Amid escalating violent clashes between the national army and local fighters in the northern Amhara region, Ethiopia’s federal government announced a “state of emergency” on Friday.
“It has become necessary to declare a state of emergency as a situation has emerged where it has become difficult to control this unacceptable movement under current law,” the office of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a statement posted on social media.
The statement did not provide clarity on whether the state of emergency was being enforced nationwide or solely within Amhara, a region situated to the north of the capital, Addis Ababa.
In recent weeks, confrontations between the national army and local fighters in Amhara have intensified, leading foreign governments to issue travel advisories and causing the national carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, to cancel flights.
Tensions have been on the rise since April, following the federal government’s announcement of disbanding regional forces, including those in Amhara. The decision sparked concerns among nationalists, who believed that it could undermine the strength of Ethiopia’s second most populous region.
On Thursday, officials at the local level in Amhara formally requested aid from the federal government to handle security matters. They stated that the situation had reached a point of being “difficult to control,” resulting in significant social and economic disturbances within the region.
The government stated that the violence posed a threat to the constitutional order, and the choice to declare a state of emergency was reached through a unanimous decision.
Region Under Stress
Amhara’s regional forces and local militias provided support to the national army during their two-year conflict against rebels from the neighboring Tigray region.
The conflict was resolved through a peace agreement in November 2022. However, Amhara’s “special forces” and members of the Fano militia group still maintain control over Western Tigray, an agriculturally rich area that is contested by both the Tigray and Amhara regions.
The peace agreement stirred discontent among nationalist factions in Amhara, and tensions escalated further in April when Abiy declared the dissolution of regional forces.
The prime minister asserted that incorporating these fighters into the national army or regional police would enhance “unity” in Ethiopia, a nation characterized by its ethnic diversity. However, this decision triggered protests within Amhara.
During a press conference this week, Ethiopian army spokesperson Getnet Adane stated that individuals identifying as members of Fano were accountable for the outbreak of violence.
The UK’s Foreign Office has issued a caution to its citizens, advising against travel to specific regions within Amhara due to “increased violence in these areas characterised by Fano taking control of these areas”.
“Most recently Lalibela Airport has been taken over by Fano militias,” it reported, alluding to a renowned tourist destination recognized for its UNESCO-listed rock-hewn churches dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries.
On Tuesday, the Spanish Embassy in Addis Ababa similarly advised its citizens to refrain from traveling to Amhara, pointing out the prevailing “instability” in the area.
On Thursday, Ethiopian Airlines announced the suspension of flights to both Lalibela and Gondar, another city.
In a statement late on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Demeke Mekonnen, expressed concern over the escalating security issues observed in various parts of the Amhara region.
“We are at a historical time where we should be mindful of the fact ‘If you don’t have peace you will lose everything’,” he posted on Facebook.