Ethiopia: Key players in the Amhara network

By The Africa Report
Posted on Wednesday, 14 September 2022 14:17

by TAR

A tightknit and powerful Amhara elite are a driving force in Ethiopia today, after decades of being marginalised by the Tigray-dominated former ruling party. By providing crucial political backing to the Oromo President Abiy Ahmed, some Amhara see an opportunity to regain a seat at the table. Find out who's who in the Amhara elite:

Appointed president of the Amhara region in September 2021, Kefale previously served as the head of the region’s education bureau. Before that he was the deputy dean of Debre Markos University.

Yilkal has been steadfast in his insistence that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) must be destroyed as a political organisation. The group entered Amhara in July 2021, after federal forces withdrew from Tigray, and subsequent fighting caused widespread damage to infrastructure in the region.

In a public address earlier this month, Yilkal said he is committed to “eradicating” the TPLF, a stance that appears to contradict that of the federal government, which has said it is willing to negotiate with the rebel group.

Demeke Mekonnen is a key fixer for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, holding several important portfolios. Alongside his positions as deputy prime minister and foreign minister, he also serves as vice president of the ruling Prosperity Party and chairs the committee tasked with negotiating with the TPLF.

The most prominent ethnic Amhara in Ethiopia’s federal government, he has been a stalwart of Ethiopian politics for years. He chaired the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) from 2010 to 2019, the former ruling party in the Amhara region and one of the four parties that made up the former TPLF-led ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), of which he was also deputy chairman until its dissolution in 2019. ­

A former high school teacher, Demeke began his political career in the Amhara Regional Council in 1995 and became the regional Amhara deputy president following the disputed elections of 2005, and served until 2009. A year later, he became the federal education minister under the EPRDF, a position he served for four years.

Agegnehu Teshager was appointed speaker of the House of Federation, the upper house of Ethiopia’s federal government, in October 2021.

He previously served as president of the Amhara region, a position he was appointed to in November 2020, days after the war with Tigray broke out. A staunch opponent of the TPLF, he mobilised Amhara for total war after the rebel group entered the region last year.

Colonel Demeke Zewdu heads the Welkait Amhara Identity Question Committee, an organisation dedicated to restoring Amhara jurisdiction over Western Tigray, a contested area of land known to Amharas as Welkait, which the TPLF incorporated into Tigray in the early 1990s.

Demeke became the head of peace and security in Western Tigray shortly after it was occupied by Amhara forces when the Tigray conflict broke out in November 2020.

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tigrayans were forcibly deported from the area, leading to accusations of “ethnic cleansing” from the US State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The future of Western Tigray will be a key issue in upcoming peace talks.

A former federal army officer, Demeke was born in Welkiat and joined the TPLF’s insurgency against the Derg regime as a teenager. He later fell out with the authorities and was arrested in 2016 after a day-long shoot out at his home in Gondar. His case became a focal point of Amhara resistance to the former EPRDF ruling coalition and he was seen as a hero in the region.

Zemene Kassie is a well-known commander in the Fano, an armed Amhara ethno-nationalist movement that played a key role in beating back the TPLF as they advanced towards Addis Ababa in late 2021.

Zemene was prominent in mobilising Amhara resistance against the TPLF although his popularity was dented in the region by allegations of Fano looting in the Wollo region of Amhara.

He is currently in hiding after the federal and Amhara governments cracked down on the Fano, arresting thousands of its members in a bid to prevent them from becoming too powerful and threatening the constitutional order.

Belete Molla heads the ethno-nationalist National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), the main opposition party in the Amhara region, which is dedicated to promoting Amhara interests within Ethiopia.

Following the national election of June 2021, Belete became the federal government’s minister of innovation and technology, one of three opposition figures to join Abiy’s administration. His party won a paltry five seats in the vote.

Belete’s position in the federal government is a source of contention within his party. Some members believe he should resign owing to what they see as the government’s failure to protect Amharas in Oromia, the site of recent massacres that killed hundreds.

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