Sharply-divided civil society, politicised land conflicts and exploding internal war, amid charges of ethnic cleansing. This is a winning recipe for a civil war and works well for politicians from Manipur in India to Amhara now in Ethiopia. The nation is yet to recover from the two-year civil war in Tigray in the north. Even before the war-hit Ethiopia could find its feet, another ugly civil war, involving the military and the militia, is germinating and sprouting fast.

Amhara is a Rude Awakening

Ethnic tensions and land conflicts are responsible for the spread of unrest, say Amhara police. For Ethiopians with dreams of permanent respite from civil wars, Amhara is a rude awakening. Images of rolling military tanks on the streets and gun-toting militias on helicopters haven’t disappeared. The nine-month lull after the Tigray civil war has turned illusory. These thoughts should haunt Abiy Ahmed Ali, Ethiopia’s 47-year-old prime minister. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/8/7/ethiopia-accuses- amhara-militia-of-seeking-to-overthrow-government

These disconcerting thoughts are making him anxious too as his negotiations with the World Bank for redeeming his economy are projected in the media along images of death and destruction in Amhara. Even as Mr Abiy remains awake to this frightening reality, armed duels are spreading across Amhara, which is Tigray’s neighbouring region. Ethnic violence in Amhara is most worrisome, as it is home to Ethiopia’s second-largest ethnic group.

Video Courtesy: YouTube/Al Jazeera English

The Military is Paying the Militias Back

Unconcerned, the militias are going great guns with their strategies. Today, Fano, aka the Amhara militias, is a swarm across Ethiopia. It controls many towns and regions. The Fano militias are raiding police stations and military garrisons, and setting prisoners of the State free. Recently, they took control of the Lalibela airport in the Amhara region. Mr Abiy could do nothing more than shutting down the internet and declaring a state of emergency.

Yet, the federal military is trying to pay the militias back. The military is gaining ground in this unequal battle, albeit slowly and gradually. On August 9th, the military forced Fano from Amhara’s capital Bahir Dar, Gondar and several other smaller towns. In the ding-dong battle that ensued, several civilians were wounded and killed. The drone strike that the military launched subsequently on August 13th too claimed its fair share of casualties on ground. https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/ethiopian-military-forces- back-militiamen-major-amhara-city-locals-say-2023-08-09/

Blaming the Defects in the Peace Deal

Meanwhile, thousands of Ethiopians from Amhara were rounded up for speaking freely and demonstrating their democratic rights. Mr Abiy may claim that he has crushed the Amhara revolt, but the reality is that there are huge layers of simmering beneath the surface. Beyond doubt, Mr Abiy’s federal government is losing hold on law and order in Ethiopia. Emerging signs indicate the woefully-divided country is heading for another civil war.

Ethiopia’s historians blame the defects in the peace deal that ended the war in Tigray responsible for Amhara. Perhaps they are right as the deal did not address Ethiopia’s many other conflicts. One such conflict that can potentially turn into a major civil war is insurgency in Oromia since 2019. Sadly, Mr Abiy has not been able to bring about peace here. Despite both Tigray and Oromia being simmering volcanoes, Amhara unrest is the deadliest. https://reliefweb.int/report/ethiopia/after-agreement-ethiopias- tigray-region-what-stands-way-lasting-peace

Amhara’s Ethnic Cleansing Programme

There is logic saying so. Amhara has been festering for too long. It had gone to war in 2020 against TPLF, aka the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, which governed Tigray for thirty years. Thus, in Amhara, it is the federal military versus the militias dominated by Fano, TPLF and Amhara’s own paramilitary. Despite telltale evidences showing how strong the militias are, Mr Abiy lit the fire by allowing them to take over disputed Tigray territories in 2020.

This is how Mr Abiy thanked the militias for their support. The Amhara militia has been also given charge of the fertile Western Tigray now. Emboldened, Amhara militia launched their aggressive ethnic cleansing programme. Many Ethiopian observers ask now: is Amhara the Fano militia’s way of weeding out ethnic Tigrayans? The answer is obvious. Inevitably, Amhara is convulsing into a civil war fuelled by the rising duel between the military and the militias. https://www.france24.com/en/video/20230816-ethiopia-amhara- conflict-threat-of-civil-war-looms-again-over-northern-ethiopia

Questionable Move to Disarm and Disband

This emerging civil war has most of its roots in the deal signed last November by the TPLF and Mr Abiy’s government. The deal was so incomplete that the Amhara militias turned more concerned about their loosening hold on disputed lands. The agreement mandates the resolution of the issue of the disputed areas should be in accordance with the constitution. The last five words – in accordance with the constitution – are the militias’ real worry.

The Amhara militias are sure these words imply that Mr Abiy’s ultimate plan is to transfer the disputed areas to Tigray. The Amharas are not absolutely irrational in their logic. They cite Mr Abiy’s federal government and its questionable attempt to disarm and disband regional forces in April. Ethiopia has 12 federal regions, each having its own forces, regional leaders and councils. However, this plan was hated by the ethnocentric Amharas. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/11/world/africa/ethiopia- fighting-war.html

Tigrayans are Highly Organised

The local Amharas accused Mr Abiy of trying to dominate the Amharas, which they say would lead to more attacks on them. Despite Mr Abiy’s denial, his arguments are not washing as ethnic violence against the Amharas continue to rise. In fact, to a large extent, his misguided act of disarming and disbanding regional forces were responsible for triggering the ethnic protests, the violent clashes and the shootouts that rocked Amharas in April.

For the moment, Mr Abiy feels he has an upper hand over the TPLF. He seems hopeful of painting the Fano in dark colours. However, he is over-confident. The Tigrayans are not a minor force to be written off so easily. They called the shots in the federal government, between 1991 and 2018, when Mr Abiy was ousted. Moreover, the Tigrayans are a highly organised regional militia with enviable repository of heavy-duty weaponry.  https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/aug/07/people-are-under-siege-why-ethiopias- war-in-tigray-isnt-over

The Rise and Rise of Oromos

Sure, other militias are not so strong. Yet, the Amhara turmoil cannot be tamed easily. This is because of Amhara’s traditional strengths. They have been the kingpins since the regimes of Hailie Selassie, Ethiopia’s last emperor, and Derg, the Marxist militarist who unseated the Amharas in 1974. Even today, the Amharas are well represented in the federal bureaucracy, national army and the media, though their importance is showing signs of withering.

The Amharas’ decline coincides with the rise of Oromos in Mr Abiy’s government. This is significant as Oromos is Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. However, total elimination of the Amharas is impossible as they account for one-fourth of the population. Yet, militias like the Fano have visions of grandeur as they are backed by neighbouring Eritrea. In fact, the Eritrean forces were a part of Mr Abiy’s in Tigray. Ultimately, this may prove to be their undoing. https://acleddata.com/2023/08/10/fact-sheet-crisis-in-ethiopias- amhara-region/

The Poliphoon’s Last Word

Mr Abiy cannot count on Eritrea now. Ever since he broke bread with the TPLF, he is enemy for Eritrean dictator Issaias Afwerki. Worse, Mr Abiy is facing discontent that is surging in Amhara. Increasingly, the Amharas are feeling insecure and unprotected. The irate Amharas have been sold the idea that they are prospective victims of a coming genocide whose preparations began precisely when they were ousted by the Tigrayans in 1991. https://www.dw.com/en/from-liberator-to-oppressor-30-years-of- eritrea-under-isaias-afwerki/a-65708163

Moreover, the Amharas are consumed by revenge as they live as minorities outside their region. They are regularly made victims of ethnic cleansing. Clearly, Ethiopia is becoming unmanageable. As murders rise, as kidnappings flourish, Mr Abiy’s government is wringing its hands in sheer helplessness. The police and the federal officials are more loyal to militias than to Mr Abiy. With this, clout of the militias is rising. In turn, this draws the youth to them. This is a perfect recipe for another civil war.