Seizing political space and amidst increasing uncertainty about future political opportunities, a host of ethnic groups in Ethiopia’s southern region launched bids for greater political autonomy. Under constitutional rules made by the EPRDF, such bids are legally possible.
Welayta politicians’ desire to create their own region intensified when the neighboring Sidama people acquired a confirmed date for a referendum to form their own regional state. On 19 December 2018, Welayta Zone unanimously voted for a regional state and submitted its decision to the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional Council. When said request for regional statehood by Welayta officials was ignored, a massive demonstration was held in the capital city, Soddo, on 17 May 2019 and Wolayta Zone representatives boycotted the ten-days central committee meeting of the Southern Ethiopian People´s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) in July 2019 (Addis Standard, 18 July 2019). After 26 people, including leaders of the Welayta Zone and the opposition Welayta People’s Democratic Front (WPDF), were arrested on 9 August 2019, violent demonstrations erupted in Boditi and Gununo towns of Welayta Zone leading to the death of 21 people (Addis Standard, 12 August 2019). Although this violence has since subsided, future repression is likely as bids for autonomy re-emerge in the face of an uncertain future.