YOUR SUPPORT IS VITAL FOR OUR WORK
Ethiopianist politics is being upended by increasing Amhara mistrust of federal intentions.
Turmoil is growing in Amhara region as opposition grows there to federal policies and the government launches crackdowns to try and quell the surging discontent. Yet despite this turbulence, the central state’s power, Amhara factionalism, and friction with fellow government opponents are likely to act as constraints on the revolt.
Following the assassination on 27 April of Girma Yeshitila, the head of the Amhara Prosperity Party, the Ethiopian Joint Security and Intelligence Task Force arrested 47 suspects and announced the commencement of a law enforcement operation against what federal authorities label “extremist” forces.
It accused them of “seeking to dismantle the constitutional system and forcefully gain control of regional state power” within Amhara.
The state-funded Ethiopian Human Rights Commission released a statement on 4 March saying there were intense clashes in various areas, including North Gondar, North Wolo, and North Showa zones, between federal soldiers and local militants.
Widespread protests erupted in the region following the federal decision to integrate regional forces into federal structures. While some Amhara Special Forces (ASF) agreed to the integration, others refused and allegedly joined Fano militants.
The regional leadership claims to have carried out extensive discussions with the ASF and managed to convince most of them to embrace the restructuring. They also claim that protests began to wane in mid-April.
Some Amhara political and civic organizations have denounced federal operations and the cutting of the internet and other public services.
But despite such treatment, Amhara nationalists are short of allies other than perhaps in Asmara where Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki is equally dismayed by Abiy’s pact with the TPLF. This isolation is partly because of strong Amhara support for brutal federal action in recent years to quell resistance in Tigray and Oromia.
Amhara’s predicament can be seen in light of the pivot by Amhara Ethiopianists who oppose the federal effort to defang regional paramilitaries even after spending years labeling such forces as divisive.
They argue now that the federal government cannot be trusted with protecting the interests of the Amhara people, an argument that legitimizes Amharas’ right to defend themselves.
Habtamu Ayalew, an Ethio 360 journalist and Amhara activist who the government accuses of being among a group that plotted a coup, has framed the unrest in Amhara as a struggle against Oromo expansionism.
“The war started in Amhara region to destroy Ethiopia and build a country called Oromia after the destruction of Ethiopia,” he wrote on Facebook.
AS OUR CONTENT IS FREE, PLEASE HELP US COVER OUR COSTS
Similarly, Yonas Biru, a vocal former supporter of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, recently published a controversial paper in which he attacks what he labels “political Oromummaa” – defined as a militant Oromo nationalism that seeks to forcefully assimilate other groups.
According to his viewpoint, this form of nationalism is being tacitly promoted by Abiy’s government. Some Amhara activists have seized upon his paper to try and mobilize resistance online.
Meanwhile, arch Abiy critic, Lidetu Ayalew, a centrist Amhara figure that spoke out against the federal conduct of the Tigray war, opposes the disarmament despite his long-held concerns about ethno-nationalism. He also says the federal move threatens citizens who currently need the regional forces to protect them.
Amhara political factions aren’t alone in opposing the move.
Some Tigrayan critics argue that concentrating security power in the hands of the central government, known for its desire to consolidate control at the expense of regions, would further undermine regional autonomy and self-administration.
“Amhara might be decrying this decision now for so many reasons. But those who paid dearly for autonomy & self-determination are the biggest losers in the long term,” tweeted a prominent Tigrayan activist.
A leading Oromo nationalist figure, Bekele Gerba, equally concerned about regional autonomy, somewhat paradoxically backs the government move.
The Oromo Federalist Congress politician insisted that Oromo Special Forces deserve dismantling even more than their Amhara counterparts, as, according to him, the former committed atrocities on their own constituency, something he says the latter are not guilty of.
Recent federal government actions have created fissures in Amhara and Ethiopianist politics. Growing polarization of these factions may result in further fragmentation and low-level resistance that Abiy’s government will probably be able to absorb relatively easily.
Top regional leaders are trying to enforce federal plans but, according to Amhara nationalists, the lower level leadership is on their side. To try and address the crisis, Amhara regional leaders held a conference last month in Bahir Dar. Gizachew Muluneh, Amhara government spokesman, said the conference would try and ease “divisive tendencies” and foster unity in Amhara.
Some non-Amhara Ethiopianist factions, such as the Ezema party of Abiy’s Education Minister, Berhanu Nega, remain aligned with the federal government.
In contrast, Berhanu’s erstwhile allies, Neamin Zeleke and Andargachew Tsige, previously Asmara-based Ethiopianist politicians of Amhara descent who have been supporting federal military operations in Tigray and Oromia, have turned against the federal government, portraying its deal with TPLF, actions against Amhara forces, and declining relations with Eritrea as a betrayal.
Other Amhara factions that have always opposed ethnic federalism appear to have leaned into ethnonationalism. Eskinder Nega, who previously identified as a human rights advocate and politician representing Addis Ababa residents’ interests, established the Amhara People’s Front [APF] on 20 May to sustain “the existence of the Amhara people.”
Notably, even Lidetu has started appearing regularly on Ethio 360, which advocates for militant Amhara nationalism, where he endorsed the legitimacy of Amhara resistance to the dismantling of regional paramilitaries.
In yet another Prosperity Party move redolent of the EPRDF-era national security state, the federal government charged Lidetu, along with some Ethio 360 and Mereja TV journalists, with terrorism offenses. Lidetu said he would return to Ethiopia to face charges.
On 27 May, a new Fano group called the Gondar Brigade was established, building on efforts by the Amhara Fano Unity Council, which for months has been advocating unified Amhara resistance against the federal government.
The Gondar-based council seems to be engaged in a power struggle with the Eskinder-led Amhara People’s Front (APF), which is based Gojjam. Ethio 360’s Habtamu tweeted that “Eskinder’s decision was done hastily without consulting the leaders involved in the struggle”.
Clashes occurred last week between government forces and Amhara militants at an Orthodox monastery in the Debre Elias district of East Gojjam Zone, leading to casualties, including civilians. Officials claimed militants were using the monastery for military activities.
On 31 May, Prosperity Party’s Amhara branch called for an end to destabilization in the region and warned of further security measures, suggesting that the violence may further intensify.
WITH YOUR SUPPORT, WE CAN DO MORE!
Query or correction? Email us