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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work



• In June 2018 and July 2019 violent clashes erupted in Hawassa, an important commercial hub in southern Ethiopian and the capital of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region. While the first attack appeared relatively spontaneous, the second was apparently well planned, with allegations that Sidama youth, known as Ejeto, received direction from Sidama politicians.

• For a half a century prior to the clashes, Hawassa city was regarded as peaceful and accommodating, its ethnic and religious diversity well known. The city is predominantly Protestant, with a sizeable Orthodox minority and smaller Muslim and Catholic populations. There has also been a noticeable increase in those practising Sidama traditional religion. In contrast to contemporaneous conflicts elsewhere in Ethiopia that appeared to run predominantly along inter-religious fault-lines, the clashes in
Hawassa arose from Sidama nationalism and the political battle for a referendum on establishing a Sidama Regional State. Thus, co-religionists, in particular Protestants, attacked one another based on ethnic difference.

• Even so, religion was closely involved in the clashes as several churches became forums for ethnic division and some Christians actively supported the conflict. At the same time, a number of religious leaders and institutions such as Hawassa’s Inter-Religious Council were engaged in peaceful interventions, both during and after the conflicts.

• The 2018/2019 conflicts have drastically reshaped Hawassa city’s inter- and intrareligious relations. Previously influential community leaders have lost their relevance, their reputations tarnished due to their perceived involvement in the conflicts. As a result, new Protestant leaders are entering the spotlight, mainly due to their peacekeeping and reconciliation activities during and after the conflicts.

• While the current situation remains fraught with difficulties, if current peacebuilding initiatives can be extended and maintained over time, with appropriate local and external support, this raises the prospect of religious communities being transformed from political platforms in conflict to important agents for peace and development.

Find the Amharic version of this report here.

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