Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) is the most diverse in the country, containing dozens of ethnicities and language groups. This generates a unique political dynamic that, while reflective of larger nationalistic trends, tend to remain more localized and does not spread across the region as conflicts in the more ethno-homogeneous regions of the country do.
The SNNPR is bordered by Kenya to the south, South Sudan to the west, the Gambela regional to the northwest, the Oromia Region to the north and east, and the Sidama Region to the east. By 2017, the region’s population was estimated to be around 19.1 million (FDRE Central Statistical Agency, 2013, Population Projection of Ethiopia for All Regions At Wereda Level from 2014 – 2017). According to the region’s administration, 56 ethnic groups are considered indigenous (Beza Dessalegn & Nigussie Afesha, January 2019). As per the last official census conducted by the government in 2007, Sidama ethnic group is the majority, followed by Wolayta, Gurage, and Gamo (FDRE Population Census Commission, 2008, pp.98-100). Since the Sidama ethnic group established its own regional state in November 2019, the Wolayta ethnic group is the likely majority.
SNNPR is divided into 14 ethnic-based Zones and four Special Woredas, which are accountable to the Regional Council, and within 131 woredas, and 3,926 kebeles. However, since the implementation of ethnic federalism, different ethnic groups of SNNPR want to establish their own regional state (e.g., Sidama and Wolayta), special woreda (e.g., Ale ethnic group), or zone (e.g, Konso, Silte, Gamo-Gofa).
Since 2018, several of these requests are being addressed: for instance, Ale ethnic group received the status of Special woreda, Konso and Silte became a zone, and the Gamo-Gofa zone split into two and became Gamo zone and Gofa zone. Moreover, several ethnic groups like Sidama, Kefa, Wolayita, Hadiaya, and Gurage pressed to secede from the SNNPR and establish their own regional states (Beza Dessalegn & Nigussie Afesha, January 2019). Among these groups, only Sidama’s request was accepted by the Regional Council. Based on the referendum held on 20 November 2019, Sidama became the 10th Regional State of Ethiopia. This created the possibility of other ethnic groups being granted their request. However, the Regional Council has not responded to the rest of these requests and wants to save the SNNPR from disintegrating into multiple regions. The discontent over the lack of decision is being expressed through violent demonstrations.