Confidential

The Rise of Amhara Nationalism in Ethiopia

 Ethiopian Soldiers in Tigray Region
(Img; Ethiopian Soldiers in Tigray Region; via People’s Dispatch)

Background

Amhara is a region in northern Ethiopia, as well as an indigenous ethnic group hailing from this area. The Amhara people are the second largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. However, Amhara people have long felt oppressed based on their ethnic identity. As a result, there is a rising sentiment of Amhara Nationalism in the region.

Amhara borders the Tigray region, also situated in northern Ethiopia. Particularly in Amhara and Tigray, there has been widespread conflicts between the various ethnic groups that live across these regions. This has left many dead and thousands of civilians displaced from their homes.

The Amhara Region, as situated in Ethiopia
(Img; The Amhara Region, as situated in Ethiopia; via Grey Dynamics)

In addition, these events have led to more extreme political divisiveness between the quarrelling factions.

Timeline of Amhara Nationalism:

  • 1992 – The first pro-Amhara organisation is formed, the All Amhara People’s Organisation (AAPO).
  • June 2018 – Abiy Ahmed becomes Prime Minister of Ethiopia, following insurgency against the former TPLF ruling party.
  • June 2018 – National Movement of Amhara (NaMA) founded.
  • 1st December 2019 – Abiy Ahmed creates the Prosperity Party, excluding the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) from the merger. The PP is formed of the following three former Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) member parties:
    • Amhara Democratic Party
    • Oromo Democratic Party
    • Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement
  • 4th November 2020 – The Tigray War begins
  • April 2021 – 100 Amhara people killed in Ataye, a town in Amhara, surrounded by ethnic Oromo settlements.
  • 6th May 2021 – Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) named as a terrorist organisation by the PP.
  • June 2021 – The delayed Ethiopian elections take place.

The Rise of Ethno-Nationalism

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in Amhara ethno-nationalism sentiment, mainly within the Amhara Region. Why is this?

Ethnic conflicts have long dominated Ethiopian political discourse. However, research suggests Amhara Ethno-Nationalism mainly stems as a form of ‘defensive nationalism’ against perceived oppression based on ethnic identity and values. This appeals to Amhara nationals who oppose the political policies of the ruling party.

Recent Developments within Amhara Nationalism

In 2018, the National Movement of Amhara (NaMA) was formed. Whilst the ideology had been brewing since the early 1990s, most analysts see this as the modern birth of Amhara Ethno-Nationalism.

Feuds between ethnic factions have been fuelled by bitter land disputes and an increase in ethnic nationalism, spearheaded by regional leaders in the Amhara and Tigray regions of Ethiopia.

Several high-profile massacre events, as recently as April 2021, have seen large numbers of Amhara people killed in ethnic-fuelled violence. This is primarily within the Tigray War along the Amhara and Tigray border, although other regional conflicts have also occurred in neighbouring areas. Many claim that ethnic Amhara people have been discriminated against and displaced from the Oromia and Benishangul Gumuz regions, creating further ethnic tensions.

Members of Amhara militia, in front of Ethiopian Flag
(Img; Members of Amhara militia, in front of Ethiopian Flag; via Foreign Policy)

This only cultivates the polarisation of political beliefs between ethnic factions within Ethiopia.

Future Implications

Government-sponsored ‘community reconciliation’ efforts began in early 2021, aimed to diffuse tension between the multiple ethnic groups active in the region. However, these talks are yet to bear tangible results. Most researchers suggest that most Amhara Nationalists will not rest until they see a complete overhaul of the Ethiopian political system, away from the ethno-federal political system that exists today.

Therefore, whilst border disputes remain unsolved, clashes between Amhara and other ethnic groups within Ethiopia are highly likely. The recent designation of TPLF as a terrorist organisation will likely anger Tigray nationals, thus creating further opposition against the Amhara people.

Summary

Amhara Nationalism is a quickly growing movement based on the systematic oppression of the Amhara ethnic minority within Ethiopia. Whilst aimed to build the Amhara people’s political legitimacy within the country, the emotionally-charged movement is likely to lead to more ethnic violence between factions.  

Author

Abbi Clark

Abbi is a graduate in Chinese Studies from the University of Nottingham, specialising in Asian politics and International Relations. She is currently studying MA Intelligence & Security Studies at Brunel University London. Her research interests focus on geopolitics and modern defense issues.

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