Photo: Wolaita Times

By Etenesh Abera @EteneshAb

Addis Abeba – The Wolaita statehood quest dates back to the era of imperial Ethiopia, according to research conducted by Tensay Hailu. (Tensaye Hailu, Wolaytta’s Quest for Statehood: A Historical Overview and Analysis of Contemporary Quests for Regional Statehood in Ethiopia’s Federation, September 2019)

“According to the retrospective and historical analysis, there had been more than 50 kings who rose from three different clans or tribes to make the dynasty: the Wolaita-Mala, Arugia, and Tigre; however, the two major dynasties, the Wolayta-Mala and Tigre are well known in the region to take the kingship and crown in which the monarchical leadership with different political structures had been practiced in the region (Wagesho, 2000; Chama, 2017, Babanto, 1970). It is neither related to the formation of a new country or state by secession nor to depart from other nationalities; Instead, it is genuinely a request for reformation of the state that had been forcefully assimilated by the political forces led by Menelik II at the end of 1800s. This infers that Wolaita was a country or state that had more than 50 kings who independently ruled over their territories; and it was called the kingdom of Wolaita or sometimes, Damota.

“In general the public was rejecting the idea of being reconstituted under a new structure because they were being downgraded to woreda.”

Adane Tayeza, historian

In addition, several historical pieces of evidence, folklore, and written documents prove that the Wolaita state had its monetary system or coins shaped money that the people used to practice marketing inside and outside the region.” (Eshetu Degife Dana, The Benefit of Wolaita Regional State Formation in Ethiopia, September 2020)

According to Tensaye Hailu’s research, after the kingdom of Wolaita fell to Menelik II, the kingdom’s capital was changed from Delbo to the current Zonal Capital, Sodo. 

Adane Tayeza, (history and archive professional who co-authored a book called Feudal system in Wolaita with Abesha Sherko (Ph.D.) and regular history pieces contributor at Gifeta monthly magazine produced by the zonal culture and tourism bureau) stipulated that during the imperial regime of Haile Selassie I, Wolaita was one of the 80 Awrajas from an aggregate of 12 Teklay Gizats under the then Sidamo Teklay Gizat. 

He added that during the Derg regime, leaders continued to be dispatched for Wolaita from the central part of the country. In the middle of the 1990s, the socialist government restructured around 28 woredas by naming the North Omo administration which created huge public disappointment. According to Adane Taye, infightings caused by ideological divides in Socialist  Ethiopia did leave a lot of scars in Wolaita’s history, the people of Wolaita still remember the infamous mass killing in the Sodo town by those suspected of being the members of the then-active Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP). 

Adane mentioned that nationalities that were restructured under the nascent North Omo administrative entity did have a shared language and history amongst other facets. “ In general the public was rejecting the idea of being reconstituted under a new structure because they were being downgraded to woreda.” He reminiscences.


The headquarters of Wolaita Zonal Administration

“During the 1991-94 Transitional Government period, the Wolaytta nationality was combined in Kilil 9 with Gamo, Gofa, Dawro, and others with the capital city in Arba Minch. Subsequently and following the establishment of the FDRE in 1995, Wolaytta was included within the newly created SNNPR (comprising Kilils 7,8,9,10,11) as one of the 54 nationalities that made up the Region. “(Makonnen Tesfaye, Wolaytta’s quest for democracy, self-determination and statehood, December 3, 2019)

Post-EPRDF Era 

In 2000, elders from Wolaita Zone wrote a letter addressed to the Ethiopian Constitutional Inquiry Council objecting to the new educational curriculum set by the then North Omo zone of the SNNPR. In the letter, the elders stated that both the regional and zonal councils breached the constitutional right of the Wolaita people by imposing a new language upon the people of Wolaita, by way of the ‘Wogagoda proposal’ which assumed the first two letters of each concerned nationality: Wolayta, Gamo, Gofa, and Dawaro.  

In a letter reviewed by Addis Standard, the elders mentioned that the suggested language also breached the international conventions to which Ethiopia is a signatory, the conventions emphasized the school enrollment of children at the first level of education in their mother tongue. 

 “Ten years after the EPRDF took power, Wolaita got the new zonal administration structure, with a lot of sacrifices.”

The letter demanded the recognition of the people of Wolaita and their language as a natural right and further called for the formation of a zonal or regional structure accordingly. In the same letter, the elders state that the people of Wolaita wish for their new administration structure which is reflective of their history and self-administration.

 “Around 1998 G.C, new facilitation offices started to settle in Sodo. Agricultural facilitation, police facilitation, and a court opened as a solution for the ongoing public question.” Adane added, referring to what was the beginning of the new zonal structure.  After six months rattled by troubles and a peace rally, the incumbent at the time decided to pause the new educational language curriculum policy and afford Wolaita a new zonal administration structure.

 ” Ten years after the EPRDF took power, Wolaita got the new zonal administration structure, with a lot of sacrifices.” Adane remarks. He added that those individuals suspected of organizing and mobilizing the public were sentenced to jail terms lasting from six months to years, for asking for their rights. AS

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