The northwestern city of Gondar was hit by protests and violence on Tuesday and Wednesday.

At least six locals and four members of security forces were killed in the two days.

The incident was triggered after the Federal Anti-Terrorism Taskforce conducted at least four arrests on Tuesday at dawn.

In the process of conducting two additional arrests, violence broke out. One escaped after gunshots. The second barricaded in his home and managed to shoot the security officers, while his supporters quickly came to his aid. The standoff was resolved on Wednesday after the man surrendered.  

Armed people from adjacent areas briefly entered the city to help him and left after talks with officials. The military took over the security of the main road to the city, locals told HornAffairs.  

While the standoff and shootings between the security forces and the wanted person was in a section of the town called “18,” protests erupted in other parts of the city including the city center Piazza.

Some protesters attacked vehicles, hotels, and other business firms on Tuesday and Wednesday, local residents told HornAffairs. Some of the attacked places are owned by residents of Tigray-origin.

The Anti-Terrorism task-force accuses the individuals of murder, robbery, and hostage taking in Amhara and Tigray regional states and of being directed by “anti-peace and terrorist forces in Eritrea and other foreign countries.”

Others dispute that Taskforce’s narrative and claim that it is an attempt to suppress an identity movement. Most of the detainees are members of the Wolkait Amhara Identity Question Committee.

The Task-force, however, claimed the measure is “unrelated to any legal question they might use as a camouflage.”

Map - Tigray region and North Gondar, Amhara region
Map – Tigray region and North Gondar, Amhara region

The Wolqait issue

Wolqait is a district in Tigray regional state following the ethnic-linguistic federal re-organization of the country in the 1990s. The population data of the time shows the majority of the residents as Tigrayans. However, some claim the Tigrayans are settlers, while others argue the area historically belonged to Amhara.

The issue came to the fore since last year. A group named “Wolqait Amhara Identity Question Committee,” claiming to represent the residents of the district. The group started lodging petition to regional and federal governments, distributing flyers, holding meetings and media campaigning. Tigrai region government, on the other hand, held a conference “to prove” the question does not have popular backing.

The matter created tension between Amhara region’s ruling party, ANDM, and Tigray region’s ruling party, TPLF, as the group made Gondar city its seat. Gondar city is located in Amhara region North Gonder zone, adjacent to Tigray region. Both parties belong to the national ruling party EPRDF.

Ethnic violence

The protest that erupted in the past two days is said to be unprecedented in more than a decade. Yet, that should come as a little surprise in light of the poor economic performance of Gondar – an old and major city of Ethiopia.

The ethnic violence, however, is at least in part a product of recent tensions and political agitations.

Identity questions raised since last year by residents in some vicinity, such as Abraha Jira kebele, Northern Gondar zone, to be allocated to Tigray region, were considered by activists as Tigray’s attempt to “take more Amhara lands.”

The Qimant people’s demand for a special zone in west of North Gondar zone to have a special zone status has been presented as a TPLF scheme in several media. Dozens of Tigrayans were displaced during the November incident that left about 95 mostly Qimant people dead.

Residents of Gondar city told HornAffairs that fliers agitating action against Tigrayans and Eritreans was distributed about two weeks ago.

Security problems

Armed opposition groups consider the lowland – stretching from Western zone of Tigray to North Gondar zone of Amhara – as an opportune place to get a foothold in the country.

Patriotic Ginbot 7 has been claiming victories against government forces in the area in the past two years. There has also been incidents in the main road connecting the two zones had been insecure in the past months.

The apparent disjoint within the federal government and the ruling party did not help the multi-faceted challenges of the area. The inability to contain the security problems and ethnic violence of the area is deemed a reflection of the hitches in the relationship of the two regions and their respective parties.


[This backgrounder was quickly prepared in light of the interest in the matter. If you deem a key piece of information is missing, let us know at: [email protected]]

Daniel Berhane

more recommended stories