Ethiopia’s upper house of parliament on Wednesday “unanimously” gave the green light to the creation of a 12th regional state, called the “Southern Ethiopian Region”, after a recent referendum in the south of the country.
“Considering the desire expressed through a referendum by six zones and five special districts previously integrated into the SNNPR (Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region), the House of Federation has accepted (…) that they organize themselves in (new) regional state”, announces the Upper House in a press release.
These six zones and five districts will therefore form the “Southern Ethiopian Region”, continues the Chamber, without specifying the terms or deadlines for this future organization. The inhabitants of the areas concerned had been called upon to decide on February 6 by referendum on their regrouping within a new region and had very massively expressed themselves in favor of it.
But the results had been canceled due to irregularities in one of the zones, those of Wilayat, where the ballot was therefore reorganized on June 19, with there to a result overwhelmingly in favor of integration into a new region.
The current Constitution adopted in 1995, four years after the fall of the military-Marxist Derge regime, had divided Ethiopia into nine regional states, divided according to ethno-linguistic criteria and endowed with broad powers within a federal system.
While the other regions are very largely ethnically homogeneous, several dozen very minority groups – among the approximately 80 peoples of Ethiopia – were grouped together at the time within the SNNPR, the scene of tensions and violence in recent years.
Article 47 of the Constitution authorizes each “Nation, nationality or people belonging to one of the regional States (…) to form, at any time, its own” regional State, subject to the organization of a referendum and a favorable outcome. But any desire in this direction had been firmly curbed by the federal government until the arrival in 2018 of current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
His declared reformist desire, after 27 years of domination by the elite of the Tigrayan minority over federal power, has freed many territorial and identity claims.
The “Southern Ethiopia Region” is the third region to come into existence since Mr. Abiy leads Ethiopia, after Sidama in 2020, and the South-West Ethiopia Region at the end of 2021, both of which have already emerged from a split with the SNNPR.
The latter has only six administrative subdivisions out of the twenty that it grouped together before 2020.
Ethiopia has been agitated in recent years by many community tensions and conflicts, sometimes deadly, particularly related to land disputes resulting from administrative division.