Caught between a rock and a hard place: Conflict, displacement, and drought in Konso, Ethiopia
This blog is related to an upcoming research study on conflict and displacement in two regional states in Ethiopia.
“… Whether we stay in this camp or return to our village, it is all the same. All our assets have been burnt down and destroyed. Now, even if peace will be restored, we have nothing left to lead our household. There is no rain to cultivate. Even these people who are hosting us are starving due to the drought.…”.
The above extract is a reflection by an adult farmer hosted in an IDP collective centre in Lultu kebele of Konso zone in southern Ethiopia. The centre was established to host people who were displaced due to conflict in Konso Zone and its neighbouring districts since 2020. As of August 2022, over 60,000 people in Konso were living in IDP collective centres and over 190,000 people of the Zone are affected by drought and thus need urgent food aid. Most of the IDPs have been displaced three times in the past two years, and production has failed due to drought for the fourth season. As a result, many young people are leaving the zone to other areas to find wage labour to support their families.
The Konso are a 300,000 strong farming community who live in southern Ethiopia. The Konso and their four neighbouring ethnic groups –Dirashe, Burji, Amaro and Alle – constituted five districts around Segen River valley in the Region. They enjoyed some degree of autonomy as ethno-territorial districts in the context of the Southern Nations Nationalities Peoples Regional State (SNNPRS) where special districts and zones are established along ethnic lines. In 2011, however, they were forced to give up their autonomy and were merged to form Segen Area Peoples Zone (SAPZ), which was dissolved again in 2018 when the new administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power.
With the disintegration of the SAPZ, the Konso managed to assume zonal status separately, but they soon faced violent conflicts in almost every direction, which displaced about 15 of its 52 kebeles. The violent conflict intensified after the war started in Tigray region in November 2020, which created a security vacuum. The conflict was primarily between those who supported and those who opposed the dissolving of the SAPZ. Those who opposed demanded a separate special district from Konso Zone, and subsequently managed to form an armed group that has been attacking government facilities and the communities who do not support their demand. This is also accompanied by competition and conflict between farmers over territories along district borders. The two years long violent conflict expanded to the neighbouring districts and displaced inhabitants of several kebeles from Amaro, Burji and Dirashe districts. Approximately 100,000 people have been displaced due to these events in the last two years. In April 2022, the already mentioned armed group engaged the SNNPRS security forces resulting in the death of close to one hundred security forces and government officials.
As compared to other conflicts in the country, the violence in Konso has not been given due attention by the media. Most of the humanitarian aid is directed to the conflict in the northern region of Tigray. The political elite in SNNPRS are occupied with the making and unmaking of administrative units and grabbing associated resources while conflict and drought ravage the communities. On 18 August 2022, the House of Federation, the upper house of peoples’ representatives, declared the plan to establish a new regional state – South Ethiopia Region. It is yet to be seen how the new Regional State will address the separation problems of conflict, displacement and drought. In this regard, it is critical for national and international stakeholders to focus first and foremost on emergency humanitarian support for the IDPs and drought affected communities, followed by durable peacebuilding in the region.
 Ethiopia Peace Observatory (acleddata.com)
 News: Addis Standard November 23, 2020