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Analysis: Post-violence recovery in Oromo Special, North Shewa zones reel as thousands remain displaced

Scenes of destruction from Ataye. Picture: Enyew Bihonegn

By Getahun Tsegaye 

Addis Abeba, June 16, 2021 – Little is known about the aftermath of recent conflicts in North Shewa and Oromo Special Zone in Amhara Regional State. The two zones have been a scene of conflict since their establishments but the conflict has never such damage to property became a scene of instability and narratives range from mischaracterization to vilification. Addis Standard reported on atrocities that were unfolding in these areas. 

The Ethiopian Institution of Ombudsman (EIO) in press release on April 8,2021 acknowledged failure on part of the Amhara region and said that, “303 people were killed, 369 injured, 1,539 houses were torched and based on the information we received from the administrations of the two zones over 50,000 people have been displaced.”  Later, Addis Standard  reported quoting UNOCHA that  358,000 people displaced from North Shewa and Oromo Special Zones of Amhara due to conflict and are in dire need of food, shelter, non-food items, water and healthcare services. 

Why conflict?

Conflicts in the Oromo Special Zone and its neighboring North Shewa Zone have produced conflicting narratives from both sides of the conflict. Both sides blame the other for the start and the escalation of the conflict. These conflicting narratives can be seen in recent testimonies Addis Standard was able to collect. 

Like a resident of Ataye, who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisal, said,”Oromo Special Zone’s political operatives participated in the conflict.” According to him, the actions were led mainly by ‘Shane’ (a name used by the government to refer to the Oromo Liberation Army). He recapped:” There are some rumors that TPLF remnants took part in the operations which may or may not be true.“

A witness from Senbete town, which is under Oromo Special Zone, challenged the testimony that claimed that ‘Shane’ had participated in the conflict. He blamed the Amhara regional government for associating the conflict with OLA. For him as many others, it was the Amhara regional Special Force, literally called Liyu Hail, who aggravated the matter by actively participating in the conflicts.

This contradictory narration of events were seen also at the start of the conflict, the Oromia Regional State chapter of the ruling Prosperity Party (PP), the Oromo Prosperity Party (OPP) accused Amhara Special Forces of fomenting violence in the Oromo Special Zone of the region. Its content showed how the Amhara Regional State chapter of the ruling Prosperity Party (PP), Amhara Prosperity Party (APP) slammed the statement of its counterpart chapter in Oromia Regional State and described it as “irresponsible and irrational,” The APP also made claims about the existence of the group called ‘OLF-Shene’ that, according to the party’s statement, attempted to disturb Amhara Regional State peace and security.

The process of resettlement and humanitarian aids

It has been only a few months since hundreds of thousands of people got displaced from their homes. Many houses, healthcare facilities, hotels, bars, business centers and government offices turned to ashes. In a scene that describes the depth of the conflict and what can be expected if reasons conflict are not addressed properly.  

Addis Standard attempted, though constrained in getting ample information, to answer the question of the whereabouts of IDPs from North Shewa and Oromo Special Zone. But both Oromia Special Zone and North Shewa Zone administrators declined to provide information and only commented,” The area is under command post and we have no legitimate ground to give details at this moment,” 

Taddesse is a resident of Shewa Robit who told Addis Standard, “Since the establishment of the command post, Shewa Robit and its surroundings are more secure than before.” It was on April 18, 2021 that the Federal Ministry of Defense announced the establishment of a command post that encompasses three zones; North Shewa, South Wollo and Oromo Special Zones. The command post has imposed two restrictions that include the prohibition of carrying arms in certain areas, closure of roads and the burning of places of worship, houses and government institutions.

A top official in Ataye’s town administration, expressed his agony stating, “Ataye became a ghost town. It is demolished, appalling, deserted with few or no remaining inhabitants.”  He told Addis Standard that their frequent endeavors to resettle IDPs to their home became unsuccessful. He said only a handful of them were willing to come back home but with fear for their lives while the majority of them opted to stay away.

Asalif  Deribe, Ataye City Prosperity Party Chairman, explained to Addis Standard that he and his colleagues were working to facilitate aid coming from the government and very few NGOs. He said, “Though the aid is very much appreciated,it is not in line with what the displaced people need.” According to him, Federal and Amhara Regional governments are working jointly at a plan level to rebuild Ataye and its vicinities and for this effect rehab offices are under construction.

Addis Standard’s attempts to get hold of Jille Timuga Woreda administrator were unsuccessful. Nonetheless, a resident in Senbete town, who wanted to remain anonymous, told Addis Standard, ‘’There are thousands of people displaced from neighboring Kebeles like Wossen Qorqur, Chafa Dire, Arbawayu, and Dimtu Chekorso and have no place to go but depend on others.” 

Addis Standard also talked to an IDP from Ataye town, whose house got burned and asked if he was assisted by any entity. He said, “Local government officials registered the damage I encountered and promised to help me but the promise is yet to be fulfilled. I, my wife and two kids still live in my friend’s house located in Debre Birhan city.” Another IDP added, “We are neglected, abandoned and are in a state of dereliction.”

An Oromo Special Zone’s rehab committee coordinator, told Addis Standard, “Neither the federal government nor Amhara regional state supported our affected people.  Responsible individuals formed a rehab committee and coordinated aid coming from Diasporas and the local communities.” Abdu adds, “There are many IDPs in Senbete town, living in pitched tents in elementary school and are still being helped by the local community, administrators and NGOs.” 

A witness from Ataye town said, “Tents have been set up and displaced people are expected  to live in but only some have come.” 

Mark (Name changed upon request), is a civil servant and said, “I was displaced from Ataye and lived in Debre Birhan temporarily with friends but now I am back in my home town following government’s call to start work. I am forced to live with friends since my house was burned down.” According to him, IDPs are coming to the town since its security is getting good. He also said, “Because a lot of houses were burned and have not been rebuilt yet, Ataye 01 kebele is almost abandoned.” He went on saying, “Few NGOs, government, and individuals are helping IDPs by providing edible and non-edible items, clothes and the like which are not enough.”  He further testified, “Though life is getting good, especially in Kebele 02 where more IDPs reside in tents or with other people, healthcare centers are not fully functional yet.” According to him, schools in Ataye are not open yet but Commercial Bank of Ethiopia located in Kebele 01 is serving though other banks are still closed. 

Shewaribit’s resident Aynalem, whose mother got displaced from Karakori due to the conflict, told Addis Standard, “My mom has recently gone back to her home following the improvement of security in Karakori.”

How is Ataye? 

 “We are living in fear. Trust vs. mistrust is best portrayed in our communities. Traumas have engulfed our people,” said one of Ataye’s Cabinet members who did not want to disclose his name. He, however, stated that the area is under command post and deployed defense force, federal police and local law enforcers are working to ensure the sustainability of peace. He expressed his hope saying, “Things will get back to normal.”

A civil servant testified that the government was still paying salaries but its call to begin work was undoubtedly impractical. He said, “I am very pleased that the government called us to start work and serve but most offices were burned down.” Responding to Addis Standard, a rehab committee coordinator from Oromo Special Zone said, “Despite the area being under command post, we are living in torrential fear.”

Seid, who currently resides in Kombolcha city, nearly 400km north of Addis Ababa, told Addis Standard, “I would rather be homeless and be safe with my family than return to Ataye. I saw how the violence was and I don’t have a heart to witness that again. The scar shall remain in my mind for years to come. I don’t believe peace and order will prevail in that area.” 

What does the future hold? 

Biruke is a resident of Shewa Robit who told Addis Standard, “My job is driving a minibus to transport people from Shewa Robit to Kemise to the north and to Debre Birhan to the South. Despite some fears, we are on work since the area is under command post.” When asked about the normalcy in the areas where conflicts hit hard. Biruke explained, “I have seen closed shops that are now open. A few people are returning to open public markets in Jeweha and Betie but it is not as good as it used to be.” Biruke hopes that the ongoing conflict resolution meetings led by the command post will bring tangible and prolific results that will benefit both communities. 

A statement from Jille Timuga Woreda Communication Office preached the idea that people of North Shewa and Oromo Special Zone shall live in harmony. It disclosed that elders, religious leaders, influential individuals, and administrators from both Ataye and Senbete towns discussed and passed directions to apprehend suspected criminals to justice. The statement further explained that the final phase of the ongoing reconciliation meetings would be held in Ataye city on June 18, 2021.

The ENDF in a statement said, “A peace conference was held among three weredas-Efrata Gidim, Antsokiya and Fursi, of Amhara Regional State where violence occurred.” The statement went on saying, “Woreda administrators, elders and religious leaders vowed to bring perpetrators to justice and to maintain peace.” AS

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