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  • Yazarın fotoğrafıEndris Mekonnen Faris

Ethiopia’s Last But Inevitable Infight

The Abiy government has been fighting against an irregular armed group on another new front in the Amhara region. This ensued the peace deal the Federal government struck with the Tigray regional government in Pretoria, South Africa on 2nd November 2022. The infight has widely been predicted as the last armed conflict that marred the transition period following the devastating civil war in the Tigray region that ended in November. The agreement opened Pandora's box exposing two key actors who were fiercely disappointed by the peace deal and hinted at the possibility of seeing another conflict though would be different in its nature and small in scale.

The nature and scope of the new conflict

The explanation to the question of ‘why has this conflict been fought?’ helps us understand the nature of the conflict. In order to understand its scope analyzing the scale and the effects help a great deal.

Many tended to draw similarities between the current conflict and the civil war the Ethiopian government fought against the Tigray region nearly a year ago. It is not. Simply put the nature of the conflict underway features two aspects essentially different from the civil war in Tigray.

Ideology comprises the first aspect. The ongoing conflict could well be explained in terms of differences the warring groups maintained for several decades vis-à-vis the Ethiopian State at a systemic level. While the central government favors a decentralized arrangement the other group advocates and struggles for a centralized unitary Ethiopian State that existed before 1991. There is an insignificant division of the latter that accepted a federalism arrangement but on a geographic basis. This, however, failed the country and disregarded the political entitlement of several political societies for self-rule at the unit level and fair power share at the national level.

The current Ethiopian government and a number of political forces that apparently hold political identities that reflect their social bases maintain a vision of an Ethiopian State that is Federal where in theory constitutive regional states hold together and form a central government. This was not accepted by the other group which perceived the post-1991 federal arrangement as a threat to Ethiopia’s existence as a united country.

The armed conflict behind these contending visions of the Ethiopian State is not new. The unitarian camp suffered a repeated defeat on a number of occasions before and after 1991. After the Abiy government took office in April 2018 the group disarmed itself and was allowed to return home from Eritrea, Europe, and the US to pursue nonviolent politics. The group now reorganized itself under the name called ‘Fanno’, picked arms, and resumed violence in confined fronts aiming to overthrow the Abiy government and dismantle the constitutionally enshrined federal arrangement.

Economic interest comes second. The economic aspect of the resentment besetting the ongoing conflict has been tied to the swath of land, Welqait-Tsegede, which the constitution recognizes as part of the Western Tigray. The region is prominent for its agricultural activities cultivating a huge amount of Sesam that constitutes Ethiopia’s major export items. As the civil war flared up in November 2020 militias in the area took advantage and controlled the area and transferred the ownership to a few non-Tigrian businessmen. The federal government has not yet recognized the recent control of the land as legal and in fact, the official approach pursued emphasized the controversy gets resolved through the constitutional means.

The scope of the ongoing conflict has largely been confined and affects fairly limited areas within the vast Amhara region. Gojam zone has remained the epicenter where the irregular armed forces maintain a stronghold.

Immediate causes of the conflict

Two vital consecutive occurrences have caused the conflict to blow up.

The first triggering point has to do with the signed peace deal struck between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray regional government. The group unequivocally rejected the Pretoria peace agreement. This has ostensibly been justified for two reasons. The first reason pointed out that the signed agreement must have not been done in the first place. This is because, they maintained that, the conflict could have been extended to defeat and fully wipe out the Tigrian armed forces as a political actor. Negotiation has never been an option to settle the devastating civil war because, they argued, the war could have been concluded with the absolute victory of the aligned force that included the Ethiopian government.

The second factor is the strict order issued by the Abiy government to dissolve special and irregular armed forces that once fought alongside with the government following the Pretoria peace agreement. The order was sent to all regional states to either integrate these forces into the National Defence Force or allow them to reintegrate into the societies and lead civil life. However, the instruction has been perceived as a sole attack aimed at the irregular armed forces actively operating in the Amhara region.

While a significant size of the forces accepted the offers and either joined the National Army or began civil life a few others rejected and finally hid themselves in the jungles. Soon the reorganized force returned to nearby cities and launched attacks marking the beginning of the ongoing conflict in the region.   


Chronicling things as unfolded and the situation right now

Both the Federal and the Regional governments remained alert for a long that violence of some kind could flare up given a group of armed forces rejected the dissolving order and went into the hide. Efforts have been put in place to address the escalating political crisis so that conflicts could be avoided. What happened on the morning of a day a little over two months ago revealed things fell apart.

On August 3 the Federal government received a letter from the regional government that requested appropriate and immediate actions referring to the country’s constitution. The urge for additional help underscored the glaring fact that the irregular armed group became uncontrollable with the region’s limited capacity and the existing law enforcement bodies.  

Upon the issued request the Federal government declared a six-month state of emergency, mobilized forces, and put several measures to de-escalate the deteriorating situation in a few and most affected parts of the region. Internet outage ensued, air and land transportation, most importantly, to and from Bahir Dar disrupted, and a command post that rules the region through this crisis period was established. Operations aiming at reimposing order and peace launched within that week.

On August 9 the Ethiopian military force pushed back militiamen in key towns and announced the resuming of disrupted flights to Bahir Dar, the region’s capital, the next day. Two weeks into several efforts to stabilize the affected cities and rural areas around Bahir Dar the Regional state emerged with a new government with a new leadership.

On August 25 the regional council approved the resignation of Yilikal Kefale and elected Arega Kebede as the region’s president during a session held in Bahir Dar now under full control of the Federal forces. The new leadership with strong and all-round support from the central government looks controlling situations and succeeded in containing the conflict in areas such as the Gojam Zone. Robustly defiant of the rebellion, the remaining zones of the region managed to stay largely calm and unaffected over the course of the last two months indicating the prospect of possible return of normalcy in the entire region in a short period to come.


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