June 23, 2019
Los Angeles, CA
On the eve of June 22, 2019, Ethiopians woke up to what appears to be a failed coup. So far, the dead include chief of staff of the armed forces, Zeare Mekonnen, advisor Ezez Wassie, President Ambachow Mekonnen, President of the Amhara region, and several other high-ranking officials in Prime Minister Abiy’s government.
Centered in the Amhara region, Bahir Dhar city, the coup plotters are against federalism and are seeking to eliminate some of the key provisions in the constitution that grant rights to ethnic groups.
The coup plotters are not alone in their opposition to some of the contents of the constitution. To the contrary, many of their political parties – that which opposed the inclusion of Article 39 – are readying to run for office in the upcoming 2020 national elections. Ginbot 7 and Andinet or unity party are some of the most prominent parties that oppose ethnic-based federalism.
Also, there are individuals across the country in positions of power that equally believe in the elimination of the regional system of administrations.
Coup plotters have also expressed open hostilities to several non-Amhara ethnic groups in their region. There are about 4 non-Amhara ethnic groups such as Agaw, Oromo/Awi, Agaw/Kamyr, and Orgobo that have so far fallen victim of the coup plotters. Most of these communities are Muslims.
Preliminary reports coming thus far from Amhara region have confirmed that there is a high casualty of non-Amhara civilians (Agaw, Oromo, Orgobo) who have been massacred in the rural areas of that region.
What is next?
Ethiopian history is replete with coups. In modern times, several coups have taken place in the country. Some failed while others succeeded. In both cases, the aftermath consequences have been far-reaching; failed coups always strengthened the surviving ruler’s hand.
Lij Iyasu, the first Muslim Oromo ruler of Ethiopia was overthrown by his own brother-in-law, regent Haile Selassie, who was married to Atege Mennon. Lij Ayasu was killed in captivity in 1935 by Haile Selassie and called himself the new king of Ethiopia (1935-1974).
In 1961, colonel Mengistu Neway and his younger brother and a Colombia graduate, Girmame Neway, tried to overthrow Haile Selassie, but to no avail. Colonel Mengistu was hung in Addis Ababa, and Girmame, who was a mayor of Jigjiga at the time of the coup, was killed while escaping to Somalia. Afterward, Haile Selassie, now an emperor, rule Ethiopia uncontested.
However, in 1974, Mengistu Haile Mariam was successful to overthrow Emperor Haile Selassie, Aman Andome, and Teferi Banti and finally consolidated his power.
Subsequently, he himself survived several unsuccessful internal coups and thereafter ruled the country for almost three decades.
Meles Zenawi also survived a minimum of three coups by his own TPLF inner circle but triumphed and ruled that country with an iron feast for about 20 years.
Now that Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed defeated an armed coup instigated by Amhara supremacists, would he follow suit of historical figures and rule this 105 million population country as an emperor?
Ethiopians have a culture to bowing down to the king that defeats his nemesis. Now that Abiy survived several attempts to undermine his rule (three attempts to be exact), would Ethiopians finally bow down to him and say “Samay aytares, Nugus ayshar,” or “as it is impossible to plow the sky, so is to overthrow the king.”
At a minimum, Oromos, Tigres, Somalis, and other pro-federalism groups would lend badly needed political capital to Abiy Ahmed. Whether that will be translated into an autocratic rule remains uncertain.
However, Western diplomats in Addis Ababa have already warned the Ethiopian government to not roll back democratic rights thus far gained. They encourage Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to stay the course.
Reinstituting the old order where democratic rights are eroded would inadvertently lead to more conflicts, said an Addis Ababa-based diplomat.
Three things are inevitable:
1. PM Abiy and his government will reassess comprehensively the country’s security sector and curb the proliferation of arms falling into the hands of civilians. In the last 14 months, the country was awash with illegal arms thus making plotting such a coup lunch picnic.
2. They will keep a tight hand on Amhara supremacists and possibly divide the Amhara region into three subregions by establishing a new Agaw/Orgobo regions. If not, more rights and say will be given to this hitherto neglected groups in the Amhara region.
3. A full re-assessment of regional governments is a must. After Abiy took power, some regions have not changed much; human right violations are still going on; most of the governments installed after PM Abiy took power are paper tigers and are only in positions of power not by the will of the people but the magic wand of Addis Ababa.