Months of anti-government protests in Amhara and Oromia in 2016 led government to declare state of emergency.
By Ludovica Iaccino
The Ethiopian government has blamed “anti-peace” forces for a grenade attack that killed one and wounded dozens in the northern city of Gondar on 10 January. The attack, occurred at the Entasol hotel, follows a bomb blast at a hotel in the city of Bahir Dar earlier in January.
”The attack might be a new tactic started by anti-peace forces as the strategy they had been pursuing in the past failed,” Commander Assefa Ashebe was quoted by the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate as saying.
Police have launched a hunt for the perpetrators. Both attacks have sparked renewed tensions in the Amhara region, which was rocked by months of anti-government protests in 2016.
Protests erupted when members of the Welkait Tegede, who identify themselves as ethnically Amhara – Ethiopia’s second largest group – demanded their lands be administered by the Amhara region, instead of the Tigray state.
Clashes with police during the demonstration resulted in the death of at least 100 people.
Members of the opposition, activists and rights groups have repeatedly claimed the response to the protests in Amhara and Oromia – the country’s largest state – resulted in the death of more than 500 people since November 2015, something the government later admitted.
However, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has always maintained security forces had not reacted disproportionately and security forces intervened to quell violence carried out by “anti-peace” instigators.
The unrest prompted the government to declare a six-month-long state of emergency in the two regions.
Critics of the state of emergency, which restricts, among other things, freedom of movement and the use of social media – claimed it will be used to quell the ongoing unrest. The restrictive measures are expected to last until April 2017.
The government, which often blamed “outside forces” including from Eritrea and Egypt for the protests, said it would use the new measures to coordinate security forces against elements that aimed to destabilise the country.
Amhara region and Amhara people
Amhara is one of Ethiopia’s nine ethnic divisions. Its capital is Bahir Dar.
With a population of 17m people, it is mainly inhabited by the Amhara (91%, as per 2007 census), followed by the Agaw, Oromo and Argobba ethnic groups.
The region borders Tigray to the north, the Benishangul-Gumuz region amd Sudan to the west, Oromia to the south and Afar to the east.
Numbering at least 20 million, the Amhara people are Ethiopia’s second largest ethnic group and inhabit the Amhara region and the northern and central part of the country.
They mainly speak Amharic, which has Semitic origin and is related to Geʿez, the language used in sacred literature in the Orthodox Church. Until the 1990s Amharic was the official language of Ethiopia and is still one of the most spoken in the country.