News Analysis

As Ethiopian alliances shift, Abiy’s anniversary met by Amhara protests and violence


Federal-Amhara clash reflects Oromo-Amhara political friction five years after the Prime Minister took office on the back of their alliance.

As Ethiopia observed Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s fifth anniversary on 2 April, widespread protests were held in Amhara region, followed days later by fighting as some Amhara special forces refused to comply with government restructuring orders.

First, tens of thousands of Amharas took to the streets in cities throughout Amhara, including Debre Tabor in South Gondar and Merawi in West Gojjam. 

They made several demands, including the removal of restrictions on travel for Amhara residents to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, and condemned the government’s plan to dismantle regional special forces, portraying it as a ploy to weaken the Amhara people.

According to the Amhara Association of America, a U.S.-based lobbying group, the protests were “denouncing identity-based massacres, travel restrictions, demolitions of homes in Addis Ababa, and arrests, carried out by the Abiy regime”

Conversely, multiple demonstrations were held in different parts of Oromia in support of Abiy’s government – and quite possibly with its support.

Federal-Amhara Clash

Also over the last week, reports that regional special forces would be disbanded and integrated into other security structures raised concerns among Amharas. On 6 April there were clashes between resistant Amhara Special Forces and other authorities attempting implementation.

A federal government statement said on 6 April “…activities that disrupt the process have been observed by some Special Forces units in the Amhara region, who, on the one hand, have not properly understood the reorganization work and purpose, and on the other hand, were deceived by the false rumors intentionally disseminated by promoters of the agenda of destruction”.

On 4 April, the Security and Safety Joint Task Force had said a “covert group” had been arrested, alleging they planned to incite violence by attacking senior officials. Those held include Amhara academics, media owners, and activists. One of the detained individuals is a member of the Raya Amhara Identity Restoration Committee.

The Breakup

The developments show Ethiopian politics coming full circle after initial maneuvering to dislodge Tigray’s ruling party from national pre-eminence. 

Around seven years ago, ruling Amhara and Oromo leaders began an informal alliance, dubbed ‘Oro-mara’, which resulted in the removal of much of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) federal power after Abiy took office. 

‘Oro-mara’ was down to Lemma Megersa, the then president of Oromia, and other like-minded politicians from Oromia and Amhara such as Abiy and Amhara’s Gedu Andargachew.  

It was forged primarily to bridge the historical divide between Oromo and Amhara elites and wrestle power from the TPLF. The alliance was instrumental in mobilizing support for Abiy’s candidacy and his eventual appointment as prime minister in 2018, which TPLF opposed.

But while it succeeded in outflanking TPLF, it has not spanned that chasm.

Political Concern

Oromo activist-turned-politician Jawar Mohammed in a recent paper identifies six fundamental differences that persistently cause tension between Amhara and Oromo. These are the politics of historical memory, the issue of Finfinne (Addis Ababa), border disputes, cross-border minority issues, power-sharing, and language.

Other politicians and analysts also concede that the alliance did not solve underlying differences.  

“When they signed the Oro-mara agreement, which had no usefulness apart from being a tool for the ruling party, there was no progress made,” recently stated Merera Gudina, the veteran chairman of Oromo Federalist Congress, Jawar’s party. “Even now, the elites of all of Ethiopia’s communities are unable to advance the democratic agenda together”.

Sisay Mengiste, an Assistant Professor at Addis Ababa University and member of Addis Ababa city council, emphasized a lack of trust. He stated, “This is something that was not well thought out; they should have worked to make the temporary collaboration sustainable, but they didn’t. Both groups are suspicious of each other.”

Meanwhile plenty of Tigrayan analysts have long claimed that ‘Oromara’ was ultimately aimed at weakening Tigrayan influence in Ethiopia’s politics. 

Late Arrival

Much of the current discontent traces back to historical issues. 

During the imperial and Derg era, Amhara elites were dominant and widely identified as the ruling class. This led to the development of a diffused identity among the Amhara, where they saw attachment to a particular ethnic group as regressive. 

Instead, they identified themselves as Ethiopians and thus saw their role as the custodians of Ethiopian culture and tradition; while in parallel the dominant ‘Ethiopian culture’ shared many commonalities with Amhara and Tigrayan customs.

This was reinforced by the policies of the imperial and Derg regimes, which emphasized the importance of national unity and downplayed ethnic identities. As a result, Amhara people mostly tended to see themselves as Ethiopian rather than Amhara – as many still do.

Consequently, many Amhara hesitated to adopt and then participate in what they saw as the divisive ethnic-based political system introduced by the transitional government after 1991. This meant a delayed emergence of Amhara nationalism as many from the group rejected the constitution, which prioritizes the rights of identity-based groups, but offered little to some minority communities dispersed across the country.

Exodus to Ethnonationalism

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Amhara did not produce an ethnic-based insurgency, making it the only one among Ethiopia’s major ethnic groups not to do so. 

Even the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement, the party that purported to represent Amhara interests and was part of the ruling coalition, had a pan-national (or, Ethiopianist) ideology in its early days. Only later did it adopt an ethno-nationalist platform, transforming into the Amhara National Democratic Movement.

Recent years have seen a surge of Amhara nationalism, driven by perceptions of an unfair federal system, persecution, and unequal treatment by the federal government. 

The growing sense of Amhara identity has led to the formation of new parties and organizations advocating for Amhara rights and interests. These include the National Movement of Amhara, the Amhara Democratic Party and advocacy groups like the Amhara Association of America.

Shifting Loyalties

Many Amharas initially supported Abiy’s government during the early stages of his tenure. This was partly built on a belief, which Abiy nurtured, that he would revise or replace the existing constitution. 

The hostility shown towards the TPLF, culminating in the Tigray war, bolstered Amhara support, despite the government making no moves to amend the constitution. 

The Amhara’s forceful reclaiming of Welkait and Raya – territories that were made part of Tigray as they were assessed during the transitional period to have a preponderance of Tigrinya speakers – as a result of the military campaign on Tigray, served to further strengthen Abiy’s popularity. 

However, the government’s handling of massacres of Amhara minorities in Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz resulted in increasingly vocal protests. 

The federal government’s perceived tendency to take measures aimed at facilitating the gradual take over of Addis Ababa by Oromia has intensified Amhara nationalists’ already hostile view of Abiy’s administration. 

Territorial Matters

Recent restructuring, which gave rise to Sheger City, and the enforcement of the learning of Afaan Oromo, hoisting of the Oromia flag, and singing of the Oromia anthem in Addis Ababa schools were also viewed negatively by Amhara nationalists. 

The Pretoria agreement between the federal government and the TPLF, which legitimized the TPLF’s re-entry into Ethiopian politics, further agitated many Amhara. 

The agreement stipulated that contested territories of Welkait and Raya would be resolved according to the constitution. For the TPLF, that means their return to Tigray, but it could also mean a referendum. 

For the Amhara, it means a need to be able to resist in the event of Welkait and Raya being placed under the administrative control of the newly formed Tigray interim government, which heightens Amhara concern about the ongoing federal efforts to weaken regional forces.

The recent visit by the delegation of Tigray’s new leaders to Oromia further increased unease among Amhara nationalists that a potential ‘Oro-ray’ alliance may be in the making.

Sustainable Solution

The demonstrations and the federal-Amhara clashes are thus a reflection of a deepening political crisis. Some politicians from both sides recognize this and emphasize the importance of moderation and negotiation. 

Merera, who’s also a political scientist, warned that “without negotiated political stability, the problems could escalate and reach catastrophic levels”.

Rahel Bafe, the Vice Chairman of the Ethiopian Social Democratic Party and General Secretary of the Joint Council of Political Parties, commented that “extreme” elements  from both sides are taking the lead. He recommends elites and “cadres” take a moment to reflect in order to avert a similar tragedy to the Tigray war.

In his paper, Jawar acknowledged the historical wounds, but encouraged Oromos to adjust their narratives and concentrate on reconciliation by commemorating common values.

Abiy, in a recent appearance at parliament, had expressed concern and said Amhara and Oromo actors need to “reduce the hatred”, partly as they will lose the most from the conflict. 

“It is necessary to calm down and engage in dialogue,” he said.

Query or correction? Email us

Correction: The reference in the second paragraph to Korem town in Tigray being in Amhara’s North Wollo Zone has been removed. We apologize for the error.

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About the author

Abel Tesfaye

Abel is an Ethiopia Insight reporter, who also does freelance consulting and translation work. He has a Master's degree in Psychology. Contact him at


  • What’s more, as regional Liyu forces set to disband or set for demobilization scheme and amid the on going massive protest and confrontations in the Amhara region against it, there is a subtle discussion, trepidation and other suspicions occurring among masses in the Somali Region right now. As per contradictory/ hushed tone of the regional admin and public discussions in the social , people are equaly divided over the issue. Many acknowledge the forces’s substandard service, tribal components, poor training , lack of professionalism and many human rights abuses it perpetrated against
    civilians in the last decade. In same breath, they seriously doubt about the motive behind policy and sincerity of the reintegration formula. Many desire and would welcome possibility of full absorption into national or federal police but they really doubt if that would ever happen . So they are brassing for the return of alient occupying and marauding armies from the Abyssinian highlands and the return of national government’s centralization modus operandi of the last regimes starting from Menilik to Woyane era, where the accupying forces had no or little in common with local population linguistically, culturally and so on that often leads to full blown rebellion and ethnic liberation agendas.

  • What’s funny in 2023, how a tribalism fever works. it was few years ago, when Amhara praised & assumed Abiyahmed is one them (favor word Oma-ara), plus
    “Tigrey militia should be disarmed quickly”
    However, Governance is a constitution & rule of law. if one group is advocating oppression of another ethnic group. it means normalization of injustices that gets back to you, sooner or later.
    all of sudden, Amhara felt security of having Federalism & local militia to protect for themselves against injustices.
    Today, Tigrey is laughing & Amhara is crying & unfortunate war situation maybe reversed. just think about if Ethiopia🇪🇹implied Confederation system the last 5 years (wasted in war) would have been progress for Ethiopia; it was illusion that Amhara assumed to control & get opportunity to rule others.

  • In the history of political philosophy , their had/have been alliance b/n or among countries.
    the best examples are the military alliances of first and the Second world war.

    Today, Western nations alliance called NATO, a military alliance is a very good example , they are successful to attack their enemies .

    Whereas , Ethiopia, as a sovereign independent state , we fell shame when we see alliance b/n regional government .

  • Ethiopia’s problem is highly rooted in its top-down state-society relations, among other things. Imposing any new government policy or anything equivalent to the ethnically divided regions of the country cannot bring any positive result given that almost everything is perceived through ethnic lenses. The way out is either building a consensus-based democracy or restructuring the federal arrangement along other cross-cutting social cleavages other than ethnic fault lines.

  • Generally no regioshould have it’s own army in long term. But in recent years the Amaras lost trust in the government. They should have some years translational time for disarmament. The government should try not to escalate further violence and the Amara leaders should be smart in their decision.

  • This shows a mix of unfolding dangerous ethno-political game with an ever increasing menace and creeping of despotism and deranged leadership at the helm.
    On the other, it is ironic that Amhara would oppose an integration scheme of the regional liyu police with national army, if there has been any to start with. The amhara had exclusively controlled this institution as a ethnic trophy
    over hundred years through rank and file.
    Likewise, Tigrains dominated nearly
    thee decades and now Oromos are for the line up to capture it as newfound ethic trophy. Amharas would have been the last to negate an integration of especially police into national army. But as old-timers know full well that the scheme wouldn’t be fair one as it would give the upper hand to their nemesis – the Oromo rivals. What then one expect from other marginalized and outsiders to opine and positions like thd Somali , Afars, etc? Rest assured, they definitely would oppose to the one-sided, ill-conceived and undemocratic scheme.

  • alliancies within Ethiopian provinces or cities is a strange/unnatural philosophy of goverment, like that of having regional military force

    Ethiopia is a reccognized sovereign country .

    What kind of a fabricated fictitious story is this?

    Let us focus for Economic and social development , people are demanding security and economic stability.

    Tribalism was not beneficial for TpLF(minorityanist) and couldn’t be beneficial for the so called today’s majorityanist)

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