Friday, April 19, 2024
In DepthMounting casualties in Oromia, Amhara contrast with unconvincing public discussions

Mounting casualties in Oromia, Amhara contrast with unconvincing public discussions

  • “Come in peacefully and prepare for the upcoming elections” – PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD)

Unusual for the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), the last few weeks have played host to a series of well-publicized discussions between top government and party officials and local authorities and public representatives. The scenes were reminiscent of election campaigns, barring the conspicuous absence of opposition party leaders.

At the top of the agenda during the discussions were conflict, security, and political issues. Another unusual feature of these meetings was that officials from the Oromia Regional State were assigned to convene and lead discussions in the Amhara Regional State, and vice-versa. Senior officials from the remaining regional (except Tigray) were assigned to lead meetings in their respective capitals.

Analysts observe that the discussions were likely organized to quell concerns about the unity and effectiveness of the incumbent Prosperity Party, but ended up highlighting ongoing contradictions and gaps. Analysts note, for instance, that concerns raised by residents of Addis Ababa were met with mismatched or inapplicable responses from the regional officials presiding over the talks.

The Prime Minister also convened senior regional officials for a meeting before departing to Nairobi to attend the sixth session of the UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA). Unsurprisingly, the meeting also centered around security concerns in the Amhara and Oromia regions.

Most of these discussions were televised to the public. PM Abiy conducted meetings with Oromia regional representatives in Afan Oromo, which were also translated and televised.

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Analysts contend the discussions are flawed in that the participating public representatives were largely supporters of the ruling party, with no participants representing the armed groups involved in the conflicts plaguing the two regions. Analysts also observe the meetings have offered no solution to the fighting.

“The public representatives who were chosen for the discussions are mostly government affiliates and supporters of the ruling party. They didn’t raise major concerns pertinent to the ongoing conflicts. Instead, they were busy praising government officials,” an analyst told The Reporter after reviewing footage from the discussions.

Mounting casualties in Oromia, Amhara contrast with unconvincing public discussions | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

The talks were taking place as conflict in Oromia and Amhara continued to rage, even escalate. Last week, the command post in charge of implementing the state of emergency extended by Parliament last month announced that transportation between Dessie, Shewa Robit, Debre Birhan, and other urban centers in the Amhara region, have been suspended.

Only a few public representatives brought up the turmoil in the region during talks with the Prime Minister; others avoided the topic entirely or painted rosier pictures.

In a similar vein, the discussions with representatives from Oromia focused largely on shifting blame to the armed groups engaged with government forces in the region.

Two rounds of talks between the federal government and OLF-Shene (self-christened Oromo Liberation Army) in Tanzania failed last year, and there are no hints at a third round. Meanwhile, fighting in Oromia has intensified, with OLF-Shene reportedly managing to expand its presence into central Oromia from strongholds in the region’s west and south.

“Our ultimate task is to protect this regime,” Shimelis Abdisa, president of Oromia Regional State, told members of the Oromia Regional Council (Chaffe), during an assembly two weeks ago. 

Analysts observe the government’s approach to the conflicts in Oromia and Amhara has shifted from political negotiations to reconciliation fostered by elders. The federal government has yet to initiate official talks with armed groups operating in the Amhara region.

 “If you [PM Abiy] truly wanted to and were committed, you could have solved the ongoing conflict in Amhara,” said a participant during a session with the Prime Minister.

“It’s not like that. There are external forces fueling the conflict in Amhara,” said the PM. “Our real interest is in stopping the Amhara Shene and Oromia Shene from killing and kidnapping civilians. We want these armed forces to lay down their arms, come in peace, compete in elections, win with ideas and join our efforts to build this country. We have no problem with this. We have made repeated calls to armed forces in Amhara. Again, I call for them to come in peace. If they want to lay down arms and talk, we are ready. Religious leaders in the Amhara region must also do their duty in mediation.”

News of civilian casualties continue in both beleaguered regions. The government recently blamed OLF-Shene for a number of killings in a monastery in Oromia a few weeks ago. OLF-Shene, which is labeled a terrorist organization by Parliament, has since issued a statement calling for an independent investigation into civilian killings in Oromia.

Last week, a report from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) disclosed that at least 103 people have been killed over the past two years in Oromia alone. The Commission also revealed details about civilian casualties in the Amhara region, including the recent deaths in Merawi.

Government security forces are deploying drones to civilian areas, according to reports from EHRC, Ethiopian Human Rights Council, and other international human rights bodies. 

The EHRC report implicates government security forces, OLF-Shene and armed forces operating in the Amhara region in war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Commission has also called for an immediate independent investigation into the crimes.

Analysts observe the government’s description of the armed groups it is currently engaged with fluctuates between references to ordinary bandits kidnapping and killing for financial gain, and political forces that have raised arms.

“We received this authority through elections. Anybody can take it from us in the same way. If you have leaders better than us, you can elect them and give them the power. We will transfer power peacefully to elected leaders. But we will never give up power at gunpoint. We have a military background. Nobody can threaten us with force,” the Prime Minister said during discussions with representatives from Amhara last week. “It’s just a year since the war in northern Ethiopia stopped. Now, property including ambulances are being burnt down in the region [Amhara]. This is wrong. If there are problems, we can solve them through dialogue, without killing each other.”

The government’s proposed solutions to the chaos, much like its perception of the armed groups, have been in disarray. There have been instances where the government offers to negotiate with these groups, while simultaneously launching military offensives against them.

But during the latest discussions, the Prime Minister tabled a slightly different approach.

“Elders and religious leaders in Gondar should persuade armed forces in Gondar [to lay down arms]. Elders and religious leaders in Wollega should persuade the armed forces in Wollega to come to peace. The same must be done in Gojjam, Wollo and all other parts of the country. Then the government can sit down and negotiate with them,” he said. “Let the elders and religious leaders persuade the armed groups in their localities. Then the government will be ready to forgive them. If need be, we can also compensate. Unless elders and religious leaders persuade the armed forces, Amhara will be exposed to conflict and destruction. Plus, inflation, unemployment, bad governance, and closure of factories, all will affect the region. These issues cannot be addressed unless the government is relieved from continuous confrontations with armed groups.”

The PM hinted the ruling party is not ready for power negotiations, according to analysts.

“What the armed groups in Oromia and Amhara want is power negotiations. But the government’s intention is the complete surrender of the armed groups. it is difficult to see the hope for peace under the current approach,” an analyst told The Reporter.

The PM, however, has a different idea.

“We will remain in charge for the coming two years. There is nothing to quarrel about. The armed groups can come in peacefully, and prepare for the upcoming  elections,” he told representatives from the Amhara region.

The Ethiopian government also did not reflect on US officials’ offer to mediate between the government, OLF-Shene and armed groups in the Amhara region.

Following a recent visit to Ethiopia, Molly Phee, US assistant secretary of State for African Affairs, and Mike Hammer, special envoy to the Horn of Africa, hinted that the government is keen to engage in dialogue with the armed forces.

“We expressed our willingness to facilitate dialogue with the Oromo Liberation Army and participate in possible talks with the Amhara Fano aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to ongoing violence, as there is no military solution.  We appreciate that the government of Ethiopia has expressed its openness to dialogue,” said Hammer. “And we know that our Ambassador Massinga in Addis has also offered [the same] to the government, and if there’s an opportunity to engage with the Fano, we would welcome the opportunity to try to, again, advance peace. And as we’ve said repeatedly, there is no military solution to these conflicts. And in fact, the focus right now should be on dialogue and, of course, ensuring the protection of civilians.”

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