Members of Ethiopia’s Sidama minority voted on Wednesday in a self-determination referendum that tests Ethiopia’s ability to manage ethnic demands after more than a year of reforms.
The vote would carve an autonomous region for the Sidama, who comprise about 4% of Ethiopia’s 105 million people, out of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples region, the most ethnically diverse part of Ethiopia. Other groups who share the region now are wary of disenfranchisement or violence.
Reacting on Friday, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, wondered why Nigeria is afraid to honour his persistent request for a referendum.
The IPOB leader accused the Nigerian media for being the reason why a demand for referendum is misconstrued as a call for war.
Kanu’s statement was contained in a post via his handle on micro-blogging site, Twitter.
He said “As Ethiopia conducts Referendum in its Sidama region, one is reminded of a similar UN supervised referendum through which Adamawa became part of Nigeria and Ambazonia a region of Cameroun.
“Today in the ahostorical(sic) Zoological Republic of Nigeria, any demand for referendum is deemed a call for war. Why? Because Nigerian media portrays it as such out of fear to please the all conquering brutal and murderous Abba Kyari regime in Aso Rock and the rest of the ruling illiterate terror sposoring Fulani Cabal.”
Kanu further said “The same referendum process that have for centuries guided the civilised union or separation of nations is too difficult for an average Nigerian in 2019 to comprehend. Yet some people claim there is a viable system of education in Nigeria. Very laughable indeed!”
Meanwhile, if the referendum passes as expected, the Sidama will control local taxes, education, security and laws in what would become Ethiopia’s 10th region.
Since Abiy took office in one of Africa’s most tightly controlled states, reforms have brought a more open society and a weaker ruling coalition, emboldening politicians advocating for more rights for their ethnic groups.
The 43-year-old prime minister has also moved to open up one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, and to make peace with neighboring Eritrea.
However, the openness has also brought a surge of long-repressed rivalries between ethnic groups, forcing more than 2 million people out of their homes and killing hundreds, according to the United Nations and monitoring groups.
Dukale Lamiso, head of the Sidama Liberation Front, an activist group, said if the voting were unfair or the referendum should fail to bring autonomy, “that would be a danger for Ethiopia itself because of course there will be violence”.
The vote will also be closely watched for its tone in the run-up to a national election next year, which Abiy has promised will be free and fair. Elections going back to 2005 have been marred by irregularities and violence.