Violence and unrest have been worsening across many parts of Ethiopia, becoming a common theme. Even while the ruling Prosperity Party held a high-level meeting in Adama over 10 days, clashes intensified in many parts of Ethiopia. Even areas near Adama town saw weeks of clashes, as fighting erupted in Awragodana, Korke, Minjar Shenkora and Fantale—border regions between Oromia and Amhara. Tensions have also been rising in other regions.
In Amhara region, fresh clashes between the Fano militia and government forces have destabilized the region since August, forcing the federal government to declare a state of emergency. The resulting state leadership reshuffle also signify the high stakes – and the regime’s struggle to assert control.
In Oromia, tensions deepened after peace talks between the armed groups dubbed OLF-shene by government, and federal representatives ended without a deal in Tanzania last April.
In Oromia and Amhara, Ethiopia’s largest regional states, lower-level government institutions have struggled to operate fully. In western and southern Oromia, the OLF-shene reportedly controls areas in the region, particularly in rural and small town areas, according to some reports.
With conflict erupting regularly between these militias and government forces, stretches of territory in both regions have come under the control of armed elements. The lingering insecurity has prevented state structures from properly carrying out their functions at the grassroots level across significant parts of Oromia and Amhara.
In Tigray, rebuilding efforts continue under the Interim Administration, but residents and opposition parties are calling for more post-conflict rehabilitation.
Deadly clashes also erupted in Babile at the Somali-Oromia border last week, spilling into the Kolaji refugee camp, according to human rights reports. Civilians again bore the brunt of intensifying regional tensions.
Sources say unresolved issues in Oromia and Amhara have drawn the scrutiny of foreign partners.
In a call with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), Secretary of State Blinken reinforced the need for peaceful resolution of the conflicts in the region.
However, ruling party leaders offered no clear next steps or strategy for easing tensions threatening state stability following their Adama meeting. While reports cite myriad conflict drivers around resources, power and identity, citizens continue to shoulder rising inflation and joblessness amid crises.
Some scenarios outlined in a recent Forum for Social Studies (FSS) study warn of fault lines. The study, dubbed “Quo Vadis Ethiopia? Scenarios,” depicts a major division of lines in the ruling party itself.
“Frightening as the prospect is, the disintegration of the country into separate units is not beyond the realm of possibility. While the federal government’s conflict with the TPLF is currently showing encouraging signs of peaceful resolution, the latter’s ally, the OLA, is expanding its operations in different parts of the country, sometimes quite close to the capital, massacring both Oromo and non-Oromo,” the study states.
It further states that the PP does not “have the necessary coherence to govern effectively with one voice.”
The EPRDF legacy, it says, “has endured and the various components of PP have started emphasizing their separate identity: Amhara Prosperity, Oromo Prosperity, etc. There is a genuine fear that future internal war will be between the Oromo and Amhara.”
The dire assessments of Birhanu Jula (Fi. Mar.), army chief, have also rung alarm bells.
“Armed groups backed by foreign forces are destabilizing the country. If we do not fight them, our country will be destroyed like Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia,” he told media. “The only option we have is to unite with the ruling party and fight the elite groups that have become gangrene to this country,” he stated.
However, Bate Urgessa, head of public relations at the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), rejects the notion that Ethiopia is destined to become a failed state akin to Yemen, Libya, or Syria.
He says that while fragility is the inherent nature of unitary states, “literature indicates that when federal systems fail, they tend to disintegrate with the emergence of different autonomous states. So, I have no fear that Ethiopia will become failed state.”
Rather than anticipating state failure, Bate foresees four potential scenarios unfolding.
“First, regional governments could weaken federal authority while continuing to govern their respective areas – somewhat resembling the Zemene Mesafint period. Second, the federal government could centralize power aggressively, crushing regional autonomy to establish a highly unitary system,” Bate says.
Under the third scenario, “regional administrations could become inactive while the federal government maintains dominance. Fourth, should armed groups grow stronger or factions split from the ruling coalition, they may carve autonomous territories from existing regional states through coups or secession,” elaborated Bate.
The 2023 Fragile States Index ranked Ethiopia 11th, but some analysts argue this assessment overlooks the severity of conflicts racking the nation. While placing Ethiopia just five ranks below Sudan, the index warned of worsening humanitarian crises.
However, Joint Council of Political Parties Chair, Rahel Bafe (PhD) questioned whether it sufficiently accounted for violence afflicting civilians.
“The conflict in Ethiopia is no less than Sudan. In terms of casualties and bloodshed, Ethiopia’s conflict is much worse, yet it was not ranked accordingly based on important parameters omitted,” she says, adding, “The index missed some elements.”
Rahel notes civilian deaths are occurring daily across Ethiopia. “Mass burials with bulldozers have become common. It seems the government no longer cares about loss of life, which is deeply saddening for our country,” she adds.
She traces problems to a lack of inclusive national vision and political will to find solutions through open negotiations. The government’s actions seem to be exacerbating the fragile situation, pushing the state closer to failure, she says.
Rahel argues the Ethiopian government has “failed” its people by using lethal force to resolve domestic issues rather than seeking non-violent solutions.
“When a government starts killing its own citizens, it becomes a terrorist, not a protector of the people,” Rahel said. “Citizens flee in fear of the very forces meant to ensure their safety.”
She asserts the ongoing conflict in Oromia lies at the root of wider instability, blurring lines between federal and regional authority as the government takes an increasingly heavy-handed approach.
Political experts monitoring the situation share concerns over the prioritization of maintaining power over protecting public welfare. While the government has been saying it is ready for a peaceful resolution with armed groups, experts claim that it has prioritized power over the safety of the people. As a result, they stress that the country will end as a failed state if it continues on this path.
As tensions rise, many citizens no longer view the government as “theirs,” according to Rahel. She fears national dialogue is being used more as a delaying tactic than a genuine effort to include all voices and resolve issues through non-violent participation.
Rahel asserts Ethiopia’s complex challenges demand cooperation beyond just government efforts. However, she states the administration lacks genuine willingness to work with all stakeholders.
“The National Dialogue Initiative appears it is more about buying time and sowing confusion,” Rahel claimed. She alleges the government refuses transitional leadership and excludes key voices from dialogue.
Analysts believe the proliferation of armed groups across Ethiopia is pushing the ruling party towards further militarization of its own forces.
The only solution according to Rahel is transforming Ethiopia’s leadership from a militarized system to civilian democratic governance.
“Since the imperial era, Ethiopia has been ruled by military regimes. Even now, force is being used only to maintain power,” she stated.
Rahel asserted that armed opposition groups also aim to seize control through force, not democratic means. “If the current government falls, any new administration would simply be another military government,” she warned.
In her view, replacing one armed faction with another changes nothing for citizens. “Ethiopians have yet to experience civilian rule since imperial times,” she argued.