The shocking murders of five high-ranking officials exposed the gravity of the Ethiopian crisis. To mitigate risks, politicians must refrain from doing or saying anything provocative, while the federal government and the ruling elites take urgent steps to heal deep and dangerous inner cracks.
A series of murders on June 22 shook Ethiopia. That night, in the state of Amhara, the country's second-largest federal region, gunmen killed regional leader Ambachew Mekonnen and two of his aides. A few hours later a bodyguard was reportedly shot dead by General Seare Mekonnen, Ethiopia's chief of staff, along with a retired officer, at the general's home in the capital, Addis Ababa. The Prime Minister's Office associated the murders and cited a coup attempt in Amhara, the federal government imposed a worldwide blackout on the internet – and the military launched a hunt for the alleged Mentor, Amhara's security chief named Asaminew Tsige. State media announced that Asaminew was killed by the military in a shootout on June 24.
For the time being, the order appears to have returned, both in Addis and in Bahir Dar, seat of the Amhara regional government. Even so, the events undressed the extent of the country's political crisis. To avoid escalation, politicians from all walks of life must avoid inflammatory speeches or actions. Authorities should take urgent steps to call for discussions – including the mediation of respected Ethiopians – to calm disputes within the Democratic Revolutionary Front of the Ethiopian Peoples (EPRDF) on issues such as power sharing, territorial disputes and demands in certain regions for greater autonomy. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed should consult extensively on the replacement of General Seare to minimize suspicions of ethnic favoritism.
The political crisis in Ethiopia is, in a sense, an extension of the crisis within the EPRDF. Since taking office in April 2018, Prime Minister Abiy has made significant reforms at breakneck speed, reforming the federal security apparatus, making peace with neighboring Eritrea, releasing political prisoners and inviting exiles home. These steps, albeit long overdue, came at a cost: they weakened the unity of the EPRDF, an alliance of four regional parties that controlled all levels of government from the federal level to the village level since 1991 and routinely used repressive tactics for the lateral line . challengers. The security reform in particular has altered the balance of power in the central government by reducing the number of senior officials of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), one of the four EPRDF parties, representing the long-time Tigray minority dominated the dominant coalition. safety device.
One result is that ethnic-nationalist parties are currently on the rise in the regional states of Ethiopia, pressing the strident agendas and presenting themselves as true champions of communal interests. The EPRDF parties – themselves created to govern autonomous federal states and represent regional demands in the capital, according to Ethiopia's ethnic federalist system – now feel compelled to overcome them. High ethno-nationalist rhetoric contributes to inter-communal violence, which in the last eighteen months has reached unprecedented levels in many decades in Ethiopia.
This dynamic is particularly evident in the two most populous regional states, Amhara and Oromia. In the first, the one-year-old Amhara National Movement challenges the EPRDF Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), standing as the standard bearer of Amhara's interests. He is pushing for territorial claims in the neighboring region of Tigray and stating that this would prevent the "persecution" of amharas living outside the state of Amhara. In the case of the Oromia region, leaders of a previously exiled insurgency, the Oromo Liberation Front, returned in September 2018 amidst joyful demonstrations and, in the understanding, would continue their struggle for Oromo's rights and autonomy by peaceful and democratic means. However, since the return of the movement, the military confronted armed groups associated with it in the west of Oromia.
Against this background, the murders of June 22 are menacing signs. O Claims of the Prime Minister Asaminew orchestrated the assassination of Amhara's chief administrator to overthrow the regional government. He also claimed that the two groups of killings – in Addis and in Bahir Dar – were linked and are part of the same plot. Whether these statements are correct or not, the murders highlight the volatility in the heart of the country's political system, despite the huge promise of the 2018 transition.
Conflicting reports of the aftermath of the deaths added fuel to the fire. The Prime Minister's Office said on June 23 that authorities had detained the Seare killer. The next day the Federal Police said that he committed suicide shortly after the murder but later changed his position to say that he was in the injured hospital. The confusing message led to theories challenging the official account. One such theory is that a federal government led by Oromo used the crisis to assert control over the Amhara region, which is indicative of a power struggle between Oromia and Amhara. A tactical alliance against the TPLF between parts of the Amhara and Oromia EPRDF parties was instrumental in bringing Abiy to power last year but is now under pressure.
Asaminew has been a controversial figure. He was arrested along with other former military colleagues in 2009, allegedly for being part of the opposition group Ginbot 7, then banned and plotting a coup against the then government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. He was released in February 2018 as part of an EPRDF amnesty before Abiy became prime minister; nine months later, ADP and the regional government appointed him head of security. His appointment was an indicator of the increasing chauvinism of the ruling Amhara party and seemed to be an attempt to regain popular support from the Amhara ethno-nationalists: Asamin defended many of the same issues as the Amhara National Movement and supported efforts to reclaim lands that Amhara state leaders say they lost to Tigray in the early 1990s. But his appointment pushed the parts of the EPRDF apart, aggravating the Amhara-Tigrayan territorial dispute and fueling the Amhara-Oromo tensions. Oromo leaders suspected Asaminew of ordering violence against Oromo in an administrative enclave of the Amhara region in April and training local Amhara militias across the state.
As a result, federal and regional leaders have increasingly considered Asaminew a responsibility. Ambachew, named in March by the regional parliament as head of the Amhara, would be about to fire him before he was assassinated. Asaminew's death at the hands of the military and the conflicting reports of the death of the other murderer could further polarize the situation, particularly by sharpening the discord between Amhara and Oromo. The June 22 killings confirm the dangers of delivering hard-line security portfolios like the Asininew, which are ready to serve extreme Ethno-nationalists of any ethnicity in Ethiopia.
Addressing the many economic, political and security challenges facing Ethiopia will require time. For now, however, the most pressing threat is that the June 22 killings could trigger power struggles and violent reactions in politically sensitive locations across the country. The EPRDF and the government must take urgent steps to restore calm, including:
A clear commitment from Prime Minister Abiy to try to contain the intra-EPDRF dissent, in recognition of the seriousness of the country's political crisis. The EPRDF parties will have to resolve the differences in relation to the sharing of federal power, internal borders and regional autonomy. For now, however, they need to leave those differences aside to help the government maintain order. This can be difficult given the pressure they face within their own ethnic groups, but it is necessary. All partisan leaders should be open to mediation by respected Ethiopians if they can not alleviate problems in EPRDF forums and make a public commitment to work with the Reconciliation Commission established by parliament in December 2018 to investigate the causes of past conflicts in order to prevent future violence. .
A concerted effort to counter harmful rumors. The federal and Amhara governments should, to the best of their ability, keep the public informed of what they know and do not know as the situation unfolds. The statement by the Prime Minister's Office, issued on June 23, went a bit further to this end, though it should disclose any evidence that it linked the Ambachew and Seare murders to end speculation.
A push to keep the military together and prevent its politicization. Seare's murder raised troubling questions about divisions within the military, although government sources emphasize that it was an isolated incident. Most of the time, the military remained cohesive and effective during the transition, even when Abiy took steps to reform it, notably in attempting to rebalance its high ranks of Tiger dominance. An initial challenge is the appointment of a new chief of staff. The next in line, Deputy Chief of Staff and Chief of Military Operations Berhanu Jula, is an Oromo, and his appointment could fuel tensions with the Amhara nationalists and other opponents stemming from allegations that Abiy favors his own ethnic Oromo. The prime minister must consult the entire political spectrum and make a consensual decision on the replacement of Seare.
In conjunction with these official steps, all politicians – inside and outside the EPRDF, and representing all the regions and peoples of the country – must refrain from exploiting the situation through provocative rhetoric or hate speech, whether out of anger or as part of calculations of themselves. -interest.
The transition from Ethiopia has been an inspiration throughout Africa and beyond. The June 22 murders have shaken this transition, but if prudence and precaution prevail, they need not interfere with it.