Ethiopia: the clan war

This Amhara region is one of the most xenophobic of the nine provinces created.

Ethiopia, the clan war

A series of deadly political attacks has hit Ethiopia in recent days. The different communities that make up the country are tearing themselves apart.

June 27, 2019 (La Croix) – “I don’t believe in an attempted coup d’état aimed at overthrowing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed,” an Ethiopian entrepreneur who travels across the country told La Croix. And he’s not the only one. In the country, in the chancelleries, among observers, this hypothesis is far from being unanimously accepted, several days after the series of assassinations that struck Ethiopia between Saturday 22 and Monday, June 24.

This one, for the observers, rather evokes a game of pool with several bands, or even an episode of The Godfather, the trilogy of Francis Ford Coppola: settling of scores and targeted assassination to eliminate opponents and to establish its power… to this is added however an ingredient: the explosive context of Ethiopian society, affected by a process of community decomposition that nothing, for the moment, seems able to contain. In many respects, it is a reminder of Yugoslavia on the eve of its break-up.

Serial assassinations

On Saturday, June 22, the president of Amhara province, Ambachew Mekonnen, is assassinated along with other members of his administration in the regional capital, Bahir Dar. A few hours later, the chief of staff of the Armed forces, General Scari Makonnen, was killed by his bodyguard in Addis Ababa.

The central government immediately accused the head of security of the Amhara region, General Asaminew Tsigen, of being the mastermind of the double assassination. The man is known to be a hawk among the Amhara, with a xenophobic discourse and the instigator of militias engaged in hunting “foreigners”, a hunt aimed primarily at Tigrayans. Addis Ababa suspects him of having wanted to overthrow Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed by leading this series of attacks.

Xenophobic outburst among Amharas

The latter, who came to power in April 2018, has changed the political balance in the country, mainly between the three communities competing for power: the Amharas, the Oromo and the Tigrayans. The former were at the heart of Ethiopian power from the 9th century until the fall of Mengistu Haile Mariam, the “Red Negus”, in 1991. Power has eluded them for the benefit of the Tigrayans. Then, with the appointment of Abiy Ahmed as prime minister, in April 2018, in favor of the Oromos.

Yet, This Amhara region is one of the most xenophobic of the nine provinces created by the ethno-administrative division set up in 1995 by former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi (1955-2012).

“The Amhara have gone mad, they’re chasing us down the street. It is impossible for us to go to Bahir Dar,” Tigrayan students at the University of Mekele, the capital of Tigray, told La Croix in March. The students they met on campus said the same thing: they were risking their lives now if they went to Amhara. Same feeling in the cafés where the Ethiopians love to meet in the center of Mekele.

The Oromo revenge

The Oromo are the largest community in Ethiopia, with more than 30 million people. But they had never exercised power until the election of Abiy Ahmed. The latter has liberalized the country, carried out reforms, and purged the central power of most of the representatives of the Tigrayan clan who ruled the country since 1991.

So, the resentment and anger against Abiy Ahmed also mounted among the Tigrayans, as evidenced by the words of the inhabitants of Mekele: “Abiy Ahmed speaks only of reconciliation, growth, development, but he does nothing concrete for us”, summarized the inhabitants in March.

A country without a compass

Was it the head of security of the Amhara region, General Asaminew Tsigen, who ordered these attacks? On the run since Saturday, he was killed on Monday, June 24.

In two days, the country Amhara saw disappear the head of its executive, known to be close to the prime minister, and one of the most hostile figures to the central power. And the Tigrayans lost another man of weight in Addis Ababa.

Abiy Ahmed promised in 2020, the organization of free and peaceful elections, the first of this country. For the moment, Ethiopia is taking a different direction.

Abiy Ahmed had promised in 2020, the organization of free and peaceful elections, the first of this country. At the moment, Ethiopia is moving in a different direction.

By Laurent Larcher


The quarrel of identities

May 1995. The Ethiopian people’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) won the first multiparty elections in the country’s history, four years after it overthrew Mengistu Haile Mariam. Led in fact by the Tigrayans of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), it also brings together four other ethnic-based movements : Oromo, amhara, and the peoples of Southern Ethiopia.

1995. Introduction of ethnic federalism. Ethiopia is divided into nine ethnically based regions.

2012. Death of Meles Zenawi, the man who ruled the new Ethiopia with an iron fist since 1991.

April 2, 2018. Appointment of an Oromo at the head of state, Abiy Ahmed.

2019. Conflicts between communities result in 3 million displaced.

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