The Politics of Genocide – The Case of Sidama
By Seyoum Hameso
This paper uncovers a serious of policies of the Ethiopian government intended
to destroy the social, economic and political fabric of oppressed people who are
demanding respect for their basic rights. There is no claim that this brief
presentation, is a comprehensive study into genocide in Ethiopia, yet it sheds
light into the processes that potentially and actually indicate to crimes
against humanity and genocide. 
Definitions of genocide
What is genocide? There are several definitions of genocide. Here are a few:
-- a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends
to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the
perpetrator. (Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of
-- the mass killing of substantial numbers of human beings, … under conditions
of the essential defenselessness and helplessness of the victims. (Israel Charny,
in George Andreopoulos, ed., Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions,
-- sustained purposeful action by a perpetrator to physically destroy a
collectivity directly or indirectly, through interdiction of the biological and
social reproduction of group members, sustained regardless of the surrender or
lack of threat offered by the victim. (Helen Fein, Genocide: A Sociological
-- the promotion and execution of policies by a state or its agents which result
in the deaths of a substantial portion of a group .… [when] the victimized
groups are defined primarily in terms of their communal characteristics, i.e.,
ethnicity, religion or nationality. (Barbara Harff and Ted Gurr, “Toward
empirical theory of genocides and politicides,” International Studies Quarterly
37, 3, 1988).
The United Nations, Genocide Convention 1948, Article 2 defines genocide as:
-- any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in
part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring
about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. (in force 12
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which entered into force
on 30 June 2002, in its Article 6 defines the crime of genocide in the same
terms as the UN Convention (i.e. killings and other acts committed with the
intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or
There is a related term of relevance, namely crime against humanity. It consists
of certain acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack
directed against any civilian population, in pursuit to a state or
organizational policy to commit such attack. The acts in question include
murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation abroad and forcible transfers
within a state, arbitrary detention, torture, rape and other crimes of sexual
violence, “disappearances”, persecution, the crime of apartheid and other
inhumane acts. Such crimes may be committed in war or peacetime, by state
Mention should also be made to linguistic genocide defined as “prohibiting the
use of the language of the group in daily intercourse or in schools, or the
printing and circulation of publications in the language of the group”.
Looking into the above definitions, one can conclude that the Ethiopian state
has been perpetrating the crime of genocide, especially on people who aspire for
national self-determination. There are indications of genocidal intent on the
part of the state, very much similar to what happened in Rwanda in 1994. The
following policies of the Ethiopian regime bear witness to the policy and intent
to destroy peoples.
Examples/Styles of Genocide in Ethiopia
"Revolutionary democracy" as a policy of genocide
The ongoing policy of "revolutionary democracy" is a tool in which the regime of
Meles Zenawi conducts genocide. The policy targets certain ethnic or national
groups as narrow nationalists to be destroyed. In the name of establishing an
empty notion, the regime is conducting endless meetings of information gathering
and defamation of opponents -- perceived and real. Then the state controlled
media spreads single-sided propaganda justifying the programmes of the regime
and vilifying those opposed to it.
It is remembered that a few years ago, the regime pronounced its “Hizbawi Adera”
in its party pamphlets targeting certain ethnic and social groups for
elimination. For example, the document mentioned Oromo business people,
intellectuals and conscious people as class enemies to be annihilated. This
stated policy is nothing but the reasoning for genocide.
War as instrument of genocide
The recent barbaric and meaningless war with Eritrea and the human wave tactics
employed by the TPLF government has targeted thousands of oppressed people’s
youth and used them as canon fodder. TPLF commanders drove the youth over
minefields to perish as minesweepers. Over a hundred thousand people are believe
to be killed, most of which were the youth of the oppressed nations.
It is not only the peoples who are struggling for their national
self-determination under attack, it is also their environment in which they
live. Three years ago, vicious fires devoured Oromian and Sidama forests, coffee
plantations, homes, and rare animals and plants. These fires are set off in
territories where the regime fears the presence of liberation forces. The
destruction of forests accelerates soil erosion and eventual desertification of
an already fragile ecology of the region. First and foremost, the action harms
the indigenous people, who are again the oppressed people of the south. It is a
form of genocide.
Widespread neglect and the spread of deadly diseases
The TPLF/EPRDF is a discriminatory apartheid system. In this system, the welfare
of large sections of societies is neglected in budgetary allocations or when
emergencies including drought and epidemic diseases strike. The system is only
interested in predatory taxation of poor farmers whose survival is at risk. The
Sidama nation that has never seen famine, a land that has never experienced
severe drought is now exposed to largely man-made calamities. This is the
quintessential example that famine is not entirely natural, but man-made and
political phenomena. Cases are many when hunger is used as a political weapon.
While deadly disease such as AIDs devastate societies, the most recent budget of
this regime puts significant resources on warfare than on welfare. War budget is
18 times that of health, and five times that of education.
Large scale persecution and displacement
By creating conflict among neighbourly nations, the regime initiates and
exacerbates the situation which lead to loss of life and large scale
displacement of people. Now that tens of thousands of educated and able-bodied
people fled to seek refuge abroad to escape persecution. This is another form
act indicating to genocidal practices of the government.
The creation of amorphous regions and chartered cities
The establishment of creation of amorphous regions as in SNNPRs is part of an
attack on people and their identity. A few years ago, in this region the EPRDF
imposed a language called Wogagoda which has negative effect on the languages
concerned. After sever protest from the artificial language was scrapped. The
so-called chartered cities will remain hotspots of conflict in waiting.
Background to Genocide
As far as the oppressed peoples are concerned, the politics of Ethiopian empire
has always been one of exclusion and discrimination. It is now developing into
visible genocide. The state system is built on systematic denial of rights, use
of famine as a tool. Without going to the remote past of over a century, one can
see what happened in just over a decade of the TPLF/EPRDF rule.
Brief honeymoon and the politics of exclusion in 1991
In 1991, popular liberation fronts took part in the transitional coalition
government of Ethiopia with cautious optimism that a resolution could be
obtained in a century-old polity based on occupation and exploitation.
On the other hand, the TPLF used this period as an opportunity to set its foot
in the soil of southern nations from its traditional homeland in Tigray with a
view to perpetuate the system of domination. It has done this using its own
creations or satellite organisations. For Sidama, it created the Sidama PDO to
represent TPLF interest and to suffocate the Sidama movement.
In 1992, the main liberation oriented popular fronts were forced out of the
“legal” political process and left the transition arrangement. The period of
political cleansing had started paving the way for unfettered implementation of
genocidal policies. The intervening years have seen years of ethnic and economic
cleansing by ethno-national political organisation.
Dismantling the Sidama regional status
In 1991/92, the empire was divided into 14 regions/zones. Sidama was designated
as Zone 8. In 1994, Sidama as a region was dissolved and it was included in the
so-called Southern, Nations and Nationalities Region with the political seat in
Hawassa. This city is also the cultural and economic centre of Sidama. Sidamas
were not consulted about the about the dissolution of their own region nor about
the merger with the SNNPR. The TPLF/EPRDF leadership imposed its undemocratic
and wrong beliefs and policies on the people of Sidama.
The contempt harboured by the TPLF rulers about the people and the forced
marriage of Sidama with the SNNPRs meant that the emergence of conflict was
Even within this highly circumscribed atmosphere, Sidamas strived to record some
degree of social and educational progress which unnerved the regime’s centrist
elements who wanted any pretext to destroy Sidama nationalism.
The friction of February-March 2001 within the TPLF provided one such
opportunity. Vicious revisionist elements of the past who harboured envy and
hatred against Sidama national development have orchestrated the recent massacre
of innocent Sidamas. The programme of action of these centrists, whose thinking
is heavily influenced by communist Maoism and characterised by low politics of
character assassination and public bullying, included promoting notorious cadres
affiliated to the civil college of cadre school while demoting genuine
nationalists from all levels of public offices. Few personalities who formerly
were members of a centrist organisation, namely the Ethiopian Peoples
Revolutionary Party, who are still its loyalists, were assigned key roles to
dismantle the Sidama nation, even if that means genocide. But such an action can
never proceed without protest.
The Sidama protest
Protest against the oppressive state is not new to Sidama. Since the conquest,
protest and the struggle for freedom took different forms. The most recent
protest, which is now widespread throughout Sidama, was organised by people who
paid enormous price to the preservation of their culture or their land.
The decision to make Hawassa under direct control of the central government was
made by the TPLF/EPRDF without consulting the Sidama public.
The dramatic development caught the members of the SPDO by surprise. The latter
were divided about the decision. The government used different tactics to entice
some elements of the SPDO to accept the decision. Those who were bribed or
promised government positions signed up to the decision. Others, fearing the
consequences of their action from the Sidama public, refrained from signing a
document which forces Hawassa to be ruled directly by the central government and
Sidama zonal administration to be moved to other location.
Sidamas heard of the recent action and the protest started in earnest. A week
preceding the Looqe massacre, Sidamas were deliberating on the basis of their
customs, on the issue of transferring the Sidama city to the central government.
The Looqe massacre: Genocide in action
The Looqe bloodshed of May 24 started when elders and students from colleges and
high schools holding tree leaves symbolising peace marched towards the city.
Armed soldiers in mechanised brigades opened fire using heavy machine guns on
peaceful protesters. Over a hundred innocent people were killed including a ten
year old boy. Some bodies were eaten by wild animals, many more were wounded.
Hundreds of innocent civilians are being targeted for harassment and
What happened in the Looqe village, in the outskirts of Hawassa is not only a
separate incident; it is the culmination of calculated massacre and an important
part of genocide. It should be remembered that brutal shooting at peaceful
demonstrators of innocent Sidamas is not new to Sidamas. It has, indeed, its
beginning in the conquest of Sidamaland and the formation of garrison towns
where innocent Sidama had been tortured, robbed, and imprisoned. Most of these
towns were dominated by northern settlers (such as Amhara, Tigreans and Gurages)
whereas the Sidamas were denied to have their residence in their own lands, let
alone practise leadership and control of their towns.
The Ethiopian apartheid system had always reserved the right to land, education,
business, government office and other benefits to Abyssinians and their
The town of Hawassa was established in 1960 when Sidamas of the then Adaare
village were displaced to make room for a new settlement by the Haile Selassie
government. For much of the last 40 years, Ethiopian rulers maintained the
policy of discouraging indigenous Sidama people from land and property ownership
in the city. For all these years, the city has been the seat of provincial and
The strategic location of Hawassa along the Addis Ababa-Nairobi road, the
various development projects launched by a local NGO, and the relative increase
in the number of conscious nationals residing in the city has become a headache
for settlers who enjoyed economic benefit of Hawassa in the past. The TPLF
government had been using these elements to attempt to evict the Sidama from
their city for the last 11 years.
When the current regime has forced the merger of Sidama with the Southern NNP
region in 1994, Hawassa co-hosted the Southern regional and Sidama zonal
administrations. The EPRDF has started to remove the Sidama and their
administration from their own city and put it under the central command of
personal dictatorship. The language the regime used in this connection is
upgrading the town to chartered city status. The Sidamas believed this is
targeted at worsening their survival.
Since the declaration of Revolutionary Democracy and the spilt of the TPLF in
2001, centrist elements of the EPRDF, mainly those who formerly belonged to the
Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party (EPRP) took advantage of the situation to
advance their policy to destroy national aspiration of the oppressed people
including the Sidama, Oromo and Ogaden.
The reaction to the massacre from the media and from human rights organisations
is encouraging. The media, in particular, was prompt in replying to our call and
broadcasting the massacre. Sidamas are thankful for this.
The official of the Human Rights Watch said that “There is simply no excuse for
shooting into crowds of civilians. The Ethiopian government must take immediate
steps to ensure that state and federal police cease such practices and prosecute
those responsible for shooting demonstrators.”
For Sidama as for other oppressed peoples, the immediate task is to help bring
the genocidal actions to book. This means identifying the perpetrators,
recording evidence on genocide in accordance to the Rome Statue of International
Criminal Court (ICC) which is ratified 30 June 2002 by 73 countries to date.
This body will investigate and prosecute those accused of genocide, crimes
against humanity and war crimes committed.
The Sidama protest is ever widening and the national solidarity among oppressed
peoples is truly encouraging. Such is the manner to change the tragic scenario
of genocide of oppressed peoples.
Successive Ethiopian regimes have subjected the oppressed people to genocide by
means of physical extermination, killer diseases, abject poverty, and
environmental degradation and by forcibly denying their right.
Sidamas are now threatened of ethnic cleansing. Today prominent Sidama
professionals, businessmen, NGO leaders, elders and students are subjected to
removal from their jobs, arrest and killings.
The signs of genocidal intent are already there. It is for those who have the
wherewithal to determine what action to take in the face of unfolding human
tragedy. The world is forewarned. It is necessary, therefore, to:
• Call upon the international community and to all government bodies currently
engaged in the region, to respond seriously to the suffering peoples in Sidama,
Oromia and elsewhere in Ethiopia.
• Demand governmental and non-governmental organisations and Human Rights bodies
to exert the necessary pressure upon Ethiopian authorities for an independent
investigation into the massacre and on-going destruction caused by the regime.
• Call upon the United Nations, European Union, African Union and all concerned
to take all diplomatic and practical steps to investigate the acts of genocide.
• Demand that the International Community urge the EPRDF government of Ethiopia
to respect different UN and Africa Union convention to which it is signatory.
• Urge all oppressed nations to join hands at this historical juncture and stand
in unison to reject the evil policies of destruction and genocide conducted by
the EPRDF regime.
A version of this paper is presented at the TBOA congress in Frankfurt and
OSA conference in Washington DC, July 2002.
For a PDF format of this paper, click here.