Allocation of administrative offices between cities in newly established cluster regions in Southern Ethiopia raises discontent

Addis Abeba – Residents in the newly established Southern Ethiopia region and the Kembata Tembaro zone of the forthcoming Central Ethiopia region which were formerly part of the Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s (SNNPR) have been voicing their concerns over a proposed distribution of administrative offices between major cities in the respective regions.

Residents of the Gamo Zone and Arba Minch city of the Southern Ethiopia region, which received unanimous approval from the House of Federation (HoF) in July, have staged protests after unverified document widely shared on social media suggested Wolaita Sodo of the Wolaita zone as the primary administrative and political center for the new cluster region.

Sadika Sime, a venerable elder of Gamo, who spoke with Addis Standard said that the protests which began on Saturday and continued with stay-at-home protests on Tuesday in the Arba Minch city. Numerous establishments, including the renowned local market “Bubu Meda,” remained closed. Sadika highlighted the prevailing dissatisfaction among residents who view the office allocation as inequitable and question the future of the cluster region.

Shops were shut in Arba Minch as part of stay at home protests (Photo: AS Source)

Echoing this sentiment, an anonymous resident disclosed the widespread discontent, noting promises made during the referendum that Arbaminch would serve as the capital of the new region. According to this resident, the circulated document’s allocation is both “historically and culturally incorrect.”

Both sources confirmed to Addis Standard that while the protests remained largely peaceful, a tragic incident took place wherein a man named Amanuel Mamo was fatally shot by a police officer during a demonstration in Kucha Woreda’s Selamber town.

In the wake of recent protests, the Chief Administrator of Gamo Zone, Birhanu Zewde, engaged in discussions with regional activists and elders concerning the administrative blueprint of the emerging region, according to the region’s communication office. During the dialogue, Birhanu informed participants that the new region would feature not just one, but six administrative centers. He emphasized that these centers were selected based on scientific criteria and would be developed with equal priority and attention.

Despite official statements from Gamo Zone administrator however, residents who spoke with Addis Standard revealed plans for more protest rally scheduled to take place on Thursday, 10 August.

The Southern Ethiopia region became Ethiopia’s 13th regional state, carved out of six zones in the former SNNP: namely Wolaita, Konso, South Omo, Gamo, Gedeo and Gofa, and five special woredas (districts), namely Burji, Basketo, Ale, Amaro and Derashe following a referendum held on 06 February.

In a similar development, Durame city in the Kembata zone also witnessed protests challenging the administrative office distribution for the proposed Central Ethiopia region. While an official endorsement from the House of Federation remains pending, council representatives from Hadiya, Halaba, Kembata Tembaro, Silte zones, and the Yem Special Woreda have collectively voiced their support for reorganizing their current administrative domains to usher in a new regional state. 

This initiative has been under review by senior officials from the Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR) since November. Nonetheless, a leaked proposal detailing office allocations has been a catalyst for dissent, especially among residents of the Kembata Tembaro zone, who say the distribution is skewed in favor of a particular zone.

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Offering further insight into the situation, Alemaw Legesse, a youth leader and active participant in the protests, told Addis Standard about the palpable tension in the Kembata zone, Durame city. Alemaw says a series of events that included a major protest on Friday and subsequent stay-at-home strikes over the weekend in Durame city are planned. 

According to him, at the heart of the growing discontent is the allocation of a single office to the Kembata zone, suggesting potential favoritism in the proposal, which reveals Hossana city of the Hadiya zone to be the primary administrative capital of the  forthcoming region. Furthermore, Alemaw says that he, alongside several colleagues, had been arrested and mistreated during the protests, though he has since been released.

Attempts by Addis Standard to reach local officials seeking further comments have been unsuccessful. AS

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