The Quest for Dialogue Amidst Echoes of Conflict in Amhara Region

personal opinion

Yidneckachew Ayele Zikargie


We find ourselves trapped in a cyclical battle, from Tigray to Oromia and now in Amhara. The weight of these conflicts constantly occupies my thoughts. I have been contemplating the intrinsic nature of warfare and the repercussions that inevitably follow. Although I once observed in quiet anguish, I've now compelled myself to speak out, advocating for political dialogue and resolution as the path to mend our fractured nation, and hoping the future. 

What is going on?

Recently, the Amhara region found itself embroiled in a heightened state of conflict. The initial conflict arose between the regional administrative force and Fano, a resistance faction claiming the Amhara cause. As this rift grew, the federal government was invited to intervene. However, the Federal Army is already involved in the clash since April 2023 while the Federal government's plan to disarm regional forces that have led to protests and deadly clashes in the northern Amhara region due to fears of disarmament potentially leaving residents and region vulnerable. Presently, the stage is set with the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) fighting against Fano.

Most Ethiopian regions, save for Tigray, have thrown their weight behind the ENDF. Those backing the Federal Government's stance denounce Fano, dubbing them as mere robbers and drawing parallels with 'Jawisa', a moniker that has come to signify regional opposition forces, next to 'Junta'. None of them appeared to be peace brokers, seekers of peace and or take the role of shimagile (meddling in the situation to resolve the conflict peacefully). As usual, their social, economic and political agency remains dependent on the order of the centre and with most marching to the central authority's drumbeat.

On one hand, ordinary individuals, influenced by their perceptions and emotions, are becoming vocal proponents of war, unintentionally amplifying tensions. On the other hand, activists, who often hold significant influence and reach, are actively promoting narratives that escalate conflicts. Both these groups, though possibly with different motivations, are contributing to the momentum of war and exacerbating existing hostilities.

Echoes of the Past

The present scenario is eerily reminiscent of the two-year conflict in Tigray. Has our collective memory failed to retain the lessons from our tragic past? The dominant war propaganda edges perilously close to dehumanizing dissenting voices. The harrowing tales of Yemen and Syria, marked by civilian anguish, economic downfall, and protracted wars, should have been our red flags. Yemen has become the site of grievous civilian suffering, starvation and a failing economy due to an intractable civil war for the last seven years, and after all madness, it has become a nightmare to restore a civilian regime and order. Where do Ethiopia's aspirations lie amidst this tumult? Numerous media outlets, influencers, and key players seem bent on stoking the flames of conflict, further widening the chasm and complicating avenues for peace.

A Majority in Shadows

For a sizable segment of our population, possibly the unspoken majority, fear is a constant companion. Organizations, such as the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, CARD and eight other local CSOs, called for a peaceful resolution of the conflicts in the region. Yet, the digital narrative, as showcased on social media platforms, is divisively confrontational, with dialogues veering more towards hostility than reconciliation. The economy is dying, and price scalation is getting worse, but the leadership is busy intensifying the gap, investing in lavish projects and overlooking the core agendum of the socioeconomic and political crisis of the country. The National Reconciliation Commission, which is established and working to ‘‘reconcile based on truth and justice the disagreement that developed among peoples of Ethiopia for years because of different societal and political conflict’’, is still defining the agendum and ensuring formalities behind the dialogue. However, day by day, a new agendum is being added and the issues are complicated.

Ethiopia is navigating through multifaceted challenges that can sometimes be overwhelming, leading the younger population to feel despondent or even align with more radical groups. Some justified the root cause of the war with systemic and structural marginalisation and violence against the Amhara people. Among this, for instance, Yirga Gelaw (7 August 2023) join to rationalise the Amhara question. He said, ‘‘the question of the Amhara people is a question of survival… It is a question of living in a country where the Amhara people are equally respected as individuals and as a community. It is a question of reforming the legal and administrative structure that exposes my identity to violence. It is a question of justice for the injustice done to the Amhara identity. Otherwise, it is impossible to live, let alone be respected as a human being.’’ The activism also recites the various human rights atrocities the Amhara people faced during the EPRDF regime and their continuity during the Prosperity period.

However, many also question the military options including the narratives of the resistance block. The primary resistance comes from the Deputy Prime Minister and Minter of Foreign Ministry Demeke Mekonnen, who says ‘‘security problems in different areas of Amhara region are becoming serious. Basically, there are many unanswered questions, but the most important way to solve these problems is peaceful dialogue. The way out of this is (1) obstructing the solution of questions, (2) losing what we have, and (3) it is a complicated approach that prevents us from solving the issues that we think should be seen in the long term. We are in a historical moment where we should travel with observation, seriously considering the fact that if you don't have peace, you will lose everything.’’

Only Dialogue and Political Settlement!

Time and again, history has flagged the transient gains and enduring pitfalls of military endeavours. The current military thrust in the Amhara region, while possibly delivering swift outcomes, has also sown seeds of mistrust among federal and regional stakeholders. A chilling reminder of the volatile nature of military solutions is the last two years of deadly war in Tigray.

In stark contrast, political dialogues present an arena for airing grievances, mutual enlightenment, and joint resolution. Such platforms engender trust and lay the foundations for lasting peace. The landmark peace accord brokered between the Federal Government and Tigray's dissenting factions, post gruelling two-year warfare, stands as a beacon of negotiation's potential.

Long-standing peace and resolution can only germinate from genuine dialogue and reciprocal understanding. It is therefore of paramount importance for the Ethiopian Federal Government, Amhara regional administration and Fano leaders and key actors to champion dialogue over domination, cultivating a harmonious Ethiopian horizon.

Picture Source: UNICEF Ethiopia, 2022, Students in war torn Northern Ethiopia