Ethiopia referendum: Sidama poll could test Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

A protester waves the unofficial turquoise blue and red Sidama flagImage copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Sidama activists took to the streets of the region’s main city in July to call for the referendum

A referendum in the south of Ethiopia is being seen as a test of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s abilities to control the forces of ethnic nationalism, which have threatened to increase divisions within the country.

Some two million people in what is known as the Sidama zone, are voting on whether they want their own regional state within Ethiopia’s federal system.

The referendum will see if tensions around ethnic separatism can be resolved peacefully.

Also, ahead of a general election scheduled for May next year, the vote is a test for the country’s electoral process.

Why is this happening now?

Since coming to power in April 2018, Prime Minister Abiy has been praised for his wide-ranging liberalising reforms.