Ethiopia’s Fragile Peace Efforts Shatter Amidst Renewed Fighting

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Fano forces take control of strategic towns in the Amhara region (Image Credit: BBC)

Ethiopia is facing the peril of another deadly conflict just a year after the signing of the Tigray peace agreement. This new internal strife has pitted the government against the nation’s defense forces and local militia, known as Fano, in the Amhara region. The militia launched attacks across major towns and cities within the region and briefly gained control over local installations, including the relatively busy Lalibela airport, police stations, and garrisons, resulting in fleeing prisoners. In response, the government swiftly shut down internet services and declared a state of emergency. This recent conflict threatens to hamper Ethiopia’s ongoing efforts to recover from the devastation caused by a prolonged period of instability.

A primary cause of the conflict in the Amhara region revolves around land rights, particularly concerning disputed territories between the Amhara and Tigray regions. This northern part of the country has often been a hotbed of tension and confrontation, frequently escalating into clashes. These tensions were exacerbated during the signing of the Tigray peace agreement, which notably excluded the Amhara population that had fought alongside Ethiopian forces during the Tigray war. The agreement stipulated that all land disputes between the Amhara and Tigray regions should be resolved constitutionally. 

Likewise, Fano is wary of the government’s call to disband regional forces and integrate them into the national defense forces. However, this approach has not been well received, with the Amhara region now experiencing skirmishes.

In response to the crisis, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has implemented a 6-month state of emergency. This declaration prohibits public gatherings, grants government authorities the power to detain suspects without the need for a court order, conduct searches without warrants, and impose curfews. However, these measures require parliamentary approval, which also reflects the Prime Minister’s power and legitimacy during this crisis. 

Despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 leading to high expectations in providing model political leadership in Africa, Abiy Ahmed has faced increased criticism for allegedly infringing on basic human rights through his government’s handling of various conflicts. For instance, the government stands accused of employing airstrikes against demonstrators, resulting in at least twenty-six fatalities in the Amhara region. Nonetheless, it asserts that its actions are aimed at restoring order in the region by reclaiming government facilities.

Amidst the country’s recovery from the prolonged conflict with neighboring Eritrea and the Tigray war, the Ethiopian government must prioritize the task of rebuilding and revitalizing the economy. The government estimates that the losses resulting from the Tigray war amounted to up to $ 22 billion. It has since sought the intervention of the IMF and World Bank to bolster its recovery efforts.

Another pressing concern is the welfare of internally displaced persons, whose numbers reached 5.1 million at the peak of the Tigray war. Furthermore, over 60,000 Ethiopian refugees have sought sanctuary in neighboring Sudan. The gravity of Ethiopia’s crisis is underscored by recent reports accusing Saudi Arabian forces of indiscriminately shooting and killing more than 400 asylum seekers.

Ethiopia, with its centrality to sociopolitical stability in the Horn of Africa, plays a pivotal role. The country’s significance cannot be underestimated, particularly as the host of the African Union (AU) headquarters. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the Prime Minister and other key political figures to pursue a sustainable resolution for the nation. The Prime Minister has actively championed the unification of the country by involving all ethnic communities in the sociopolitical process, although deeply entrenched ethnic loyalties remain a significant hurdle to fostering unified nationhood. Ultimately, it falls to the Ethiopian people to transcend their differences and restore the nation’s innate splendor as the “land of origin.”

Written by Gathieri Kahuko

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