The Segen Area Peoples Zone conflict emerged over the fallout of the Konso Woreda becoming a Zone in 2018. It once belonged in ‘Segen Area People’s Zone’ which consisted of Amaro Woreda, Burji Woreda, Derashe Woreda, Konso Woreda, and Ale Woreda. In this Zone eight ethnic groups including the Alle, Burji, Dirasha, Konso (also known as Xonsita), Kore, Kusumie, Mashole and Moseye are together with other ethnic groups (like Oromo, Welayta, Amhara, Gurage).
Before establishing Segen Area People’s Zone on 28 March 2011, Amaro, Burji, Derashe, and Konso had the status of ‘Special Woreda’, i.e. they are semi-autonomous and are accountable directly to the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional Council rather than to the zonal administrative level. This administrative setup made the Ale people minorities within Konso and Derashe Special Woreda. The Derashe Special Woreda was predominantly inhabited by Dirasha (the majority within the woreda), Dhobasse (now called Ale), Mossiye, Masholle and Kussume ethnic groups. The Konso Special Woreda was occupied by the majority Konso and the minority Gewada (now called Ale) ethnic groups, while the Amaro Special Woreda was for the Kore ethnic group, and Burji Special Woreda for Burji ethnic groups.
After the implementation of the ethnic-based federalism in Ethiopia, the Ale people demanded to establish their own Woreda. To resolve this issue, in 2011, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR)´s ruling party, the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM), decided to establish Segen Area People’s Zone by removing the status of the Special Woreda of the four surrounding Woredas Amaro, Burji, Derashe, and Konso and establishing a separate Ale Woreda.
This decision was made without much consultation of those living in the Zone, and was immediately met with resistance from the Konso population. A committee consisting of 23 members was established to advocate for the establishment of a separate Konso Zone, a formal request of which was rejected by the Regional Council and later the House of Federation. This led to another round of demonstrations in the Zone, with some protest leaders being imprisoned (Ethiopia Observer, 14, March 2016). Furthermore, there was a dispute over the capital city of the newly formed Segen Area People’s Zone as most ethnic groups – including the Konso people – wanted their capital city Karat to be the Zone’s capital city as it is easily accessible for most ethnic groups of the Zone and better equipped with infrastructure than the others. However, the Regional Council decided for the city of Segen (previously known as Gumade) to be the capital city of the Zone.
The Konso political prisoners were released in 2018 after Prime Minister Abiy announced the release of all political prisoners in Ethiopia. In November 2018, the Konso and Ale groups split from the Segen Area People’s Zone. Konso gained status as a Zone, immediately triggering violent conflict over its new status as elites fought for territory and political influence.
Like the conflict in West Guji, Konso has recently been the scene of intense bouts of ethnic-based violence over administration borders. While border disputes are common across Ethiopia, the scale and destruction that has resulted in Konso is shocking. Some 94,000 people have reportedly been displaced, with an unknown number killed (Addis Standard, 23 November 2020). These clashes mirror trends throughout the country: Local elites seeking to control greater territory and resources engage in conflict to promote their own material agendas. While large and devastating, the Konso violence does not contain the capacity to spread more generally throughout the region as conflicts in Oromia, Tigray, or Amhara do. This is due to its highly localized nature, where local politicians engage little with overall political decisions at the central level and are more concerned with immediate territorial administration and resources.
The Konso Zone has been generally peaceful since conflict peaked in January of 2021, however, the area is still at risk of armed conflict should additional political disputes arise.