Ethiopian army kills general accused of organising failed coup

Prime minister urges citizens to unite against ‘evil’

Videograb of Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed, dressed in military uniform, addressing the public on television after the failed coup attempt. Photograph: Getty Image

Videograb of Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed, dressed in military uniform, addressing the public on television after the failed coup attempt. Photograph: Getty Image

 

The general accused of organising a failed coup in Ethiopia last weekend was killed by security forces on Monday, the government announced, as the prime minister urged citizens to unite against “evil”.

Asamnew Tsige, who was believed to have been recruiting his own militias over the past few weeks, was shot near the northern city of Bahir Dar, according to prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s press secretary, Negussu Tilahun. This followed the murders of five top Ethiopian political and military figures.

Army chief of staff Seare Mekonnen was shot dead by his own bodyguard at home in the capital Addis Ababa on Saturday, along with a retired general.

In southwest state Amhara’s capital Bahir Dar, state president Ambachew Mekonnen, his adviser and Amhara’s attorney general were also killed.

The Ethiopian government called the attacks an “orchestrated coup attempt” and declared Monday a national “day of mourning”.

Asamnew was released from prison in 2018, after serving time for orchestrating a similar coup attempt.

‘Political violence’

William Davison, senior Ethiopia analyst for the International Crisis Group, told The Irish Times the weekend’s violence was “the worst example of high-level political violence that we’ve seen during [prime minister] Abiy’s rule”.

A reformist with huge support from the international community, Abiy came into power in April 2018. He lifted a state of emergency, released thousands of political prisoners, began prosecuting officials accused of human rights abuses, and ended bans on opposition parties.

Though Abiy remains chairman of the long-standing ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the 42-year-old is also Ethiopia’s first leader belonging to the Oromo ethnic group. Oromos have led years of protests against the government, during which hundreds were killed by security forces.

The shootings over the weekend were a symptom of the massive changes Ethiopia is going through under Abiy’s leadership, according to Davison.

“These are challenges that are stemming from Ethiopia’s political crisis. That involves divisions within the ruling coalition and complications that have been created by the rapid opening of political space, dissidents returning from exile, and the release of political prisoners,” Davison said.

“Over the last year or so, all sorts of groups . . . have been using the political opening to further their claims.”

Until recently, Ethiopia was an authoritarian, effectively one-party state. The EPRDF and its supporters won all 547 seats in the 2015 elections, and all except one in 2010.

‘Very tricky transition’

“The relevant reforms will take years to complete,” said Davison. “But the current political timescale is very short because elections are coming up next year, and so instead of benefiting from the fruits of democratic reforms, Ethiopia is currently dealing with instability from a very tricky transition.”

Last June, two people were killed and dozens injured during an explosion at a political rally for Abiy in Addis Ababa’s famous Meskel Square. The prime minister later described it as an “unsuccessful attempt by forces who do not want to see Ethiopia united”.

Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous country, with more than 100 million people and more than 80 different ethnic groups.