Ethiopia and Egypt are in a heated standoff over a dam the former is building on the Blue Nile. To buy time for reaching a comprehensive settlement, the parties should agree on an interim fix covering the first two years of filling the dam’s reservoir.
Political violence and counter-insurgency operations continued notably in Oromia region, while ethnic clashes broke out in west. In Oromia region near capital Addis Ababa, security operations continued against rebel group Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and its former armed wing Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) amid Internet blackout. Security forces 15 Feb raided OLF office in Welenchiti town killing one OLF supporter; later that day security forces arrested and allegedly beat some 30 OLF supporters in Burayu town. Suspected OLA grenade attack at pro-PM Abiy rally in Ambo town 23 Feb left at least 29 injured. In Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ region, security forces late Feb opened fire on anti-govt protesters leaving six dead in Maji zone. In Gambella region in west, clashes between two communities reportedly sparked by killing of local official left at least a dozen dead in Nuer zone late Feb. In Addis Ababa, police night of 4 Feb attempted to demolish Orthodox Christian church built on disputed plot of land, leading to clashes between police and local community that left at least two killed. Electoral board 14 Feb pushed back general elections from 16 to 29 Aug; coalition of opposition parties 21 Feb called for further delay due to rainy season and insecurity. Electoral board 21 Feb directed opposition party Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) to produce proof of Ethiopian citizenship of Jawar Mohammed, ethnic Oromo activist and prominent Abiy critic, within ten days. Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan reported progress toward final agreement on filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on River Nile after meeting in Washington DC in U.S. 12-13 Feb, but Ethiopia boycotted next trilateral meeting 27-28 Feb, requesting more time for internal consultations. Abiy facilitated first face-to-face meeting between Somalia President Farmajo and Somaliland President Bihi in Addis Ababa 11 Feb.
Ethiopia’s political opening under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has won well-deserved accolades but also uncorked dangerous centrifugal forces, among them ethnic strife. With international partners’ diplomatic and financial support, the government should proceed more cautiously – and consultatively – with reforms that could exacerbate tensions.
Southern Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Sidama, is set to declare a new regional state on 18 July. To reduce conflict risks, the Sidama should resolve sensitive issues before forming the entity, while the government should urgently organise a constitutionally mandated referendum on the question.
Ethiopia is building a mighty dam on the Blue Nile, promising economic benefits for both itself and Sudan. But Egypt fears for its freshwater supply. The parties should agree on how fast to fill the dam’s reservoir and how to share river waters going forward.
Ethiopia’s charismatic new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has generated great excitement with initiatives breaking with the past. But he faces challenges as formidable as his promises are bold: he urgently needs to halt communal strife, smooth the road to elections and boost the ailing economy.
Ethiopia’s struggle with domestic religious radicalisation has shifted toward top-down intervention, a policy that has contained violence but is generating new risks. Political accommodation and compromise are vital to defuse faith-based radicals’ opposition to what they perceive as overly secular rule by the dominant party.
The most credible attempt at talks to end decades of armed conflict in Ogaden may soon resume, but concerted efforts need to be made to guide them to a peaceful resolution.
Ethiopia feels that the international community is, in some way, set up to rule against it... and that's why they have been reticent about having third party involvement [in Ethiopia's Nile dam project].
This is an encouraging sign that the [Ethiopian] government is prioritizing reconciliation rather than punishment. For the approach to be successful, all actors need to adopt similarly conciliatory stances.
[In Ethiopia] as political space has opened and [the majority's] control has weakened all sorts of latent disputes over power, resources, identity and territory have surfaced.
[Ethiopian] Prime Minister Abiy and his Oromo Democratic Party risk losing significant amounts of support in Oromia unless relations with [political opponent] Jawar and his loyalists are swiftly repaired.
The decision by top Sidama administrators [in Ethiopia] to accept a belated referendum meant the zone didn’t self-declare and so a major confrontation was avoided yesterday.
After today’s violence, the Sidama situation looks like another major challenge for a government already struggling to manage this transition and create conditions for elections next May.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy has implemented important reforms but the changes have uncorked social tensions long bottled up by an authoritarian state. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to bolster efforts to prevent violence around the elections and support the government’s reforms.
High-profile assassinations, intercommunal violence and the question of Sidama statehood have endangered Ethiopia’s transition to a multi-party democracy. In this excerpt from its Watch List 2019 – Second Update, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to support a parliamentary vote and assist with economic reforms.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The second update to the Watch List 2019 includes entries on Colombia, Ethiopia, Iran and Libya.