What’s Behind The Trouble In Gondar?


Sunday’s protest in Ethiopia involving thousands of people in Gondar, a city in Amhara region, is a rare example of an anti-government demonstration in the country.

Tens of thousands of protesters have flooded the streets of Gonder in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia on Sunday demanding a change of government due to the unfair distribution of wealth in the country.

It was organised on social media but no group has taken responsibility for it. The demonstration comes two weeks after another protests in the city in which 15 people died, including members of the security forces and civilians.

Observers say that Ethiopia’s governing coalition is dominated by the party from the small Tigray region (TPLF), and some see the protests as a way of criticising the country’s government.

The protest, reported to have been staged in defiance of a government order, is also in solidarity with the Oromia protests held between November last year to March 2016 in opposition to a government development plan in the region which could affect poor farmers.

Some placards demanded the release of arrested activists during the Oromia protests while other protesters made the Crossed Arms Resistance gesture which was common during the Oromia protests.

Since November last year, the government has been dealing with a wave of protests in Oromia as people complain about alleged marginalisation. Those demonstrations began over a plan to expand the federal capital, Addis Ababa, into Oromia. That plan has been dropped, but the issue highlighted grievances with the government which have not gone away.

People on Sunday were also calling for the release of a group of 18 Muslims who were imprisoned last year under controversial anti-terror legislation.

There is no formal connection between the protesters in Amhara and those in Oromia, but it does appear to represent a growing boldness amongst some people to challenge the government.

Ethiopia’s government has been criticised by rights groups for cracking down on protests and dissident voices and using anti-terror laws to silence people.

In Amhara, the demonstration two weeks ago was sparked by the imprisonment of members of the Welkait Amhara Identity Committee.

In the face of this apparent repression any anti-government demonstration can be seen as significant.

Two weeks ago, Ethiopia’s federal government accused neighbouring Eritrea of being behind the unrest and strongly warned the country to refrain from its “evil actions”.

But so far there has been no word from the authorities in Addis Ababa about Sunday’s protest. They may prefer for this to be handled at a regional level, and the Amhara government has commented. It said that the problems the protesters raised on Sunday were to do with good governance and it will try to address these. This echoed the response of the Oromia regional government earlier this year when it said it would address the grievances of the people there.

For some observers, the Amhara protests appear to be part of a growing anti-government feeling, which the authorities are trying to contain. But with no opposition parties represented in parliament, this feeling is manifested in sporadic bursts of activity rather than a concerted campaign.