Ethiopia: “fixing” peace in the north and new tensions in the center
While the Ethiopian government is striving to “stabilize” the peace agreement with the rebels of the “Tigray” region in the north, a new point of tension erupted inside the capital, Addis Ababa (center of the country), after two people were killed and dozens injured, during a demonstration against the government’s destruction of mosques, within the framework of a huge project on Ethiopian capital.
According to official media, clashes broke out in the vicinity of the “Anwar” mosque in the north of the Ethiopian capital, after Muslims took to the street after Friday prayers. The “Fanabesi” network website stated that “two people were injured in unrest in an area known as Gas Tira, and they died after being taken to hospital for treatment.” It quoted the police as saying that “4 demonstrators and 52 policemen were injured in the clashes.”
According to eyewitnesses, the worshipers “launched slogans hostile to the project of a large center called Shiger City and to the government,” calling for “a halt to the destruction of mosques.”
A witness told the “French Press” that “large security forces arrived and when they reached the gates of the mosque, people got angry and threw stones and shoes at them.” He added that the policemen «then fired tear gas and bullets in the air».
Videos spread on social media, monitoring the clashes that took place in the capital.
The Ethiopian-American Development Council (EADC) confirmed, through its Twitter account, that Ethiopian Muslims in Addis Ababa protested the demolition of more than 19 mosques in the Oromia region.
The Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Addis Ababa called for the start of prosecutions after the “unconstitutional and inhumane response” by the security forces against Muslims “who are peacefully defending their rights.”
Last year, the federal authorities launched a project called “Chigar City”, to merge six towns surrounding the capital into a wide western arc. In this context, the authorities have been destroying for months a number of buildings, houses and mosques that they consider to be built illegally. Opponents of the project condemn these operations, which they consider discriminatory and based, in their opinion, on ethnic criteria (against residents who do not belong to the Oromo ethnicity) and religious (targeting mosques), according to «AFP».
Ethiopia has a Christian majority, especially Orthodox, but Muslims constitute a majority in almost a third of the country.
Months ago, Ethiopia entered into a crisis due to a major conflict within the church after some bishops attempted to defect.
Ethiopian political analyst Anwar Ibrahim Ahmed said, “After the events of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church months ago, and now the events of the mosques in Addis Ababa, the developments in the Ethiopian internal scene may have a negative impact” on the stability of the country.
In early May, a first round of peace talks between the Ethiopian government and rebels from the Oromia region (central country) ended without agreement.
Rebel groups in Oromia, home to the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, have been fighting the federal government for decades, accusing it of marginalizing and neglecting the Oromo.
The violence in Oromia, which surrounds the capital, Addis Ababa, represents a major security challenge for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed after a two-year civil war in the northern Tigray region, which ended when the two sides signed a peace agreement last November.
On the other hand, the “Tigray People’s Liberation Front” continued, on Saturday, to hand over its light weapons to the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, according to the “Pretoria” peace agreement. According to the Ethiopian News Agency, the handover programme, which took place around the city of Mekele, was witnessed by observers from the African Union.
During the occasion, the representative of the Ethiopian National Defense Force, Brigadier General Derebe Mekuria, said, “The handover is part of the peace agreement.” While the representative of the “Tigray People’s Liberation Front Forces”, Brigadier General Megbe Haile, said, “The handover of light weapons took place in line with the peace agreement, and we are playing our role in implementing the peace agreement.”
In parallel with the handover process, the process of demobilizing the rebel forces began in Tigray, and the “Fana BC” television station, which is close to the “Prosperity Party” led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, reported that “the first phase of the program for the reintegration and rehabilitation of former fighters in Tigray officially launched on Friday in the outskirts of Mekele, the regional capital of Tigray, in the presence of the African Union Monitoring, Verification and Compliance Mission.
The peace agreement, signed last November, ended a violent two-year war, in which thousands were killed, according to international organizations.
The agreement provided for the disarmament of the Tigray front, the return of federal authorities to the northern region, and the reconnection of the region abroad. On December 30, the National Committee for the Rehabilitation of Citizens was established to disarm them and enable them to live a normal life.
Over the months following the agreement, the rebels of the “Tigray” region in northern Ethiopia showed “seriousness” in implementing it, by handing them more weapons, as part of the process of disarming the region and integrating its fighters into the national army.
The Tigray Liberation Front handed over its heavy weapons to the Ethiopian federal forces last January, as part of the peace process led by the African Union. The transfer of weapons, which took place in the city of Agulai, was supervised by a group of observers from both sides, and delegates from IGAD.
Dr. Muhammad Shifa, an expert on African affairs based in Paris, believes that the government of Abiy Ahmed “faces major challenges in implementing its slogan of zero crises, which it raised previously, but it has not succeeded in fully implementing it until now.”
Shifa told Asharq Al-Awsat that there are great ethnic and religious challenges facing the government, especially from the Oromo people who still feel very marginalized. The matter is complicated despite the government’s promotion of its success in restoring stability in the country after the end of the Tigray war.