Last updated: 29/09/2023
Oromia special zone and North Shewa zone are neighboring zones in Amhara region. The Oromia special zone in Amhara was founded as a response to pressure from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which had been demanding autonomy for the Oromo-speaking population during the early transition period from 1991 to 1992.1Sarah Vaughan, ‘Ethnicity and Power in Ethiopia,’ University of Edinburgh Doctoral Thesis, July 2003, p.240 Due to its status as a special zone, political leaders in Oromia special zone in Amhara region have exercised considerable autonomy since its creation in 1995. Under special zone provisions in Ethiopian law, ethnic Oromo inhabitants administer the zone despite falling within Amhara region boundaries – often placing them in direct contestation with Amhara regional authorities.2Angela Raven-Robert, ‘Special zones and special histories: conflict and collaboration in Northern Shewa,’ Ethiopia Insight, 21 May 2021 As an important location along the A2 highway, the area is subject to historical claims by the Amhara, Oromo, and Afar ethnic groups. These competing claims over the territory and its administration by ethnic Oromos, under Amhara region, have been drivers of regular conflict. Conflict between ethnic Oromo and Afar pastoralists over grazing land is also frequent.
Since 2018, several rounds of violence have erupted in the area, resulting in the destruction of infrastructure, displacement of civilians, and loss of life (see map below). With the recent rise in ethno-nationalism and opening of political space after the removal of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as leader of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), clashes have occurred between some Oromo ethnic militias and Amhara special forces responsible for security in areas surrounding the zone. This fighting has coincided with dangerous divisions between the Oromo and Amhara wings of the ruling Prosperity Party (PP). Pushed by local ethno-nationalist movements, Amhara and Oromo political entities have accused each other of instigating the conflict. Citing the use of heavy weapons by the groups opposing Amhara regional special forces, Amhara regional officials have blamed the OLF-Shane for the violence,3Amhara Communications, ‘A statement from the Amhara National Regional Government,’ 21 March 2021 while Oromo officials have blamed Amhara forces.4BBC Amharic, ‘Controversy in the Amhara and Oromia Prosperity Party Branches Statements,’ 24 March 2021