Amhara clashes mar Ethiopia’s tolerant image

Wednesday May 18 2022
Chaos during Idd prayers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Chaos during Idd prayers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on May 2, 2022. PHOTO | AFP


Ethiopia’s image as a tolerant country has been tainted by two weeks of fighting between Christians and Muslims that has attracted international condemnation and calls for calm.

The violence is a result of tension that had been building up for several years. It started on April 26, when Christians and Muslims clashed in the northern city of Gondar in Amhara region, at a funeral service held in an area contested by both faiths.

Read: Ethiopian police, Muslims clash in Addis Ababa during Idd prayers

The violence claimed the lives of at least 21 people, with more than 150 injured, and quickly spread to other parts of the country including Addis Ababa.

Idd ul-Fitr prayers held in the capital last week turned chaotic, when tens of thousands of Muslims who were marking the end of Ramadhan clashed with police who in turn used teargas to disperse them.

It is not yet clear what caused the confrontation in Addis, but tensions have been high in the country since the incident in Gondar.


Despite a long history of co-existence, sporadic fighting between Muslims and Christians in the country is not new, according to Metta-Alem Sinishaw, a senior political analyst in Ethiopia.

Read: UN calls for independent probe into religious violence in Ethiopia

"Close partnership between religious clerics and ethno-nationalists poses a serious threat to national survival," Mr Metta-Alem told The EastAfrican.

“The nature of crimes committed following the outbreak and the retaliatory attacks demonstrate the complexity and multiplicity of causes beyond the traditional religion disputes rooted in land use," he said.

Religious conflict, he said, may be rising in Ethiopia because of political influence. For example, in 2021, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed consolidated power through his Prosperity Party that eliminated the coalition government dominated by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The TPLF is now considered a terrorist group in Ethiopia.

Read: Ethiopia arrests over 200 over violence at a funeral

Some of those who lost out in this power shift may take advantage of religious tensions to pursue their political goals, Mr Metta-Alem said.

The identities of the perpetrators of the recent violence remain unknown but some government officials have pointed a finger at TPLF, or even al-Shabaab militants. TPLF has denied involvement.

Others accused TPLF’s new ideological allies, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).

By last week, efforts by local religious leaders and state security forces had helped ease tension in the short term. However, experts advise leaders to look into other contributing factors such as lack of economic opportunities, poverty and high cost of living.

Ethiopia's inflation surged to 34.7 percent in March, up from 33.6 percent in the previous month according to official data.

Last week, the Ministry of Trade announced a fuel price increase of 16 percent, effective immediately.

It took gas prices to 36.87 birr per ($0.72) per litre from 31.74 birr ($0.65) per litre.

“Considering the frustrations of the people over surging cost of living and multiple social disparities, a large-scale conflict could be triggered at any time," said Sumur Tsehaye, a local political commentator based in Addis Ababa.

“The country is already fragile due to existing ethnic conflicts and social unrest caused by war in Tigray. Any additional conflicts can only exacerbate the country’s crisis," Mr Sumur said.