By the Numbers: Ethiopia, 2 April 2018-21 January 20221Figures reflect violent events reported since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power on 2 April 2018.
- Total number of organized violence events: 2,475
- Total number of reported fatalities from organized violence: 14,280
- Total number of reported fatalities from civilian targeting: 6,457
By the Numbers: Ethiopia, 15-21 January 20222Some events from this coverage period might be included in the data in subsequent weeks due to reporting delays.
- Total number of organized violence events: 12
- Total number of reported fatalities from organized violence: 51
- Total number of reported fatalities from civilian targeting: 41
Ethiopia data are available through a curated EPO data file as well as the main ACLED export tool.
Last week, Ethiopian government security forces and Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)-Shane continued to clash in the Oromia region (see map below). From 14 January to 17 January, a joint force of the Republican Guard, Oromia special police, and Oromo ethnic militias clashed with OLF-Shane rebels in Gidami woreda in the Kellem Wollega zone. Shortly after, government forces regained control of the area (OBN, 18 January 2022). On 19 January, members of OLF-Shane attacked a police station in Negele Borana town, killing one federal police officer and wounding three others. The next day, members of OLF-Shane shot and killed a Prosperity Party official as he traveled through Adola Redde district in the Guji zone.
Also in the Oromia region last week, hundreds of civilians were forced to flee their homes as Amhara ethnic militias attacked and killed an unknown number of civilians in Jardega in Jarte Jardega woreda. They also killed 15 civilians in Chidati village in Amuru woreda in the Horo Gudru zone (OMN, 22 January 2022).
In the Afar region, clashes continued in areas along the Afar/Tigray regional border. The Afar regional government claimed that on 15 and 16 January, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) shelled Abala and Magale areas in the Kelbeti Rasu zone in the Afar region, killing an unknown number of civilians (Afar Regional State Communication Affairs Office, 16 January 2022). Humanitarian convoys transiting to the Tigray region through Abala have not been able to move since 14 December 2021 due to ongoing clashes (UNOCHA, 20 January 2022).
Meanwhile, TPLF forces repulsed an attack by Afar regional special forces on Milazat and Dande areas in the Tigray region last week (BBC Amharic, 17 January 2022). Also in the Tigray region, Ethiopian military forces conducted airstrikes in Maychew, Korem, and Samre areas in the Southern Tigray zone, reportedly killing dozens of civilians (UNOCHA, 20 January 2022).
There have also been clashes along the border of the Tigray and Amhara region in the North Gondar and Wag Hemra zones, resulting in the displacement of several thousand people (UNOCHA, 20 January 2022). Although 31 out of 32 camps for internally displaced people in the Amhara region have closed, and most internally displaced people have returned home, there is still an immense need among those who have returned home and face a lack of food and basic necessities (DW Amharic, 17 January 2022). According to the Amhara regional government, two million hectares of farmlands were not cultivated in the region due to the conflict (DW Amharic, 19 January 2022).
In the Gambella region, on 20 January, members of Murle armed groups from South Sudan attacked and killed eight civilians and injured five others, including unidentified government officials in Akabo woreda in the Nuer zone (DW Amharic, 21 January 2022). The armed group also abducted an unknown number of children in the Nuer and Anuak zones of the Gambella region.
Weekly Focus: Violence During Religious Celebrations in Oromia Region
Last week, the Christian holiday of Epiphany was celebrated in Ethiopia. During celebrations in Burayu town in Oromia special zone, Oromia region, Oromia police blocked a number of Orthodox Tewahedo Christians – who were wearing the Ethiopian flag without the national emblem at the center – from entering the town. Worshipers were escorting the Tabot (a religiously sacred representation of the Ark of the Covenant) from Addis Ababa to Burayu town. Clashes ensued and Oromia police opened fire with tear gas and live rounds, killing at least three civilians and wounding several others (DW Amharic, 21 January 2022). The incident highlights dramatic political divisions at play in Ethiopia’s complicated civil society, even in locations that are far from conflict zones.
The official flag of Ethiopia, as established by the TPLF led transitional government in 1994, consists of green at the top, yellow in the middle, red at the bottom, and has a national emblem at the center. Flags without the national emblem are often associated with Ethiopia’s Orthodox church and, more recently, with pan-Ethiopianism. The flag without the emblem is often seen being carried by Amhara regional special forces and Fano militias engaged in conflicts in Ethiopia’s north (BBC News, 3 January 2021). To some, the flag without the emblem is a source of national pride and unity that transcends Ethiopia’s many divisions. To supporters of Oromo ethno-nationalist politicians, Ethiopian unity and its associated flag are viewed as symbols of political repression and intolerance for Oromo self-governance.
Ethiopia is at a crossroads. Many of its national symbols have been the subject of hotly contested debate over the past year. Muslim worshipers celebrating Iftar in May 2021 were violently dispersed by security forces from Meskel Square, located at the center of Addis Ababa, after “unidentified bodies in the government structure [requested] to change the venue of the event” (Addis Standard, 10 May 2021). The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has been accused of wanting sole control over the use of public spaces like Meskel Square in cities across Ethiopia.
Critics of the Oromia regional government accuse government bodies of being filled with “radical Oromo ethno-nationalists” who use regional security organs to enforce personal political aims and target the Orthodox church (Borkena, 21 January 2022). In 2016, many Oromo politicians sided with Qeerroo protesters to block the government’s “Master Plan” to expand Addis Ababa city limits at the expense of territory in the Oromia region. Recently, administrators in the Oromia region have openly accused militias from the Amhara region of land grabbing and causing instability in the Oromia region (OBN, 13 January 2022).
The federal government has said little regarding the aforementioned incident in Burayu and government-associated media have not commented on the incident. The government’s communications office, as well as the Mayor Office of Addis Ababa, mentioned that there were “some entities that wanted to disturb the Epiphany celebrations” but failed to detail the cause of the dispute (FDRE Government Communication Service, 21 January 2022; Mayor Office of Addis Ababa, 22 January 2022).
Burayu and other areas surrounding the capital are areas that will be especially vulnerable to increased ethnic tensions in coming months. Administered by the Oromia region, but inhabited by many migrants from across the country, the town was the site of intense ethnic violence in 2018 after clashes erupted following the return of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) from Eritrea (Al Jazeera, 17 September 2021).
The prevention of violent events like those in Burayu last week is difficult and requires deep and inclusive dialogue about the future of the country. The violence that occurred in Burayu over the design of the Ethiopian flag and its uses represents the deep political divisions that exist in the country today.