By Joshua Newman
On September 13, violent clashes broke out between mostly youth supporters of the Oromo Liberation Front and opposition groups in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. According to Africa News, the clashes continued into the next day with businesses in the city slowing down considerably due to the violence, threatening a thriving and fast growing economy.
The clashes came in the wake of the sweeping reforms put into place by the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, who called for peace after the clashes, saying, “We should not marginalize political parties coming from abroad,” according to The Deutsche Welle. The DW also reported that the Oromo Liberation Front were expected to return the weekend following clashes after Prime Minister Abiy issued an amnesty program included in the reforms mentioned above. The rival armed political group Patriotic Ginbot 7 returned earlier under the same amnesty program.
The main cause of the clashes appeared to be the raising of OLF flags in celebration of the group’s return to Addis Ababa, something the locals did not take kindly to, continued Africa News. The OLF supporters mostly came from the Oromia region, travelling through Adissu Gebaya. They were not from the capital.
The Deutsche Welle reported that the main opponent of the OLF supporters were waving the flag of the aforementioned rival group, Patriotic Ginbot 7. These clashes come days after reduced tensions on the Ethiopian-Eritrean border, which allowed the exiled armed groups to return over the border with amnesty. Police broke up the clashes by firing tear gas into the crowd. Some Ethiopians present reported that they heard gunshots during the clashes, continued DW News. These violent clashes come in stark contrast to the successes seen by the Abiy administration in the first two months of his term as prime minister. According to CNN, the country has experienced incredible economic growth, about 10 percent a year for the past decade. CNN also reported that Abiy’s initial reforms seemed to be restoring public trust in the government. The first three major changes the Abiy administration made, implemented on June 5, were to lift the state of emergency that existed since the resignation of former Prime Minister Desalegn, announce plans to liberalize Ethiopia’s economy, and prepare to implement the Algiers Agreement.
However, the reduction of tensions on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the amnesty that allowed violent resistance groups, formerly classified as terror groups by the Ethiopian government, to reenter the country seems to threaten these advances. This setback could have devastating consequences for a country that has already seen its fair share of ethnic conflict, reports Al Jazeera.
In contrast to the seemingly positive changes in the Ethiopian government, New Business Ethiopia reports that in the past year, the number of internally displaced people jumped from 1.6 million to 2.8 million. This is due mainly to ethnic conflict and natural disasters brought on by the annual rainy season.
The Oromo are the largest of the 80 ethnic groups present in Ethiopia, Deutsche Welle further reports. However, the OLF are by no means the only culprits for these displacement statistics. Importantly, the largest amount of refugees comes from the capital of the Somali region of Ethiopia, Jigjiga. In addition, conflicts between the Guji tribe, located in the Oromia Region, and the Gedo tribe, located in the Southern region, were another major contributor. These “inter-communal conflicts”, as News Business Ethiopia names them, resulted in one million internally displaced people earlier this year.
The new administration in Ethiopia appears hopeful for a bright future for Africa’s most populated country, and many see the reforms as a step in the right direction. However, problems of the past still plague this diverse nation. Whether these clashes are a sign of future conflict or simply the growing pains of an improving nation are yet to be seen. In the meantime, the fate of millions hangs in the balance.