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Addis Ababa as part of the conflict in Ethiopia

2024-05-21 08:43

Jan Záhořík

#AddisAbaba , #HumanRights , #EthnicTensions , #EthiopiaConflict , #Oromo , #Amhara , #Tigray , #UrbanGrowth , #PoliticalDisputes , #DemographicChanges,

Addis Ababa as part of the conflict in Ethiopia

"Addis Ababa's conflict involves Tigray, Amhara, and Oromo divisions, with significant demographic changes and political tensions exacerbating the situation."

Current conflict in Ethiopia, which basically divides the society and deepens scars in the Tigray, Amhara, Oromo triangle of ethnic groups, has included also the capital city, Addis Ababa. Addis Ababa is home to about ten million people and the number is still growing due to significant rural-urban migration. Addis Ababa has been at the center of political disputes many times, due to its complex history. Addis Ababa was established at the end of 19th century in the area of the village called Finfinne inhabited by Oromo-speaking people. In the late 20th century, with the rise of the Oromo nationalism, this fact gained prominence and the question of “who owns Addis Ababa?” became one of the central parts of the Oromo movements.[1]


Addis Ababa, based on the Ethiopian constitution, has a special status and is inhabited by speakers of multiple languages. It is also the seat of the African Union and hosts the Bole International Airport which serves a as a connecting point with more than 80 destinations around the world. In this sense, Addis Ababa is an economic hub of Ethiopia but at the same time an area dependent on the countryside due to agricultural products. This can possibly make Addis Ababa a vulnerable place, given the fact that the capital city is surrounded fully by Oromia, the richest and biggest federal regional state in Ethiopia. Addis Ababa has experienced enormous growth in last thirty years which can be described within the concept of “urban sprawl.”[2] When the EPRDF (Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front) came up with the so-called Addis Ababa Masterplan in 2014, it resulted in long-lasting protest of the Oromo people who already lived in marginalization and oppression.[3] For the Oromo people, the main issue was what many saw as a continuation of land-grabbing and seizure of the ancestral land that would turn in many developmental projects.[4]


Waves of unrest, dozens of thousand of prisoners, further oppression resulted in regime change which catapulted Abiy Ahmed into a stardom, particularly after he gained the Nobel Peace Price in 2019. The situation quickly changed with the beginning of the war in Tigray which began to affect the capital city. In the past turbulences, Addis Ababa was not usually affected by violence in the regions but this time deterioration of relations between the major groups began to be felt by many. People from Tigray origin – hotel owners, entrepreneurs and the like – were the main target of all kinds of harassment. International organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and many others reported about discrimination in all walks of life.[5]


The war in Tigray ended in November 2022 but the scars in the society were already deepened and could not be healed by signing an agreement. From 2016 we may observe the rise of Amhara nationalism which in last few years turned into a renewed struggle for Addis Ababa which has transformed into a full blown conflict of the ownership. Targeting the Amhara people in Beni-Shangul Gumuz and Oromia regions[6] spread to Addis Ababa and  there are many indications that the government is forcibly moving large numbers of Oromo speakers into the city while numbers of Amharas are being deported in order to change the demographic composition of the capital city.[7] The rise of Amhara nationalism has been only accelerated by the intention of Abiy Ahmed to incorporate all regional special forces into regular defense or security forces which the Fano militias in Amhara region refused. Fano militias are not centralized and cannot be seen as a unified army, it is rather series of cells which in some cases even fight against each other. However, one cause is common to them, to face the threat coming from the center, and from Oromia. Due to the fact that Amharas are historically connected with the Imperial Ethiopia they are now portrayed as an enemy, those who oppressed other minorities through the rule of the Amhara nobility.[8]


The ongoing conflict between the Fano militias and the Ethiopian Defense Forces has a potential to spread into other regions. For Addis Ababa, this is a new situation because during the war in Tigray, the capital city was kept far from the war itself. Now, the conflict is coming closer to the city and we may observe signs of deterioration day by day. Not only there is a rise of criminality rates in Addis Ababa but recently, a small group of Fano milia men was killed around Millenium Hall, Bole, allegedly while being on mission to commit a terrorist attack.[9] At the same time, the Oromo qeerroo operates for several years in various parts of Addis Ababa, playing a part in acts of violence against the Amhara population. This is part of a long-lasting attempt to transform Addis Ababa into an Oromo city – Finfinne – and get back to its original historical roots. 


Given the metropolitan character of Addis Ababa, residents of the capital city do see ethnic identity as such a powerful tool for political mobilization, unlike those movements from the regions. An attempt to change the trend and attract more people from Oromia to settle in Addis Ababa may likely result in resistance of the capital’s residents.[10] Many Amhara people believe that the current state of affairs work against the Amhara people and words like “ethnic cleansing” or even “genocide” circulate in the air and on the social media.[11]


More or less every capital city in Africa has to deal with a number of issues such as rapid urban growth, insufficient infrastructure, visible social inequalities as well as problems with electricity and water supplies. Addis Ababa may add one important and crucial element, ethnic clash over the ownership, the clash of visions and options between “Addis Ababa belongs to us” on one side, to “Addis Ababa belongs to everyone” on the other. 








[1] Pellerin, C., Elfversson, E. (2023): (Re)claiming Finfinne?: Violent Protest and the Right to Addis Ababa. In: Sam Kniknie; Karen Büscher (ed.), Rebellious Riots: Entangled Geographies of Contention in Africa (pp. 128-161). Leiden: Brill


[2] Worku, K. (2008). The expansion of Addis Ababa and its impact on the surrounding areas: a preliminary study of the Nefas Silk Lafto district. Journal of Oromo Studies, 15(2), 97-131.


[3] Záhořík, J. (2017): Reconsidering Ethiopia’s ethnic politics in the light of the Addis Ababa Masterplan and the anti-governmental prostets. Journal of the Middle East and Africa 8(3), 257-272. 


[4] Debelo, A. R., & Soboka, T. E. (2023). Urban development and the making of frontiers in/from Addis Ababa/Finfinne, Ethiopia. Journal of Asian and African studies, 58(5), 718.


[5] See e.g. Amnesty Internationa: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/press-release/2021/07/ethiopia-end-arbitrary-detentions-of-tigrayans-activists-and-journalists-in-addis-ababa-and-reveal-whereabouts-of-unaccounted-detainees/


[6] See e.g. https://borkena.com/2022/12/18/addis-ababa-is-federal-govt-allowing-radical-oromo-forces/


[7] Personal communication with several political analysts from Ethiopia. 


[8][8] See e.g. https://theconversation.com/ethiopias-amhara-people-are-being-portrayed-as-the-enemy-the-dangerous-history-of-ethnic-politics-212626


[9] See e.g. https://apnews.com/article/ethiopia-fano-shootout-addis-adaba-04f8d05efa499899c3d228fb57afb12e


[10] Pellerin, C. L. (2022): Unpacking the Addis Ababan Exceptionalism: Living and Making Sense of Violent Protests in Ethiopia's Capital, Urban Forum, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12132-022-09469-5


[11] See e.g. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/reflection-conflict-amhara-region-ethiopia


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