After a decision was made to consolidate the regional security forces of Ethiopia’s 11 states, armed conflict and widespread demonstrations broke out in sections of Amhara, the country’s second-largest region. Amhara is home to Ethiopia’s largest city, Addis Ababa.
On Thursday of last week, the federal cabinet made the decision to implement the policy in an effort to develop “a strong central army.” People from a number of different towns in Amhara responded with demonstrations, while some of the region’s security forces refused to disarm and engaged in combat with the federal military.
On Sunday, a group of gunmen ambushed and killed two relief workers employed by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) as they were driving close to the town of Kobo. “We do not yet have any information regarding the murders,” the group stated. A midwife and a driver were both hurt when “unknown armed forces” reportedly targeted one of the Ethiopian Red Cross’ ambulances on the same day in the Central Gondar zone of the Amhara region. During this time, aid workers around the region have been instructed to “hibernate” because the World Food Programme has ceased all operations.
According to an alert from the American Embassy in Ethiopia, there have been “serious exchanges of gunfire, involving heavy weapons,” in “several areas of the region,” including the towns of Kobo, Woldia, and Sekota. In recent days, gunfire was also reported in the towns of Debre Birhan, Dessie, and Debre Tabor, as well as in Bahir Dar, the seat of the region.
In other areas, demonstrators set tires on fire and blocked highways while banks and shops closed their doors. In response, the administration of the Amhara region has responded by enforcing a curfew and restricting access to mobile internet services in certain regions, including the well-known tourist town of Gondar. Alongside the Ethiopian federal military, the security forces from the Amhara area played an important role in the civil war that was fought against Tigray. Tens of thousands of people perished throughout the fight, which began in 2020 and ended with a ceasefire agreement announced in November.
The constitution of Ethiopia stipulates that each of the country’s federal member states may organize and command its own “police force” for the sake of upholding law and order. However, some regimes have also developed formidable security services that resemble miniature armies and occasionally come into conflict with one another. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, has committed to moving forward with the dismantling of these regional security forces, which he deems to be a threat to the integrity of Ethiopia. “This decision will be implemented for the sake of the multinational unity of Ethiopia and the peace of its people, paying a price if necessary,” Abiy stated.
Abiy has lost popularity among the Amhara, Ethiopia’s second-largest group, since they feel he has let them down by not being able to stop an incursion by the Tigray rebels into their region in 2021 and by not being able to prevent a series of attacks against Amhara residents in the state of Oromia that were motivated racially. Many Amharas believe that it is necessary for them to have their own security force in order to protect themselves from these two dangers.
The National Movement of Amhara, the main opposition organization in the area, called the federal government’s decision to disband the regional force “completely irresponsible” and urged its reversal this week.