Anguish and Unrest in Amhara over Ethiopian State of Emergency
Demonstrations last August in the country’s Amhara region, and particularly the cities of Bahir Dar and Gondar signaled the spreading of protests to Ethiopia’s second most populated region.
In the Ethiopian city of Gondar the chewing of the mildly narcotic plant khat stimulates animated conversation about recent events during the country’s ongoing state of emergency.
“If you kill your own people how are you a soldier – you are a terrorist,” says 32-year-old Tesfaye, plucking at a bunch of green leaves. He recently left the military after seven years of service around the border with Somalia. “I became a soldier to protect my people.”
Demonstrations last August in the country’s Amhara region, and particularly the cities of Bahir Dar (the region’s capital) and Gondar (the former historical seat of Ethiopian rule) signaled the spreading of protests to Ethiopia’s second most populated region.
For much of the previous year, protesters in the Oromia region, to the south of Amhara, had been engaged in anti-government demonstrations to highlight perceived discrimination against the Oromo people.
The Oromo and Amhara are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic groups and both claim they are excluded from the country’s political process and economic development.
On October 9th, 2016, following further unrest, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front party declared a six-month state of emergency, which was extended for four months at the end of March this year.
On the surface, the state of emergency’s measures including arbitrary arrests, curfews, bans on public assembly, and media and internet restrictions appear to have been successful in Amhara, as across the rest of the country.
Now in Gondar and Bahir Dar, businesses are open and streets are busy, following months when the cities were flooded with military personnel under the co-ordination of a new entity known as the “Command Post”, and everyday life ground to a halt as locals shut up shop in a gesture of passive resistance.
Speaking to residents, however, it’s clear discontent hasn’t abated. Frustrations have grown for many due to what’s deemed gross governmental oppression.