Turmoil in Ethiopia: Ethnic Violence Rocks the Country
Ethnic tensions in Ethiopia have been increasing since the election of Prime Minister (PM) Abiy Ahmed in April. The past few months have been marred by violence. The PM has ushered in sweeping changes that seek to transform Ethiopia. He has been praised internationally for the role he played in ending the age-old conflict with Eritrea. However, during the weekend of Sept. 28, it was reported that a resurgence of ethnic violence has engulfed the country.
The violence was triggered after a group of assassins killed four government officials while visiting the Oromia region. As a result of the killings, the border between Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz has become a site of violence. It is reported that the clashes are taking place between groups of young people armed with rocks and knives. These conflicts have destabilized the entire region and resulted in the deaths of over 44 people. Local officials requested help from the federal government, specifically for the military to help control the situation. However, the communications officer of the Benishangul-Gumuz region has stated that more security is needed as the violent groups move from location to location.
As a result of the violence, between 70,000 and 73,000 people have been displaced over areas where the conflict is most concentrated. Since Abiy Ahmed’s electoral victory, one million Ethiopians have been forced to leave their homes as a result of the ethnically charged conflict. The number of internally displaced people is estimated to have reached about 1.4 million. This statistic sets Ethiopia as the country with the highest amount of internally displaced people in the world, above Syria.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time since the new PM took office that such violence has been observed. In early September, 58 people were killed in the capital over a similar ethnic conflict. These ethnic tensions have a profound basis in the history of Ethiopia.
The country has been organized by the system of “ethnic federalism”, also known as “Zenawism”, where ethnic groups govern entire regions since the regime of Meles Zenawi in 1990s. The argument was that this would allow for ethnic groups to govern themselves, however, in reality, it became a way to create division along ethnic lines. The regime’s coalition known as Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is itself made up of many ethnically based political parties.
Though PM Ahmed pushed for ethnic reconciliation when he was elected, he is now stuck at an impasse. In a message on Oct. 3, he stated that “an attack on one is an attack on all. The displaced of one is the displacement of all. The death of one is the death of all.” The 42-year-old PM hopes to be a reconciliatory figure following the recent conflicts. Experts have pointed out that change will only come with a fundamental reworking of the country’s constitution.