The Controversial Coup Attempt in Ethiopia
By Blen Girma
July 17, 2019 (Ezega.com) -- In a recent address to the national parliament, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said he had escaped several coup attempts and assassinations since he came to power on April 2, 2018, including a grenade attack a year ago at Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, at a rally held to support him as Prime Minister. The government is yet to come up with a conclusive evidence or report to show the public the origins and intent of that attack.
The latest tragedy was apparently instigated by a renegade general who tried to seize control of the northern state of Amhara in attempted regional coup in which the state president, Dr. Ambachew Mekonnen — who was believed to have been an ally of the Prime Minister — and two other senior officials of the state were gunned down.
The government in Addis Ababa claimed the country’s Army chief, General Seare Mekonnen, and a retired army general who was visiting him at the time were killed in his residence in Addis Ababa by his bodyguard. This is believed to have been part of the same attack and coup attempt which, according to the government, was orchestrated and coordinated by Amhara state’s security head, Brigadier General Asamnew Tsige.
The federal government has produced voice recordings showing Brigadier General Asaminew Tsige claiming responsibity for the killings in Bahir Dar, and saying that the 'Amhara leaders did not listen to the people.' Several indviduals, including Amhara government officials and security personnel, also claim they have seen him (General Asaminew) firsthand, directing the killing operation from his guest house residence in Bahir Dar city. Representatives of the Ehiopian Defense Forces have also come out lately to narrate minute by minute account of what happened that day and that, given the evidence they have so far, Brigadier General Asaminew Tsige was solely responsible for the killings in Bahir Dar city. This is inline with what Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in an emergency broadcast that evening following the killings in Bahir Dar and in Addis Ababa.
Brigadier General Asamnew was released from prison last year, having been granted amnesty by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for a similar coup attempt ten years earlier. Asaminew was shot dead in counter attack the following day by joint forces of the federal government and Amhara state in northern Ethiopia.
In his speech to parliament, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed described the attack as a clear coup attempt that the plotters had intended to control the regional government and then overthrow the federal government in a well-established way from Bahir Dar city about 500km north-west of Addis Ababa, the capital city of Amhara state and the seat of regional government.
Some around the US government, which is believed to have established close ties with Abiy’s government, and elites of Oromo nationals, believe that the thwarted coup was orchestrated by Amhara nationalists, from the country’s second largest ethnic group, who allegedly want to restore their old power and glory on country’s political landscape.
Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), which is one of the four ethnic parties forming the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in a statement said the failed coup was conspired by members of Amhara Democratic Party (ADP) who wanted to seize power in a short-cut and in an unconstitutional way. Later, the TPLF condemned the ADP as the one responsible for much of the troubles the country is facing today, precipitating a very dangerous development for Ethiopia. In return, the ADP denouced the TPLF, calling it anti-democratic and traitor organization since inception and one that cannot be cured.
TPLF’s stance came amidst growing demands from Amhara nationals and the Amhara regional government for the return of some controversial lands which they say were unlawfully taken by neighboring Tigray state during the reign of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. More importantly, built-in that condemnation was ADP's support for the rise of Abiy Ahmed as Prime Minister and the dominance of ODP (Oromo Democratic Party) within the governing party, EPRDF.
In direct opposition to all of this, supporters of Gen. Asaminew Tsgie and others claim the recent tragedy had nothing to do with coup attempt. They say the attack on the regional state of Amhara was rather done to weaken the movement of the Amhara people who are demanding fair and right representation within the federal government.
They claim it is unlikely that the attackers, including General Asaminew Tsgie, who was trained in the US, would go for a "coup" to seize federal power from a regional town, while all parts of the nation are under the control of the federal government or other regional powers it cannot control. They claim, no reasonable person would think in that way, let alone General Asaminew Tsige, who by all accounts was not a crazy person.
In the run-up to the recent high-profile killings, the ADP and senior politicians in Amhara regional government were believed to have been complaining over the seizure of key positions within the federal government structure by members of the ODP, facilitated by the Prime Minister himself. In addition to what they claim was the exclusion of the Amhara people from the country's political landscape, the Amhara politicians were also increasingly unhappy with the denial of adequate resources as well as the forced displacement of their people mainly from Oromo administrative areas.
The anti-government protests that lasted for three years in Oromia state and which later spread to Amhara state eventually forced the former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to resign in 2018. That helped Abiy Ahmed, from Oromo Democratic Party, assume power on April 2, 2018.
General Asaminew's supporters also claim senior officials at the federal government masterminded the attack in Amhara state by using the 'attack' or the 'coup' as a cover. They claim the real targets were the newly formed movements such NAMA (Amhara National Movement). They show as proof the immediate mass arrest by the federal government in Addis Ababa of opposing forces in the regional state of Amhara, including NAMA.
Following the tragic events, the federal forces arrested hundreds of people in the regional state and other parts of the country in a crackdown of suspected supporters of the failed coup attempt. The arrests contradict the government's prior stand and commitment that it will never file charges against anyone or arrest suspects without having a reliable evidence.
NAMA is believed to have amassed membership of over 2 million in about two years since its formation, an astounding growth for any political party in Ethiopia.
The skeptics in Amhara regional state, as well as other like-minded Ethiopians, ask this question: why did the army chief of staff stay at his home while the 'coup' was going on? Had the chief of staff been on duty, he would have been discussing with the Prime Minister at the national palace or with other top military-security people at high command and control center.
In a speech to the families of the victims, Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen, who is also chairperson of the ADP, blamed third parties for the creation of opposing factions within the Amhara regional government that led to the deadly events.Some in social media have questioned the whereabouts of Demeke Mekonnen during the tragic hours of the twin killings in Bahir Dara and Addis Ababa.
The are other people who also postulate yet another theory regarding the recent killings. This other theory combines some of the elements of the various narratives. They claim Brigadier General Asaminew Tsige had grown a serious threat to the Amhara regional government and was under active consideration for removal, and possible arrest. According to these people, General Asaminew then went on a suicidal mission to kill the top leaders of the Amhara regional government. And, according to this theory, General Seare Mekonnen, who was killed about four hours later, was either part of General Asaminew's mission or, even worse, the target of those who wanted to clear way for more power. Both the federal and Amhara state governments dispute this account.
The office of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Twitter that 212 suspects had been arrested in connection with the June 22 coup attempt in Amhara, with 43 others held in the capital, Addis Ababa, although many believe this figure could exceed 1000 while the investigations are "still ongoing with potential for more arrests."
Since coming to power, Abiy Ahmed has released political prisoners, removed bans on political parties, welcomed all exiles, made peace with neighboring Eritrea, and preached unity (medemer), love and forgiveness. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed received international acclaim for these measures. However, his government has been battling ethnic bloodshed which continue to happen here and there to this day. Several regional boundary and identity questions, as well as demand for statehood, still remain. And, according to critics, the prisons are starting to fill up anew and new laws are being formulated to curb media freedom yet all over again. Rights group Amnesty International in a recent statement said Ethiopia’s government risks of rolling back the great progress made on media freedom last year. The group says the government has jailed journalists and media outlets for their reporting on the armed forces and that is a roll back to the days of repression.
By the end of 2018, not a single journalist remained behind bars in Ethiopia, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). As a result, in 2019, the country's ranking in media freedom leaped 40 places in the World Press Freedom Index. This could all be a one-time uptick should the worst fears of the CPJ come true.
During all of this, the remarkably peace-loving, god-fearing people of Ethiopia are in their churches and mosques, praying hard for a united and stable Ethiopia. They are asking god to give wisdom to their leaders, and restrain the worst impulses of those very few in their midst who are greedy and heartless.