Protests in Ethiopia have taken on a more ominous tone in the past few days. The most recent insurrection is still largely contained in the country’s northwestern regions near Lake Tana, an area populated by the Amhara ethnic group, which represents nearly 30 percent of Ethiopia’s population. But the protests now present a real contest for control over the area. Reports from opposition-leaning information channels increasingly mention armed civilians resisting security operations, and some even claim that local government officials and security forces have been ousted from several population centers. In response, the government has dispatched a large number of troops to the Amhara region over the past two days.
The most important shift in the tenor of the protests have been attempts by civilians to abolish established local administrations and statements indicating that regional councils are being formed to replace them. This is, of course, concerning to the government, and columns of troops and heavy equipment have been seen moving through Ethiopia toward the region. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the protests were not out of control and issued assurances that they will be contained. He authorized the country’s armed forces to take “any and all” measures to restore order.
Although the government also pledged to make some minor reforms to address corruption in the ruling class, they fall far short of the larger demands by unhappy Ethiopians to end the rule of the Tigray ethnic group, which constitutes just 6 percent of the population. A regionwide crackdown against the unrest is expected, as troops move into the Gondar zone in the northern part of the Amhara region (though they have had to alter their routes to avoid barricades erected along the main roads into the protest areas).
The Amhara protests, which followed almost a year of protests by the Oromo people in other parts of the country, initially had been limited to almost daily protests or strikes in cities such as Gondar and Bahir Dar and sporadic protest marches in other areas. The activity has dramatically increased during the past week, however, and near constant demonstrations now pervade the core Amhara region. Instead of protesters coming to the streets to face security forces, civilians are now directly targeting military personnel and government officials — as well as their private residences — throughout the region. Those activities appear to be coordinated only locally, and there have not been signs of regionwide organization. If troops are unable to rapidly reinstate the local administrations and security forces, the region could provide a breeding ground for a further expansion of resistance to the government. If, however, the regional crackdown in progress succeeds, it will drain the protest movement of much of its momentum.