Photograph — my j

Abiy Ahmed was the proverbial apple of Africa’s eyes when he became Ethiopia’s Prime Minister in 2018 at the age of 41. He was young, revolutionary and had great plans for the East African country. Plans of good and not of evil. Plans to eliminate old inter-tribal and regional hate within and outside of Ethiopia. Plans to light up the country with Africa’s largest dam on the River Nile- the Great Ethiopia Rainessance Dam (GERD), not minding whose ox is gored.

He had great plans for technological and infrastructural advancement, which he moved to implement. He further initiated drastic economic, political and constitutional reforms. Abiy Ahmed would later go on to release political prisoners- even those tagged by the past authoritarian government as terrorists. He pardoned over 7600 prisoners and removed hardened criminals from death row. Critics have considered the move flawed saying the Prime Minister was “doing too much too fast.”

Who would blame their criticism? Ethiopia has a complex and very peculiar socio-political ecosystem that is sitting on age-long intertribal, regional and religious resentments. The year 2015 saw the start of incessant protests in Ethiopia’s two most populous regions – Oromia and Amhara. As indicated in a 2016 report, the people had gotten to their breaking point with the repressive Tigray-led government of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn who later relinquished powers in 2018. The bottom line is, at the time Abiy Ahmed took over the reins of government in 2018, Ethiopia was prone to bitter conflicts at the slightest provocation. Nonetheless, he worked so hard to make his people co-exist peacefully, an act that would later win him a Nobel Peace Prize the following year.

A Nobel Peace Prize for a spate of conflicts

In 2019, barely over a year after he became Prime Minister, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019 to Abiy Ahmed for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea. The peace initiatives that Ahmed introduced Prize came from his contribution to the peace agreement with Eritrea and his broad political initiatives for democracy and expanded civil rights. The historical backdrop included an authoritarian governing system and widespread ethnic conflicts.

The future looked promising for the young African leader until a spate of internal conflicts began to taint his admirable regime. First, it was an assassination attempt on the Prime Minister a few days after ascending office, by some unknown individuals which left a few people dead. After then, conflicts kept popping up to taint the Prime Minister’s reign.

Ambachew Mekonnen’s assassination

On June 22, 2019, a coup d’etat in Amhara Region, Ethiopia’s second-largest region was staged. The regional president, Ambachew Mekonnen, was assassinated alongside several others. The Prime Minister’s Office had accused Brigadier General Asaminew Tsige, head of the Amhara region security forces, of leading the coup. Tsige was a top military official and political prisoner, who Abiy Ahmed had released and reinstated back to his office when he became prime minister. He was gunned down by police officers two days after Mekonnen’s assassination. 

Jawar Mohammed triggers a conflict- 2019

Jawar Mohammed is an Ethiopian political analyst and activist. He is one of the founders of US-based ESAT and Oromia Media Network (OMN), two satellite television networks. Mohammed was a leading organizer of the 2014–2016 Oromo protests. The U-S-based activist has been credited with toppling the incumbent government in February 2018 and aided Abiy Ahmed’s rise to power.

But on October 23, 2019, Mohammed took to Facebook to accuse Abiy Ahmed of making the police withdraw the government-provided security at his house in the middle of the night. This incited hundreds of supporters, who gathered in solidarity outside Mohammed’s home in Addis Ababa chanting, “Down, down, Abiy!” Meanwhile, other protesters in Dadar town burnt the book, Medemer, which Abiy Ahmed had released days before.

The day before, the Prime Minster had made a speech in Parliament in which he had accused “media owners who don’t have Ethiopian passports” of “playing it both ways”, adding that “if this is going to undermine the peace and existence of Ethiopia… we will take measures.” Critics believed he made reference to Mohammed. #

This protest marked the beginning of social media restrictions in Abiy’s regime as internet shutdowns became common in subsequent civil unrest.

The Benishangul-Gumuz Conflict of 2019- 2020

The Metakel raid-2019

Early on the morning of 23 June 2019, armed militias loyal to Brigadier General Asaminew Tsige raided and killed 37 residents in the Metakal zone of Benishangul-Gumuz province. Ashadli Hassen, governor of Benishangul-Gumuz, said that the attack on villages in the Metakal zone was carried out before dawn Sunday by armed men believed to be followers of the army general, who was eventually gunned down by police officials the following day.

 The Metakel Massacre-  December 2020

Metakel is home to residents of the Oromo, Amhara (Ethiopia’s largest ethnic groups) and Shinasha who the Gumuz have disenfranchised from citizens of the region to residents or ‘settlers’. The attack followed a series of fresh killings in the area masterminded by members of the Gumuz ethnic group and motivated by ethnic factors. The death toll from the attack rose to at least 207. 

The Hachalu Hundessa Riot- June 2020

Hachalu Hundessa was a leading political activist in Ethiopia who skillfully employed the use of music in his political activism. He was an Oromia and was actively involved in the liberation of his people from the repressive past Tigray-led government. In the face of a repressive government, his music spurred his people to continue protesting. His songs provided a soundtrack for Oromo protesters. 

But Hundessa was murdered in the capital’s Gelan Condominiums area on June 29, 2020. On the news of his death, a deadly protest erupted. His death was the death of the voice which embodied the struggles of the Oromo people “for equality and justice.” By  July 10, 2020, the protest had claimed over 239 lives- with the Ethiopian government accusing Egypt of riding on the protest to escalate its internal conflicts through violent mercenaries. 

The Tigray War: 2020-2022

The Tigray War was a two-year armed conflict that lasted from 3 November 2020 to 3 November 2022.  The war was primarily fought in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia between the Ethiopian federal government and Eritrea on one side, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on the other. 

TPLF is a left-wing ethnic nationalist paramilitary group, a banned political party and former ruling party of Ethiopia. It has been described as the product of the marginalization of Tigrayans within Ethiopia after Menelik II of Shewa had become emperor in 1889. Together with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) in 2021, they declared a coalition aiming to “dismantle Abiy’s government by force or by negotiations, and then form a transitional authority.

All sides of the warring parties committed war crimes during the conflict with mass extrajudicial killings of civilians and rape. After a number of peace and mediation proposals in the intervening years, Ethiopia and the Tigrayan rebel forces agreed to a cessation of hostilities on 2 November, following a peace deal brokered by the African Union (AU). Eritrea was not a party to the agreement and its status has remained undefined.

By the end of the way, the region had incurred an estimated infrastructural damage of roughly $20 billion. The death toll was estimated between 385,000–⁠600,000 people. 

Ethiopia Orthodox Church breakaway conflict- February 2023

Recent discrepancies among members of Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church have incited ethnic and regional unrest, splitting the church and causing few deaths. Orthodox Christians constitute 43% of Ethiopia’s over 113 million population, making it the nation’s largest and most influential religious group.

The breakaway move was initiated by three unhappy Oromia Archbishops within the Orthodox Church demanding more ethnic inclusion. They demanded more church services be conducted in the Oromo language instead of mostly Amharic,  Ethiopia’s official language. Note, Oromo is Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. The clerics were excommunicated after setting up a breakaway synod, the BBC reported. Nonetheless, extrajudicial killings, beatings, harassment and arbitrary arrests have been reported.  

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