Since April the Ethiopian government, in the form of the ENDF (Ethiopian National Defense Force) have been engaged in violent clashes throughout the Amhara region in Ethiopia, with the volunteer force known as Fano.
The ENDF have used drones, tanks and heavy artillery against Fano freedom fighters, resulting, inevitably in the death of hundreds of civilians. “It is difficult to quantify the damage done….Many corpses are entering the hospital,” a doctor at the Bahir Dar Yelk Hayat Referral Hospital, told the BBC.
Associated Press (AP),14 August, reported that, “at least 70 civilians have been killed in drone attacks in Fenote Selam town in Ethiopia’s Amhara regional state.”AP confirmed that the “Ethiopian air force …carried out the drone attacks in Bure town [13 August] and killed an undisclosed number of civilians and injured several others.”
The conflict, between the ENDF and Fano, a volunteer group made up of men and women from the community, trusted and revered throughout Amhara, comes on the back of a series of interconnected assaults and injustices perpetrated against the Amhara people by the government, led by Prime-minister Abiy Ahmed.
First, and most shocking is the genocide of Amhara people living in Oromia, which has been going on for the last three years or so. Thousands of Amhara civilians have been killed, over two million displaced, homes and land stolen. And in a brutal act, typical of genocide elsewhere, pregnant Amhara women are specifically targeted; their stomachs stabbed, babies murdered. In addition, thousands of non-Oromo’s, specifically but not exclusively Amhara, have seen their homes demolished in Sheger City on the outskirts of the capital, Addis Ababa.
Oromo fanatics are responsible for the violence – The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) together with radicalized elements within the Oromo Special Forces (OSF), and the regional government, the Oromo Regional Authority.
Secondly, the plan to dissolve the Amhara region militia, the Amhara Special Forces (ASF): In April the government announced that all regional militia would be integrated into the ENDF or police, starting with the Amhara Special Forces (ASF).
The process of creating a unified force is long overdue. However, to begin with the ASF, without any consultation or agreed timetable, was a political action, designed to eliminate the only body protecting the Amhara people, from potential TPLF and OLF attacks. ASF refused to disarm and disband, huge public protests erupted throughout major Amhara towns/cities against the proposal, ASF members fled. Protesters were met with police violence and arrested.
Thirdly: Amhara representatives were excluded from the peace talks in Pretoria (November 2022) between the TPLF and government. This despite the fact that much of the 2020-2022 war took place within Amhara (as well as Afar). As a result the region suffered extensive damage to homes, hospitals, schools, roads and other infrastructure – estimated cost of reconstruction is a little over US$9 billion; hundreds of thousands of Amhara were displaced and there is little or no support (including from UN agencies, denied access by Abiy) for those now destitute and living in IDP camps, or comprehensive plans to rehouse them.
Political problems, military “solutions”
Anyone highlighting the Amhara genocide, or speaking out against the Abiy government more broadly – journalists, politicians, human rights workers, activists and youth – have been silenced, routinely imprisoned without trial in non-disclosed locations.
One of the most recent high profile figures to come under threat is member of parliament and former foreign secretary, Gedu Andergachew. He made a brave speech in parliament against the proposed State of Emergency in Amhara and denounced the government’s violent actions towards Amhara people. Saying: “this current government creates political problems and tries to solve [them] militarily instead of looking for political solution/s. This has become the character of the government……One thing we have to learn is to listen to the people and not undermine their demands.”
Andergachew asserts genocide is being committed against the Amhara people, pointing out that, “Ethnic cleansing was [and is being] committed against the Amhara people several times. [The Amhara people] have been forcefully evicted. Hundreds [of] thousands were displaced and lost their property…[and] are subjected to abuse and deprivation.” And when the Amhara people demand that their human rights are observed, their appeals “fell on deaf ears. In fact the attacks and prejudice worsened, [triggering] further abuse, displacement and killings.”
He closed his powerful address by saying, “There are government officials who want to incite Oromo people to instigate violence against Amhara people. This must be corrected. This is irresponsible. “
Predictably his was a minority voice, and a State of Emergency in the Amhara region was officially passed. Like previous such conditions imposed by the Abiy regime, indiscriminate (politically motivated) arrests followed (the UN record that, “more than 1,000 people have been arrested..under this law”), further intensifying the mistrust and anger felt by the Amhara people toward the Abiy regime. A regime that increasingly echoes the suppressive methodology of its vicious predecessor, the EPRDF.
Much like the current government, the EPRDF (a coalition on paper, which ruled from 1991-2018) was dominated by one faction, the US-backed TPLF (Tigray Peoples Liberation Front); in the same way, this administration presents as an alliance, but Abiy and the Oromo Prosperity Party (OPP) run the show.
PM Abiy, who was a member of the EPRDF government, came to power in 2018 on the back of widespread public demonstrations against the regime. He had worked in the intelligence services, was relatively unknown, and in the early days after gaining power said all the right things; apologizing for atrocities committed by the EPRDF, and talking about unity and tolerance. A large percentage of the populous and the diaspora, desperate after almost 30 years of repression and longing for change, took him at his word.
Elections were staged in 2021 amid a war with the TPLF and Covid-19. Widely regarded as unfair and undemocratic, the ruling Prosperity Party “won” a landslide. Consequently, despite the regime’s claims to the contrary, Abiy’s government, like all Ethiopian governments before it, was not democratically elected.
In the years since those hopeful, exuberant days of 2018, Abiy has consistently shown that (like Meles Zenawi before him) he is a dictator, power hungry and narcissistic, with no loyalty or concern to any particular ethnic group, and none whatsoever to the Ethiopian people as a whole. Five years on the suffering and division in the country is acute. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, millions displaced; a genocide perpetrated against Amhara people living in Oromia, that, if not directed by the government as some believe, then, through neglect alone, ethnic slaughter that the regime is complicit in; and now, as a result of Abiy’s refusal to negotiate with Amhara leaders, a civil war (potentially between Oromo and Amhara) has been brought closer than ever.
Ethiopia is made up of around 80 ethnic groups. For community harmony to exist within such a diverse, culturally rich nation a unifying principled government, with policies that promote tolerance and cooperation is essential. Whilst Abiy has in the past spoken in such terms, his actions have consistently run contrary to his words, and the results are writ large. As a result of his serial duplicity, Abiy is not trusted, not just by Amhara people, but throughout the country.
If peace, social harmony and democracy are to be established, long-term constitutional reform is needed, ethnic federalism abandoned and fair and open parliamentary elections held.
But first, and immediately, the Amhara genocide must be stopped, those responsible arrested and charged; access granted to international humanitarian organizations, including UN agencies, so IDPs can receive the support they so badly need, and all political prisoners released.
In order to diffuse the conflict between the ENDF and the Fano, which is in fact a dispute between the Amhara people and the Abiy regime, a major shift in attitude from the government is needed. As Gedu Andergachew said, “political dialogue not military force” is required, following the immediate withdrawal of all ENDF troops from Amhara towns and cities, “without any pre-conditions ”.
PM Abiy shows no signs of responding to such rational demands; all pressure therefore must be brought to bear on him and his regime by Western powers, particularly the US and its European partners.
The Amhara, indeed all the people of Ethiopia have suffered much over long decades. Fundamental political and social change is needed, central to which is the dissolution of tribal-based political groups and methodologies, the creation of inclusive democratic systems of governance; strengthening of the judiciary and civil society, and crucially, the cultivation of an atmosphere of brotherhood, tolerance and mutual understanding.