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In DepthAmhara's battle for stability: Can dialogue prevail over violence?

Amhara’s battle for stability: Can dialogue prevail over violence?

Amidst a landscape of ongoing clashes and mounting civilian casualties, the Amhara region finds itself engulfed in a relentless turmoil that defies easy resolution. International organizations express grave concerns over the escalating human rights violations while emphasizing the urgent need for dialogue as a path towards lasting peace.

However, the challenges ahead are formidable, as addressing deeply rooted grievances and rebuilding shattered trust become paramount in the quest for a sustainable solution.

Despite the recent announcement by the state of emergency command post suggesting a return to normalcy in the Amhara region, the situation on the ground tells a different story. Rather than subsiding, clashes and tensions within the region have intensified, reaching a critical point.

While urban centers like Bahir Dar, Gondar, and Lalibela show signs of improvement with the resumption of flights, reports from reliable sources confirm ongoing clashes between armed forces in the region and national security forces. These conflicts extend beyond towns like Debremarkos and Bure to affect rural areas as well, exacerbating an already volatile situation.

The Amhara region remains embroiled in active conflict, with clashes persisting in different areas, leading to a devastating toll on civilian lives. The recent tragic clash in Debere Markos stands as a stark example, resulting in the loss of innocent lives, particularly among the impoverished population. The profound impact of these clashes is reflected in the region’s plummeting economy, as fear and uncertainty discourage people from engaging in any economic activities, further exacerbating the already dire situation.

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In a collective chorus of statements, the European Union (EU), African Union (AU), Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), and Ethiopian National Dialogue Commission (NDC) have voiced deep-seated concerns about the persistent conflict, alarming reports of human rights violations, and mounting civilian casualties in Ethiopia’s strife-torn Amhara region.

The unified expressions of grave concern underscore the urgent need for attention and action to address the escalating crisis unfolding in the region.

Notably, in a statement released on August 29, 2023, the EU has expressed serious apprehension regarding the alarming surge in large-scale detentions that have taken place since the declaration of the state of emergency in Amhara region.

“The EU joins the AU, EHRC, and ENDC, in calling for the protection of civilians, for a cessation of hostilities and for a dialogue, between the parties,” the statement reads.

Underlining their commitment to fostering dialogue, reconciliation, and the establishment of lasting peace, the EU expressed its unwavering support for any initiatives aimed at achieving these goals through a political settlement.

“We urge all Ethiopians to take the path of dialogue, in particular in the framework of the ongoing national dialogue process, which offers a tangible and long-term framework to work-out a peaceful future for the country,” the statement states.

In a statement issued on August 29, 2023, the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (UNHROHC), stated at least 183 people have been killed in clashes in Amhara region since July, according to information gathered by the Office.

“The wide ranging state of emergency gives the authorities broad powers nationwide, to arrest suspects without a court order, impose curfews and ban public gatherings. We call on the authorities to stop mass arrest, ensure that any deprivation of liberty is judicially reviewed, and release those arbitrarily detained,” reads the statement.

“With federal forces reasserting their presence in certain towns and Fano militias reportedly retreating into rural areas, we call on all actors to stop killings, other violations and abuses. Grievances must be addressed through dialogue and political process,” it reads, adding, the situation in Oromia and western Tigray are of concerns.

Arega Yirdaw, the recently appointed sixth president of the Amhara regional state since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) assumed power, has issued a rallying cry for unity, urging the people to stand behind the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) in their pursuit of peace and security in the region. Acknowledging the detrimental impact of the ongoing conflict, the president highlighted the disruption of the cultivation season and the inability to access essential commodities like fuel in the region.

Amhara's battle for stability: Can dialogue prevail over violence? | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

During a briefing with his newly formed cabinet, the president emphasized that relying solely on a state of emergency is not a sustainable solution. He pledged to address and resolve the underlying issues that have fueled public discontent, with the ultimate aim of lifting the region out of the state of emergency.

Despite recent developments, the fate of the Amhara region continues to hang in uncertainty, mired in disarray and complex dynamics.

Political observers express concerns as reports indicate that armed groups have shifted their tactics to guerrilla warfare in rural areas, posing ongoing challenges to stability. While the government claims that the armed groups have lost their positions, the situation remains precarious and difficult to ascertain.

Adding to the complexity, political parties from the Amhara region have largely maintained silence on the matter, further complicating the situation.

“The conflict in the Amhara region did not emerge out of nowhere. It is a result of deep-seated public discontent and has underlying causes that must be addressed to find a sustainable solution,” Belay Mengiste (PhD), a university lecturer and political analyst, said in an interview with The Reporter.

He says this is not merely a case of a few individuals rebelling against the government, nor can it be resolved by reshuffling the officials in the region.

“It is a manifestation of the loss of hope among the Amhara region’s population in the government. They have expressed their grievances, protested, and ultimately resorted to armed resistance after losing faith in peaceful political avenues,” Belay explained.

In a candid assessment, a prominent leader from an opposition party, choosing to remain anonymous, highlighted the perceived superficiality of reshuffling officials and replacing the president in the Amhara region. The opposition figure asserts that such actions merely serve as distractions, intended to divert attention from the underlying and pressing issues that need to be addressed.

“The displacement and suffering of ethnic Amhara people from Wolega and various parts of the country, as well as the border dispute with Tigray, are among the key issues fueling the Amhara people’s quest for justice. The responsibility for addressing the displacement of Amhara people in other regions, the Wolkait issue, and other concerns lies with the federal government, not the regional government,” the opposition party leader said.

“The reshuffling of officials in the region has no bearing on finding solutions. Instead, the federal government has attempted to internalize these problems and portray them as issues caused solely by the regional government,” the opposition party leader says.

He believes that the reshuffle is merely an effort to divert attention from the real solutions that are needed. “Changing regional government officials in Amhara will not contribute to resolving the problems in the region.”

The opposition party leader further expressed that the people of the region have lost trust in both the regional administration and the federal government. “The government could have at least responded to some of the questions raised by the Amhara people, addressing them based on legal grounds. If the federal government had taken even small steps in this regard, the people in Amhara would have had more trust in the federal government.”

Rebuilding that trust, he says, will be challenging unless both the regional and federal governments genuinely engage with the people in comprehensive discussions at all levels.

There is a widespread consensus that attempting to resolve the issues in the region through the use of force will not lead to lasting peace and stability. Numerous analysts and experts emphasize that the underlying problems in the region cannot be effectively addressed through military means alone. They highlight the lack of willingness from the involved parties to seek a peaceful resolution.

Given the state of emergency, the new president and cabinet of the Amhara region have limited authority over security matters. Even with full power, they cannot independently meet the demands of the Amhara people.

Concerns like the Wolkait and Raya border disputes fall under the jurisdiction of the House of Federation (HoF), while addressing the displacement of Amhara people from other regions is the responsibility of the federal government. In the event of a strong Amhara government, its role would be to exert influence and encourage the federal government to tackle and resolve these pressing issues.

Belay says that the Ethiopian federation is the result of regional governments, and therefore, the Amhara regional government has the right to demand the rights of its people. It should not beg for the rights from the federal government, rather it should rightly ask and get it.

However, he expressed skepticism about the potential for significant change with the new administration in Amhara, stating that he “does not expect anything different as the new administration has no experience. Given the current circumstances, it is difficult to have high expectations from the government.”

Some observers have suggested that the federal government declared a state of emergency in the Amhara region with the intention of taking control of the region’s administration and transferring the disputed lands of Wolkait, Raya, and Tselemt to Tigray.

However, Belay disagrees with this assertion.

He considers it a baseless conclusion and states that, to his knowledge, the request for a state of emergency came from the regional government itself, not the federal government. He adds that “when the regional government requested the state of emergency, the federal government was initially hesitant. Therefore, it is unfounded to claim that the federal government intervened in the region to transfer disputed lands or benefit Tigray under the guise of a state of emergency.”

Belay acknowledges that the federal government does seek to resolve the issue of the disputed lands expeditiously, but “that will be done through the House of Federation (HoF) and that a referendum for all the disputed lands in southern and western Tigray will be held.” 

The HoF is preparing to conduct a referendum in Raya and Tselemt, and although the referendum for Wolkait may experience some delays, preparations are underway to hold referendums for all disputed lands between Amhara and Tigray regions in the 2023–2024 fiscal year, according to The Reporters sources.

Regarding Raya, residents requested a referendum two years ago, and currently, there are no obstacles to conducting the referendum in that area. The number of people displaced from Raya is relatively small, with less than a thousand individuals affected.

Raya continues to advocate for the referendum, indicating that it can be easily carried out.

However, the situation in Wolkait is distinct.

The presence of hundreds of thousands of displaced individuals from Wolkait creates a prerequisite for their safe return to their original homes before the referendum can be conducted. This condition extends the timeline required to resolve the Wolkait issue, as ensuring the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) takes precedence.

Encouraging signs have emerged recently, indicating that the federal government is displaying a willingness to engage in discussions with the public and political representatives of the Amhara region. This development represents a positive stride towards addressing the persistent challenges faced in the region, suggesting a commitment to finding constructive solutions.

The federal government has devised comprehensive plans aimed at providing lasting solutions to the challenges in the region. These plans were the subject of recent discussions with Amhara intellectuals and elders, indicating a commitment to engaging key stakeholders in the region.

To facilitate this process, the government has entrusted the Dialogue Commission with the responsibility of engaging in discussions with elders, intellectuals, and representatives to seek sustainable resolutions.

However, there is uncertainty regarding the government’s willingness to engage in direct talks with armed groups while simultaneously pursuing military actions. The government’s stance on this matter remains unclear, and it is yet to be determined whether they are open to direct dialogue with the armed groups as part of their broader approach.

The concurrent pursuit of military operations and potential negotiations adds complexity to the situation and raises questions about the comprehensive strategy employed by the government.

Analysts suggest that the government is mobilizing the public in the region with the aim of ultimately breaking the connection between the public and the armed factions, making it more challenging for the armed groups to find sanctuary or garner public support.

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