Ethiopia is considered one of the birthplaces of human civilization, has a vibrant and prosperous history. After thousands of years under the rule of the Solomonic Dynasty, Ethiopians have endured various tumultuous and brutal regimes, with wars, widespread famine, and genocide taking place throughout the Eastern African nation.
The rise of Abiy Ahmed’s government was supposed to mark a path of reconciliation amongst warring Ethiopian factions, as decades of rule by the Derg and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front left the country in chaos. Instead, Ahmed’s heavily-dominated Oromo government has reignited ethnic tensions and conducted several scathing military campaigns — one in Tigray and one now in the Amhara region.
Reflecting heavy combat in the Tigray region, the Amhara region has come under heavy crackdowns by the federal government in Addis Ababa. Ongoing fighting has left scores dead, and fears of another civil war have gained international attention.
Cracking Down on Dissidents
Abiy Ahmed initially came to power as a potential ‘reformer’ who could unite various factions after decades of corruption and ethnic federalism under TPLF rule. Ahmed is a former decorated military officer who became a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for negotiating the new borders and territorial disputes with Eritrea.
After the militias of the Tigray region, the Tigray Defense Forces launched raids on Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), Ahmed would lead a military campaign to eradicate the militias. The Tigray War would ultimately become a humanitarian disaster as the ENDF, supported by the Eritrean army, put the region under siege.
The inhumane siege saw hundreds of thousands of malnourished Tigrayans and war crimes, such as airstrikes on civilian infrastructure and medical facilities. The Amhara region would suffer from retaliation by the TDF, who invaded their land after beating back the ENDF.
The Amhara would have their militia, the Amhara Special Forces, that fought against the TDF with little government assistance. Only when the TDF and their allies, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), started marching onto Addis Ababa did Abiy Ahmed act swiftly and turn the tide of the war, which solidified his rule.
Neglecting the Amhara and Tigray Region and Massacres
During the ENDF offensive, Amharas in the Oromia region would face gruesome massacres by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)—an extremist organization with the goal of genocide to create a greater Oromo state within Ethiopia. Numerous calls for protests and condemnation came against Ahmed’s government, which is heavily composed of Oromos and Amharas. They saw a bias in the slow response to the massacres against them compared to the swift action the government took when the TDF marched toward the capital.
Addis Ababa would lead crackdowns against Amhara dissidents, arresting various influential figures within their community. Along with crackdowns, the Ethiopian government attempted to interfere in the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church by indirectly recognizing a breakaway synod, increasing ethnic tensions within the country.
The Ethiopian National Defense Forces turned the tide of the war, but most of Ethiopia was deeply scarred. The Tigray War was the deadliest war of this century so far, with the majority of those killed being Tigrayan and Amhara militiamen. Abiy had successfully consolidated power while his rivals became significantly weakened.
Tensions continued to rise when Ahmed attempted to disband the Fano and Amhara Special Forces militias forcibly. These militias were left out of the African Union-backed peace talks that ended the war, and their leaders have come under the increasing radar of Addis Ababa.
Amharas saw the attempted disarming as a slight, as they were forced to pick up weapons from the dead just to fight the TDF during their occupation in their region, and another attempt at reintegration would leave them vulnerable. In some parts of the Amhara region, the Fano created their administrative jurisdiction, which Ahmed’s government saw as threatening their rule.
Abiy’s Brutal Military Campaign
The ENDF has been deployed to the Amhara region, but the government has used infamous tactics seen in the Tigray region — air power. Using Turkey’s notorious Bayraktar TB2 drones, Abiy has unleashed brutal air power onto the Amhara region.
A recent strike at Finote Salem killed scores, with dozens more wounded. During the Tigray War, drone and aircraft use was frequent in the Amhara region due to the flatter terrain compared to the mountainous Tigray region.
The brewing tensions between Abiy Ahmed’s overreaching authority amongst his people cannot go unnoticed. The former Nobel Peace Prize recipient has increasingly descended his country towards authoritarianism and continued ethnic tensions, which has far-reaching consequences for Africa.
[Photo by kremlin.ru, via Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Julian McBride is a forensic anthropologist and independent journalist born in New York. He is the founder and director of the Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO which aims to tell the stories of the victims of war through art therapy. As a former Marine, he uses this technique not only to help heal PTSD but also to share people’s stories through art, which conveys “the message of the brutality of war better than most news organizations.”