Ethiopia: conflict situation in 2019-2020

Deputy Secretary-General and President of Ethiopia meet people targeted by the conflict Deputy Secretary-General and President of Ethiopia meet people targeted by the conflict © UNECA/Daniel Getachaw

 This is a summary of a report presented by the Institute for Security Studies concerning the conflicts in Ethiopia between 2019 and 2020.

In December 2021, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) published a report about the conflict situation in Ethiopia in the last few years. More precisely, the analysis is focused on the causes of the violence that wracked Ethiopia between October 2019 and the end of 2020. The report highlights the effects of this unstable situation on the population: racial tensions, aggressive national identities, competing political elites, as well as state weakness and complicity. Concerning the methodology used to develop the analysis, between October 2019 and the end of 2020, substantial fieldwork was conducted, which served as the basis for the report. Moreover, several interviews were conducted with the local population to have a better view of the situation: local authorities, members of the government and opposition parties, elders, religious leaders, youth group members, and victims of violence.

In order to understand how the conflicts of 2019-2020 began, the report does an introduction concerning the inter-ethnic and communal violence that exploded in the post-2018 transition of Ethiopia. In this period, different parties have been involved in the violence, each of them with its motives and achievements - armed insurgent groups in Benishangul Gumuz and Oromia, and ethnic repression in Amhara (the Qimant group) and the Wolayta group in SNNPR. The result of these differences was a change of institutional governance, which led to conflicts. The violence was characterized by a strong ethnic sentiment, which explains the waves of bloody violence towards targeted groups, using the logic of “in-group and out-group”.  

In this context, many civilians were killed during protests and there were also many episodes of victims randomly attacked in several municipalities. An example of this is the 2019 violence that started with an argument over taxi rates in the Metekel zone, in Dangul district, and then expanded to numerous towns before going on a mass murder that targeted the Amhara and Agew; people part of these ethnic groups was attacked with arrows and bullets.

Subsequently, the attackers grew more organized after July 2020. According to a local official, several groups, including the Gumuz People's Democratic Movement, the Benishangul People's Liberation Movement, and the Boro-Shinashsa People's Democratic Party, were allegedly behind the attacks. Overall, the government and officials failed in every attempt to stop the conflicts; on the contrary, state repression was another part of the conflict and a manifestation of it. For instance, the government's harsh response to the youth's demands for autonomy in Wolayta resulted in numerous arrests and civilian casualties.

In conclusion, the report outlines some recommendations and possible solutions that could help improve the situation in the country. The first is addressed to the Prosperity Party (PP), the ruling party in Ethiopia, which should have a clearer vision on how to govern the country, based on past events. Secondly, the government should avoid the excessive use of armed forces. Thirdly, civil society and professional associations may be a means of dialogue between the parties to the conflict. And finally, the international community plays a crucial role in the protection of civilians during conflicts and in the support of peacebuilding operations.


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by Alexia Tenneriello

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