(Cairo) Speculation is rife in Ethiopia, following a reported coup and an attempt to control the northern state of Amhara, a bubbling pot of ethnic dissent against Addis Ababa.
Five people, including senior officials, were killed on June 22, when coordinated attacks were staged, both in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and in Amhara, as part of the reported coup.
The reported mastermind of the violence and attempted coup was Gen. Asamnew Tsige, an army official with a record of ethnic dissent.
On June 22, Ethiopia’s national army chief of staff, Seare Mekonnen, was shot dead by his bodyguard at his residence in Addis Ababa, along with a retired general.
This happened only hours before the President of Amhara, Ambachew Mekonnen, was killed in Bahir Dar, Amhara’s capital.
An advisor was killed with him and Amhara’s attorney general was also shot in the same attack. He succumbed to his wounds two days later.
The three men are reported to have been preparing plans to tighten the noose around Gen. Asamnew who was preparing for what some observers described as an armed rebellion against the central government in Addis Ababa and war against other ethnic groups in Amhara.
Asamnew was killed near Bahir Dar on June 24, according to the Ethiopian government. This, however, does not bring the danger or the plot to an end.
The state of Amhara is one of nine ethnic divisions in Ethiopia. It is home to the African country’s Amhara people, the second largest ethnic group in the country. Close to 20 million people live in Amhara, a little less than 20% of Ethiopia’s overall population of 105 million.
Amhara is strategically important for Addis Ababa because it is home to Lake Tana, which is the source of the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the River Nile.
In the last two decades, this river was at the center of Ethiopia’s economic development plans, with Addis Ababa planning a series of dams across it to generate electricity in its bid to become the Horn of Africa’s next electrical energy hub.
Nevertheless, these economic development plans are coming at the cost of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Amharas who were forced to leave their homes in a number of Amhara’s regions in order to give way to development projects.
Most of these people who were forced to leave their homes are still displaced, with economic problems in Ethiopia seeming to be preventing proper compensation.
There are endless reports of persecution against ethnic Amharas. Thousands of members of this ethnic group have reportedly been tortured and killed.
This has opened the door to violence and counter violence and also for people like Gen. Asamnew acting as instigaters.
He attempted a similar coup in 2009 and was put in jail by the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed pardoned him, along with hundreds of other opposition figures, when he came to power in April last year.
In the weeks before his death and the attempt coup, Asamnew reportedly started using social media, including the social networking site Facebook, in order to mobilize ethnic Amharas against other ethnic groups and against the central government in Addis Ababa.
This was why the coup attempt and the fatalities it caused were viewed as an insult to Ahmed.
Ahmed, 43, has initiated unprecedented reforms since coming to power. He signed a peace agreement with neighboring Eritrea, opened the door for private investments and released hundreds of other political dissidents from jail.
Nevertheless, the June 22 violence may make it necessary for the Ethiopian premier to take more measures to keep the lid on ethnic tensions in his country, especially in the Amhara region.