South Western Ethiopian Peoples Union ( SWEPU ) is a union of the people who are related to each other by geographic, economic, cultural and historical factors. It is the union of the people representative of the nature of our Ethiopian nation which in itself is a cradle of multiple ethnic and religious groups.
Geographically, the South Western Ethiopian People’s Union (SWEPU) includes the former Kaffa Province and the Kaffa Administrative Area and includes in it major tribal and ethnic groups, such as, the Kaffa, Shekaa, Jimma region Oromo, Bench, Maji, Dawuro, and Yem.
The tribal and linguistic based administrative borders developed over the last decades are designed to force the Ethiopian people to have a tunnel vision and keep themselves busy with their immediate surroundings. The people were comforted by their ability to use their own language in schools and administrative functions and their ability to develop some aspects of their cultural heritage. While there has long been un-quenched thirst by most tribes of Ethiopia for recognition and validation of their language and culture and it is positive for people to get the recognition they deserve, the policy in which it is conducted is very divisive and isolationist. All tribes of Ethiopia can co-exist with each others within the same administrative and economic region (as they have done for centuries) and still be encouraged to develop their cultural and linguistic identity on top of their national identity as Ethiopians. They do not need to be compartmentalized and boxed into administrative zones based on linguistic boundaries. For a country, such as Ethiopia which is home to hundreds of linguistic and cultural groups, strong national identity by its citizens is its strongest asset. It is because of our strong national identity that in the past our people were able to set aside internal clashes and rivalries and were able to unite to fight the foreign invaders. Our world famous victory against the Italians in the battle of Adwa in 1896 was a greatest testimonial to this national identity and unity. Ethiopians from all corners were mobilized and joined forces under emperor Menelik II to bring down the Italian aggressors. This is because Adwa belonged to Ethiopia and attack on Adwa meant an attack on the sovereignty of Ethiopia. As Ethiopians, we worry today that if the isolationist and exclusionist policies continue to prevail, if administrative borders based merely on linguistic boundaries continue to exist and if an administrative / linguistic zone relies only on work-force that speaks its language and excludes others, Ethiopian national identity will be eroded to a point where one tribal group may not pay attention or be interested in what takes place in the administrative region of the other tribe (his brothers and sisters), whether that is an attack by domestic or foreign aggressors. Isolation and exclusion leads to restriction of communication and lack of information and knowledge between the many tribes that make-up Ethiopia. Lack of interaction and information about each other leads to unhealthy competition and fear instead of collaboration and basic trust among people of the same nation. Fear of the unknown and unhealthy competition are ingredients for conflict and internal strife which were known to have brought down great historical civilizations.
With SWEPU our goal is to build a union representative of the future direction we desire for Ethiopia to take in terms of the composition and definition of its administrative regions.
Why establish SWEPU as a Union or Region?
1. The people of this region are multi tribal and multi ethnic linked by their geographic location and environment, history, economic potential, and culture
2. SWEPU represents what the future of Ethiopia should be like. People who are united by geographic, economic, and historical ties not by language and ethnicity.
3. The people of the SWEPU region have been developmentally neglected by the ruling central governments in history, including, the Royal Monarchy, the Socialist Dergue and the EPRDF government in power today.
We believe in Democratic Ethiopia where laws are made and enforced by the people for the people and where each autonomous region under truly federated Ethiopia will have a final say in deciding the use of its resources for the socioeconomic welfare of its people as well as in contributing its fair share to enrich and strengthen our country; Ethiopia.
We believe the way we can get to Democratic Ethiopia is by uniting our people not by dividing them. Tribal and ethnic based thinking and ethnic and linguistic boundaries are backward and bad for our country. We can not be pulling our people back past the colonial era. In the 1960’s the leaders of African countries that have regained their independence from colonial powers, like the Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya as well as our own Emperor Haile Selassie were talking about the United States of Africa. European Union is a reality today.
Although we value our national identity as Ethiopians that we have developed over centuries, We can not be naive about the past.
The past has not been a smooth transition for most tribal communities and Kingdoms in the southern regions of today’s Ethiopia. Emperor Menelik’s centralization wars in the late 1890’s had brought much suffering to the then independent kingdoms in the southern stretch of the country. ” During the conquest of the southern territories, Menelik’s Army carried out atrocities against civilians and combatants including torture, and mass killings. Large scale atrocities were also committed against the Dizi people and the people of the Kaficho kingdom. Some estimates for the number of Southern people(Oromos, Dizi people, Kaffa, Shanqella) killed as a result of the conquest from war, famine and atrocities go into the millions“ ( source: Alemayehu Kumsa, Power and Powerlessness in Contemporary Ethiopia, Charles University in Prague pp. 1122 – 1124) . The oral traditions in Kaffa support that more than half of the population of the people of Kaffa were killed by many years of defensive war (1879-1897) against armies of Menelik II which was strengthened by human power subjugated from his earlier conquests along the way to Kaffa and equipped with firearms. The final stretch of the battle with greatest cost in human lives was fought from December 1886 to August 1897. “The people of Kaffa, Kaffecho fought fierce battles against the force of emperor Menelik II for nine months, i.e. from December 1886 to August 1897 and finally lose its independence”(p.277) ( Bekele Woldemariam, History of Kaffa Kingdom, 2010 ).
The atrocities did not stop at mass killing and persecution of the people of the south. After the conquest majority of the people were relegated to servants for many years; farming and serving the interests of the army officials and soldiers who remained behind to ensure rebellions do not breakout and to affirm continued loyalty to Menelik’s government.
Following the centralization wars and forced subjugation of the southern kingdoms, the diverse tribes of Ethiopia were forced to assimilate to the culture and language of the Royal Monarchies ( the Amharic Language and the Amhara culture) but not given a chance to promote and develop their own tribal cultures and languages. People from non-Amhara tribes were looked down upon to the point where they were not at times confident to identify with their own tribal culture and language. In short summary, there was much suffering and death and loss of tribal identity caused by the rulers of the past. This is a dark spot in the history of most independent kingdoms and communities of the south caused by brutal centralization wars which should be remembered and memorialized.
We talk about the past because it is important to remember where we came from. As it has been said, ‘one who does not know where he came from does not know where he is going’. We have to remember where we came from and the price we have paid as a community of people for our identity as Ethiopians.
We do not talk about the past to be bitter or vengeful. For us the past is history we must remember. We will record and memorialize our history so that the price paid by our ancestors and many atrocities caused by the invaders on our people are never forgotten. We can not dwell in the past and we must move on for there is much to be done. Our primary focus will be what we can do to educate, develop and improve the lives of our people and our region as a whole today and in the future as well as what and how we can contribute to build democratic Ethiopia where its regions and its people have equitable and fair chance to realize their potential.
We the people of SWEPU do not take Ethiopia and our identity as Ethiopian very lightly because there has been much sacrifice paid for it by our ancestors. We will do our part to fight anyone hijacking Ethiopia or the Ethiopian identity for its individual or collective gain. Ethiopia belongs to all Ethiopians in a Democratic and Equitable rule where the people are enabled to govern themselves through their representatives whom they have complete power to elect or remove from office.
We believe strong national identity among its people is essential for the strength and well being of Ethiopia. However, it does not have to be at the expense of the loss of tribal and ethnic identity. Ethiopia can be strong being a sum of all its diverse and proud parts who are its tribal and linguistic groups.
Whether it has a hidden purpose that benefits the regime or not, we value some of the progress that has been made under the current regime to promote the development of the tribal languages and culture. We see the future Ethiopia strong in recognizing and promoting the development of tribal cultures and languages in an equitable manner.
We believe we have one nationality and we are one people; The Ethiopian People, we have one nation; Ethiopia and one nationality; The EthiopianNationality.
We have to eliminate the terms: “peoples”, “nations” and “nationalities” that are widely promoted by the current EPRDF government and the confusion created by these terms that weakens the Ethiopian identity and promotes separatist mentality.
Posted by Kumilachew Ambo