. The very evolvement of qeerroo was corroborated by making pressures on residents of Addis Ababa. Blocking roads and poisoning water that streams from surrounding Oromia to the city were simply disposable intimidations by Jawar Mohammed. ‘The terrorist group led by Jawar Mohammed engaged in killing, intimidating, coercing, and destroying property to attain their ill-conceived political goal’. (12) Political interests of this wing staked the public when appeases appeared to fail. They do not have an empathy even for their own people dying for drought in Borena. Aid delivery to drought affected Boranas has been vehemently prohibited by the Oromuma government. The regime wants to have a stern grip on each civil involvement and announced, last week, to stop aiding Borena, unless the donations can be channeled through the office – ‘Busa Gonofa Oromia’. (13) Recently, first lady Zinash Tayachew made the most ridiculous of its form in her speech to a crowd at Gonder saying “…we produce wheat, bake the bread, and feed you. What else do you need!” (14) These people are generally low to value the sum of freedoms and liberties lower than bread and water. They think that cut of necessities makes people submissive to their deals. Besides the starvation, Oromuma explicitly designed “inter-ethnic dictatorship and intra-ethnic democracy” (15) as a strategy of invading and Oromizing minorities in Ethiopia. 

Unlike the solitary quest of Guraghe for region, provided are two options: Guraghe special zone in Oromia region – the suggestion of Ultra Oromuma; and Gurage zone in central Ethiopia region – the cluster of Gurage, Hadia, Silte, Kembata Tembaro and Halaba zones, as well as the Yem special Woreda to be “organized into one region” without a referendum; and hence, both were conquering arrangements, as set forth by the inter-ethnic dictatorship strategy. The full scale inter-ethnic dictatorship is underway in west welega area. Oromia special forces in a joint front with the terrorist OLA-Shene militia invaded Kamash zone and Bambasi wereda of Benishangul Gumuz Region, where they destroyed existed government and established administration structures under Oromia region. Similarly, the western Arsi adjacent Sidamas have been perpetrated by Oromo Special Forces. (16) Tens of Sidama people were killed and hundreds left their livelihoods to become IDPs in their own region. This is how in both covert and overt ways the Oromuma unchained uses a plain genocide around the clock (17) to make entire Ethiopia – Othiopia (Oromo dominated Ethiopia) – which gradually achieves “Great Oromia – all nationalities converted into Oromo” (18). 

Why Guraghe should be a region?

There can be numerous causes and reasons to initiate Guraghes for demanding the regional administration. It can be socio-cultural, economic infrastructural, political administrative, justice services or what people can have in their minds. All that pretext and assumptions are respected and given their due weight. So long as the normative frameworks allow, Guraghe has the right to raise the question and deserves a civilized advocacy. Apart from those intrinsic elements that obliged the people to demand ‘Guraghe Region’, as a non Guraghe observer of the undergoing, I argue the struggle to attain self-administered region serves to two fundamental purposes. First, it revitalizes the Guraghe community integration to stand in unity for profound survival causes. Now, Guraghe is facing a survival confrontation. Because the dragon that gobbled Chebo – the other Guraghe, is voracious to swallow Guraghe as well. Revitalizing the Guraghe solidarity helps prevent the coming skirmish and initiate calls to get Chebo-Guraghe back. 

Second, making Guraghe zone a self-administered region by default, gives equal status to Oromia and other regions. Meaning, the probability of making Guraghe special zone in Oromia will be zero. Hence, it checks the unbounded expansion of Oromuma in to Guraghe lands and communities. Here comes the inter-ethnic dictatorship strategy of Oromuma, which Guraghes by now, seem optimally aware of. Therefore, the fate of Guraghe lies on only one tiny string amongst the bunch of other possibilities. That is attaining the region status by any means at any cost; for the obvious reason that the rest of all options draw it into Oromuma. Oromumma is a giant mill. Any identity anywhere near Oromuma will be enticed, tormented, grinded and turned to forge a new Oromo. 

In conclusion, the vitalization of Guraghe solidarity functions as both preventive and proactive measure against the ill-conceived goals of Oromuma. Hence, now is the time for the different tribes of Guraghe including Chebo to come together and establish their own consolidated regional administration. 

 *Sociologist & Cultural Heritage Curator, Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage – ARCCH


1. https://borkena.com/2018/06/12/ethnic-violence-now-affecting-gurage-in-central-ethiopia/?fbclid=IwAR2cK37Czi0k4kkTf6pDWz61pRMVSZQWYkYVktmpAb_L_ab3HlD2sCXWLQ0 

2. https://fayyisoromia.wordpress.com/2023/03/13/dr-abiy-has-to-give-up-maintaining-great-amharia-and-give-in-fostering-great-oromia/.

3, 15. https://fayyisoromia.wordpress.com/2023/03/13/dr-abiy-has-to-give-up-maintaining-great-amharia-and-give-in-fostering-great-oromia/.

4.      https://semonegna.com/forums/topic/የጉራጌ-ሕዝብ-ከ158-ዓመታት-በፊት/  

5. https://borkena.com/2023/02/21/ethiopia-wolkite-stay-at-home-strike-continues-as-residents/ 

6. https://addisstandard.com/news-analysis-without-official-decision-from-house-of-federation-and-a-referendum-southern-region-discusses-forming-central-ethiopia-region-plan-includes-restive-gurage-zone/ 

7. https://addisstandard.com/news-gurage-zone-council-to-hold-first-meeting-after-rejecting-cluster-arrangement/ 

8. https://borkena.com/2023/03/11/gogot-guraghes-coming-with-new-political-organization/ 

9. https://www.voanews.com/a/water-shortage-protest-turns-deadly-in-ethiopia-s-south/6967729.html 

10. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DizRewJcp8E 

11. https://addisstandard.com/news-security-forces-kill-six-injure-more-than-15-people-in-wolkite-following-protest-against-chronic-lack-of-water/ 

12. https://borkena.com/2019/10/23/jawar-mohammed-and-the-act-of-terrorism-by-tibebe-samuel-ferenji/

13. https://addisstandard.com/news-communities-in-drought-hit-borana-reel-amid-rising-aid-scandal-officials-refute-allegations/

14. https://www.fanabc.com/english/first-lady-zinash-inaugurates-flour-bread-factory-in-gonder-city/ 

16. https://addisstandard.com/news-sidama-region-says-recent-deadly-violence-near-bordering-west-arsi-oromia-region-neither-border-dispute-nor-ethnic-clash/ 

17. https://borkena.com/2022/07/25/oromummaa-unchained-ethnic-apartheid-and-territorial-expansion-in-ethiopia/18. https://fayyisoromia.wordpress.com/2023/03/09/the-wounded-lion-olf-is-healing-itself-and-o-killing-the-fox-woyane-the-hyaena-naftagna-and-the-wolf-shabiya-one-by-one

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