Wollega is one of the provinces (zones) in Oromia region and it is located in Western Ethiopia. It shares borders with West Shewa in the East, with Jimma Zone in the south, with Benishangul Gumuz regional state and Sudan in the west and with Gojjam province in the North. The majority of its residents are the Oromos, the largest nations in Ethiopia. There are other people (Amhara, Gurage, Gumuz are the major ones) who reside in Wollega along with the Oromos peacefully. Afan Oromo is the most widely spoken language in Wollega. Amharic is also used, but limited to the towns. Religion wise, the people in Wollega are Christians (mainly of protestant church, followed by Orthodox and Islam). Of course, there is also significant number of Waqeffata (Oromo traditional belief in one Waqa or God) in this province.
In Wollega, people are known for their hospitability and friendliness. If you are arriving there for the first time and you don’t know where to spend the night, don’t worry, they will offer you to spend the night with them. Whenever they have a guest at their home they offer him/her to sleep on their beds while they sleep on a mat spread on the floor. They have one saying ‘keessummaan kabaja’ roughly translated it means guest is a king. They are so generous and hospitable. They give milk even for strangers when they ask for water to quench their thirst. Actually, this is a common practice if you get the chance to visit the whole Oromia region.
The Wollega people prepare ‘anchote’ for your dinner. ‘Anchote’ is a root crop (kind of vegetable whose root is eaten) that is common in Wollega as food particularly eaten during Meskel celebrations. It is also used on other occasions and it is a delicious dish that is cooked for guests. In the mornings, they make coffee for you to brighten your day. It is customary in this region to start your days with coffee. You can be from any background, religion, ethnic group and economic status. For them all these have no meaning. You are a creature of ‘Waqa’ and that is all. They respect you and they love you. They have no hate to anybody. What they want in return is that you respect their identity, language, culture and history. Normally, that is what every humanity wants.
Frankly speaking, they cannot tolerate those who want to manipulate them, cheat them, use them, and oppress them for promoting their own economic and political interests. That is it. Otherwise they have no reason to hate people, and they don’t see anybody as enemies. They have lived in harmony with other nations in this country for a century. However, they have questions of their own like the rest of Ethiopians do. They are asking for better education, better roads, better water supply, better job opportunity, better political participation, better health services, better electricity supply, telecommunication service and better sanitation.
Indeed, Wollega is a vast province and a home to more than two million populations, but it is the underdeveloped area in the country. This province is endowed with natural resources- just to mention some: coffee (Ethiopia’s main source of foreign exchange), gold, platinum, coal, precious stones such as marble (as far as I know most of the marble used for construction in this country come from Wollega) and forests. Wollega is one of the few places in Ethiopia where you can find natural forests covering many hectares of land.
However, Wollega’s development doesn’t match the resources exploited from its soil. For example, the major towns in Wollega such as Sire, Nekemte, Gimbi, Najjo, Dembi Dollo, Shambu, Harato and many others which were founded even before Addis, are underdeveloped. These towns have shown very little progresses in the past three decades. People living in these towns are suffering from poor unemployment, infrastructure, poor sanitation, malgovernance, overpopulation and environmental degradation.
Wollega has some wonderful tourist destinations such as the Kumsa Moroda Palace found in Nekemte Town (the biggest town and a commercial hub in western Ethiopia), wildlife sanctuaries in west Wollega around Dembi Dollo where you can see hundreds of hippos in the marshy areas and thousands of buffaloes grazing on the vast plain land. If you travel to the north east you will find the Fincha Dam that generates hydroelectric power and used for growing sugar cane which as used as raw material for Fincha sugar Factory. Generally, Wollega’s landscape is wonderful and the weather is perfect.
But, this region is the least visited areas in the country because the tourist destinations haven’t been properly promoted or advertised by culture and tourism offices of the province. Moreover, many tour operators don’t like to take tourists to the west Ethiopia province because of poor infrastructure.
Anyways, the Wollega people are more than ready to host anybody who will pay them a visit. When you go to Wollega what you just need is SMILE on your face. No doubt you will have a wonderful time with the place and the people and you will also tell yourself that your perception about Wollega and its people was completely wrong. I am confident that you will be surprised by what you will see. I did have the chance to talk to people who had been to Wollega for doing business, for visiting friends or just as tourists from different parts of Ethiopia. They told me that they had a wrong perception about Wollega before. What they found on the ground was far beyond their expectations. They were surprised by the hospitality of the people. They loved many of the things that they saw in there. The only difficulty they faced was just language, yet that happened only in some areas. But still that wasn’t a serious problem to them. They did their business, visited their friends and returned home having a wonderful memory of Wollega and its people. Actually, you can go see and experience Wollega and its people by yourselves and prove that what I am just telling you is true. This is what is on the ground.
Personally, I don’t understand why some people think that people in Wollega are unfriendly and inhospitable. I often hear people saying that the Wollegas are ethno centrists (in Amharic Zeregnoch). But the fact is they are not ‘zereghoch’ at all as far as I know. They have never thought that their culture and values are superior to other people’s culture like what some people actually do in this country. Sometimes people ask me where I was born and I tell them that I was born in a small village called Kejo which is actually found in the eastern part of Wollega. Guess what, from the point they hear that I am from Wollega, the first thing they tell me is ‘Yewollega sewoch Zeregnoch nachu ayidel?’ roughly translated Wollega people are racists/ethno centrists.
I constantly get frustrated whenever I hear that prejudice even from people whom I always relied on as my best friends. Very often, I try to explain and even lecture my friends that their perception is completely based on false claims, but instead of listening to what I tell them they work tirelessly to tell me that I am ‘Zeregna’ myself. Basically, that is the immediate cause that inspired me for writing this article which I believed would help some people change their perception about Wollega and its people at least to some degree.
Of course, people in Wollega say we should be equally treated with others. They just demand for more political and democratic rights. They are asking for rights to develop and lead a better life. In Ethiopia, everybody is asking that same question. Then why do we label the people in Wollega as ‘Zeregnoch’ for asking for the basic rights, but still others who are asking similar questions are not labeled as ‘Zeregnoch’.
This labeling has made Wollega and its people suffer a lot. For example, investors are not interested to spend their money in this area simply because they have that wrong perception of the region. Actually, investors would have benefitted to a large degree from this area if they had the courage to go for it as Wollega is endowed with natural resources. Agriculture, mining, hotel services, tourism and education are the potential areas of investment for those people who would like to benefit themselves and benefit the people in the region.
But there is one thing that people who want invest in Wollega should know. The local people say “You cannot just take away the resources without benefiting the local people”. If you go there to exploit the resources just only for your best interests, the people will challenge you. They do this because they don’t want you to get a millionaire by digging gold and metals out of their backyards while they are starving, and suffering from lack of infrastructures. The people there believe that everything should be based on the win-win approach. If investors and business people go there with that sentiment and spend their money, the return would be so remarkable.
Lastly, for those people who want to visit Wollega, the people are waiting to warmly welcome you saying ‘BAGA NAGAAN DHUFTAN! WELCOME TO BEAUTIFUL WOLLEGA!