Since November of last year, Ethiopia has experienced grassroots political unrest on an unprecedented level. Protests that started in Oromo State in November have now spread to Amhara State. The prolonged clashes have sparked rising concern, and organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused the government of brutality against the protesters.
An estimated 240 people have already died in the violence and scores have been arrested, but exact figures remain unavailable due to current restrictions on social media. Smaller scale protests like these have in the past been used as opportunities for attacks against churches. Initially Open Doors found no evidence that Christians were being targeted in the recent uprising. In February, however, Islamic extremists turned on Christians during riots in villages near the west-central border of Oromia State, burning four churches and damaging two others.
Reports of new attacks are now beginning to flow in. On Saturday, August 6, demonstrators attacked the Full Gospel Church in Koladiba, a small town near Gonder, which has become the center of protests in Amhara State. The church building and church property was vandalized and looted in the attack. This is not the first time the church has been targeted by attackers. Although the demonstrators also set fire to government offices and cars, they did not attack any other religious buildings, causing local believers to conclude that the riots offer attackers the opportunity to strike out at Christians with impunity under the cover of chaos.
In eastern Ethiopia, close to the town of Hirna in Oromia, attackers demolished and looted eight houses belonging to Christians. Locals reported that the assailants could be heard declaring they “will eradicate the Christian faith from the fully Islamic village.” Leaders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church (EOC) and Evangelical Lutheran Mekane Yesus Church (EECMY) have expressed sadness over the loss of life and property during the riots and called on all parties to stay calm and work toward peace in the country.
The protests began with demonstrations against a reported government plan to extend the boundaries of the capital Addis Ababa into neighboring Oromia State. Initially, demonstrators called for the total abolition of the new plan because locals feared losing their farmland. Though the government dropped the project, wide-scale demonstrations have continued and also erupted in Amhara state, where protesters are calling for new border demarcations between Amhara and Tigray states. The demonstrators have now started asking for political reform, justice, and the rule of law.
Pray for peace and stability and for the protection of Christianity in Ethiopia, as many Christians remain located near the demonstration areas. Pray for wisdom for church and political leaders in the country to respond to the situation with patience and effective solutions.
Father, You are a God of peace, order and justice in a world that is being overrun with violence in many places. We pray for a return to peace and stability in Ethiopia, for Your hand of protection to guard Your people who are caught in the crossfire between the government and those who are protesting. As Muslim demonstrators lash out against Christians in their anger toward the government, give Your church an extra measure of wisdom and discernment as they respond. And grant strength and understanding to the government that they might soon bring about stability in the region. In the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Amen.