Human rights groups stated that violence intensified during the year in the conflict in northern Ethiopia, based on a variety of factors. Because ethnicity and religion are closely linked and because criminality, politics, access to resources, and historical grievances were also drivers of violence in the country, it was often difficult to determine whether some incidents were based on religion, other factors, or a combination thereof.
On the weekend of April 4, media outlets reported that tensions erupted between the EECMY and the EOTC Trinity Church following an April 2 groundbreaking ceremony at the construction site for a new seminary in the Mekanisa Area, Nifas Silk Sub City, Addis Ababa. In the week preceding the ceremony, youths from the EECMY church and nearby EOTC Trinity Church engaged in verbal sparring over who owned the land on which the seminary was located. On April 3, Amba Digital reported that a group of approximately 40 men stormed an EECMY church approximately three miles away in Kora, Akiki Woreda, Oromia, and attacked worshippers while they prayed. The attackers killed one worshipper, injured eight, and damaged the church. In an April 4 statement, the EECMY condemned the attack and called for the EOTC to do the same. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project reported that Oromia Special Forces had to intervene to stabilize the situation.
In April, over 20 Muslims were reportedly killed following three days of violence after the funeral of a Muslim cleric. The violence was reportedly sparked by Muslim youths taking stones from the Orthodox side of the burial ground to decorate the cleric’s gravesite on the Islamic side of the graveyard. Subsequently, EOTC and Muslim youths clashed for three days; on the first day of disturbances, rioters reportedly killed three individuals. The Addis Standard reported that the Amhara State Islamic Affairs Council demanded action after the death toll rose to 21. The Islamic social media channel Harun Media blamed the clashes on tensions following anti-Muslim rhetoric from EOTC factions and expressed concerns over an increase of Muslim-owned businesses and Muslims acquiring land in traditionally Orthodox areas of Gondar. The Ethiopia Observer reported that 280 persons were arrested in Gondar in response to the violence. In the days after the attack, the Ethiopia Observer reported a wave of protests, during which protesters damaged and destroyed churches in Silte Zone, SNNP Region, and mosques in Debark Town, Amhara Region.
Wazema Radio and Orthodoxy Daily News (via Twitter) reported that on the night of October 29, an armed militia killed a deacon and kidnapped 11 worshippers during a night-time liturgical service at Gebre Guracha Town, Oromia Region. Investigations continued through year’s end, by which time the kidnappers had released two of the kidnapped worshippers for a ransom but continued to hold nine others.
On November 12, the Ethiopia Observer reported gunmen killed at least 15 persons and injured more as worshippers gathered for services at the Muleta Gela EECMY Church, an evangelical Protestant church located in Galo Kebele, East Wollega, Oromia Region. In a media briefing, Yonas Yigezu Dibisa, the head of the EECMY, condemned the killing of worshippers “in the strongest terms” and expressed regret and concern at what he saw as a lack of response from government security forces. He also said gunmen killed 14 clerics and worshippers returning from church in Mendi, West Welega, Oromia Region, a few weeks earlier. Investigations continued at year’s end.
The northern conflict directly affected the EOTC, with many Tigrayans saying they felt ignored and neglected by Addis Ababa-based religious leaders. According to a February 14 social media post by Tghat Media, the head of the TOTC, Patriarchate Abune Merhakirstos, stated, “The link with Addis (EOTC) is broken. We can’t live with those who massacre us.” He described the Church of Tigray as autocephalous and expressed its intent to form its own synod. As a result, on February 17, the new TOTC patriarchate issued a statement officially splitting from the EOTC. The statement declared TOTC services would only be conducted in Tigrinya (Tigrayan language), all documents and manuscripts would be translated from Ge’ez (an ancient Ethiopian Semitic language used by the EOTC) and Amharic into Tigrinya, and the TOTC would no longer report to EOTC authorities in Addis Ababa. After the November signing of the COHA, however, EOTC leaders said they were hopeful the TOTC would reunite with the EOTC.
According to media reports, in July, following months of debate and infighting between Sufi and Salafist factions, the EIASC held a long overdue election resulting in the stepping down of long-serving President Sufi Hajji Mufti Omer Idris and the appointment of Salafist Hajji Ibrahim Tufa as president. The Mejlis (another name for the EIASC) also saw the appointment of a new executive board and general assembly. The change in leadership was met with mixed reactions, with some Sufi factions calling it a coup by more religiously conservative elements and Salafi factions calling it a redress of administrative issues and the fulfilment of the Council’s bylaws. The Ethiopian News Agency reported that in the days following his appointment, President Hajji Ibrahim urged unity among the Muslim community and called on it to resist efforts to divide them.
Waaqeffanna – an Indigenous religion in Oromia Region unique to Oromo culture – reportedly continued to grow on university campuses and among the Oromo population. Some contacts described Waaqeffanna as being such a strong part of Oromo ethnonationalist identity that Oromo police targeted and accused them of associating with the outlawed Oromo Liberation Army insurgent group.
While a majority of the Rastafarian community resided in Shashamene town in Oromia, around 155 miles south of Addis Ababa, many moved to Addis Ababa for work or other reasons. Many Rastafari do not speak Amharic or Affan Oromo, complicating connections with local communities who viewed them with suspicion and questioned their spiritual use of marijuana.
Ethiopian Jews in Gondar continued to migrate to Israel with the help of international nongovernmental organizations and charities. There were also isolated Beta Israel or “Hidden Jewish” communities in Kechene, outside of Addis Ababa, and Debre Birhan, in Amhara Region. Hundreds of Tigrayan Jews fleeing the conflict in the north arrived in Debre Birhan and other Jewish communities. While free to practice their form of Judaism, which, depending on the community, can differ from modern Judaic practice, the Beta Israel community reported that it sometimes faced social exclusion from the majority EOTC community. They also reported accusations of using witchcraft to bring harm to non-Jewish members of the community.
The IRCE continued to include representatives from the EOTC, EIASC, Roman Catholic Church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and several evangelical Christian groups, such as the EECMY and the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church.
The interreligious councils of Shashamene and West Arsi zone, in partnership with the Catholic Church Social Development Commission Robe Branch Office, established office space, personnel, and training for conflict prevention and peace messaging to support and improve the ability for local inter-religious councils to advocate, message, and teach peace building and solidarity. Local partners conducted dialogue, peace messaging by mobile vehicle-mounted loudspeaker, unified preaching of peace across all seven religious organizations, and peace messaging on FM radio. Local partners also distributed 1,000 pamphlets reinforcing messages of social cohesion and designed to help mitigate conflict.