High-profile assassinations, intercommunal violence and the question of Sidama statehood have endangered Ethiopia’s transition to a multi-party democracy. In this excerpt from its Watch List 2019 – Second Update, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to support a parliamentary vote and assist with economic reforms.
Several high-level killings, which govt described as attempted coup against Amhara state govt, heightened tensions and triggered police crackdown on Amhara opposition. Gunmen killed Amhara state leader Ambachew Mekonnen and two advisers in regional capital Bahir Dar 22 June. Hours later in capital Addis Ababa, bodyguard reportedly shot dead army chief of staff General Seare Mekonnen and retired officer. Govt 23 June said killings connected and part of attempt to take power in Amhara state led by Brigadier General Asaminew Tsige, head of Amhara state security. Govt same day imposed internet blackout that would last till 27 June. Security forces 24 June reportedly killed General Asaminew in firefight near Bahir Dar. Following attacks, police reportedly arrested over 250 suspects including Amhara security officers, opposition figures, and dozens of supporters of Amhara ethno-nationalist party National Movement of Amhara. In north west, unidentified assailants 24 June reportedly killed over 50 people in Metakel area of Benishangul-Gumuz region; regional govt 26 June said attack could be linked to alleged coup attempt. Ethnic Gumuz attackers early June killed five displaced ethnic Ahmara in same area. Parliament 12 June appointed four new members to electoral board, major step in preparation of elections.
Southern Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Sidama, is set to declare a new regional state on 18 July. To reduce conflict risks, the Sidama should resolve sensitive issues before forming the entity, while the government should urgently organise a constitutionally mandated referendum on the question.
Ethiopia is building a mighty dam on the Blue Nile, promising economic benefits for both itself and Sudan. But Egypt fears for its freshwater supply. The parties should agree on how fast to fill the dam’s reservoir and how to share river waters going forward.
Ethiopia’s charismatic new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has generated great excitement with initiatives breaking with the past. But he faces challenges as formidable as his promises are bold: he urgently needs to halt communal strife, smooth the road to elections and boost the ailing economy.
Ethiopia’s struggle with domestic religious radicalisation has shifted toward top-down intervention, a policy that has contained violence but is generating new risks. Political accommodation and compromise are vital to defuse faith-based radicals’ opposition to what they perceive as overly secular rule by the dominant party.
The most credible attempt at talks to end decades of armed conflict in Ogaden may soon resume, but concerted efforts need to be made to guide them to a peaceful resolution.
The West will need to show tougher love to his successor than it did to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who died Monday, if one of its most important regional allies is to remain stable.
The decision by top Sidama administrators [in Ethiopia] to accept a belated referendum meant the zone didn’t self-declare and so a major confrontation was avoided yesterday.
After today’s violence, the Sidama situation looks like another major challenge for a government already struggling to manage this transition and create conditions for elections next May.
It doesn't appear to have been a concerted national coup attempt [in Ethiopia]. It's not obvious what the motivations were for anyone to assassinate the chief of staff.
Instead of benefiting from the fruits of democratic reforms, Ethiopia is currently dealing with instability from a very tricky transition.
Unless there’s some sort of agreement on a common vision for Ethiopia, there’s a danger that ethnic violence continues, and possibly gets much worse.
Ethiopians want [the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF)] to concede on the issue of the constitution. ONLF previously said they were not going to recognize the federal constitution.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The second update to the Watch List 2019 includes entries on Colombia, Ethiopia, Iran and Libya.
Addis Ababa can win economic and security gains if it perseveres with its impressive commitment to peace efforts in South Sudan. With its new two-year membership on the UN Security Council, Addis Ababa has the opportunity to better connect regionally-led political processes to UN action.
A 12 June clash between Eritrea and Ethiopia comes as the Horn of Africa’s two most implacable rivals face a crossroads.