The killing spree targeting government officials in Ethiopia has become a disturbingly common occurrence. Opposition and rebel groups appear to be using violence as a way to achieve their political objectives, which has brought renewed attention to the issue of political violence in the country. The prevalence of extrajudicial killings in Ethiopia is not a new phenomenon, dating back to the Red and White Terror episode under the military dictatorship of Dergue in the 1970s and 1980s.
However, today, the perpetrators of these killings are predominantly third parties, including individuals with political interests, groups, and other non-state entities.
The assassinations of government officials began shortly after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) assumed office in 2018. During the earliest phases of the political transition, the Prime Minister himself survived a grenade assault while addressing a public rally in Meskel Square. Two months later, the chief engineer of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Simegnew Bekele, was found dead in his car in the same square. In 2019, there were even more shocking killings.
Amhara Region’s former President, Ambachew Mekonnen, and Seare Mekonnen (Gen.) were killed on the same date in June 2019.
Ambachew, along with his advisor Ezez Wassie, was assassinated in Bahir Dar, the region’s capital, in June 2019. Seare, on the other hand, was killed in Addis Ababa the same day by his own bodyguard, who had apparently turned on him and carried out the attack. The killings in Amhara Region were carried out by a group of soldiers led by Amhara’s head of state security, Asamnew Tsige (Gen.), who had apparently orchestrated the coup attempt in the region.
The tragic killing of yet another official from the Amhara Region last month by armed groups operating in the area serves as a bleak reminder that history has a disheartening tendency to repeat itself.
The severity of the killing spree is greater in the regional states, but even the capital city has not been immune to the violence. In recent months, a number of high-ranking officials have been assassinated, including the Amhara regional state Prosperity Party leader, Girma Yeshitila, and the Afar region PP leader of Hanruka District, Umer Lema.
Of all regions, Oromia is where more officials were killed than any other region in recent years, excluding Tigray, where such violence was common due to the two-year full-fledged war in the region. Last year, it was reported that there was a day when 28 officials were allegedly killed by the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).
The killings of officials in Oromia are often carried out in the context of political tensions and ethnic conflicts in the region. Political groups that claim to represent the Oromo people, who make up the majority of the population in Oromia, have long complained of political marginalization and discrimination. Armed groups such as the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) have emerged in response to these grievances, and they have carried out attacks on government officials and security forces in an effort to advance their political demands.
Various organizations and researchers have studied targeted killings of officials in Ethiopia. Research has shown that the targeting of government officials by opposition groups is a symptom of deeper political and social problems, often rooted in weak governance.
A study published in 2019 in the Journal of Modern African Studies by Kristian Takvam Kindt and Kjetil Tronvoll found that political violence, including targeted killings of government officials and leaders, had contributed to a culture of fear and mistrust in the country and had undermined social cohesion and political stability.
Another study published in 2017 by Lencho Lata and the Institute for Security Studies found that political violence, including targeted killings, had a negative impact on economic growth in Ethiopia as it disrupted supply chains and undermined investor confidence. Rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also documented cases of targeted killings of opposition politicians, journalists, and human rights activists in Ethiopia.
These studies suggested that targeted killings of officials in Ethiopia can have significant impacts on political stability, social cohesion, human rights, and economic development.
The recent spate of violence in Ethiopia has been a topic of discussion among various political figures, each offering their unique perspective on the root causes of the problem. While some point to the failure of the government to establish law and order, others blame the ruling party’s transgressions.
For Chuchu Alebachew, a veteran politician from the Amhara regional state, the issue runs deeper than just a change in political reform. Instead, Chuchu believes that the absence of strong leaders is at the heart of the problem.
In his view, leaders are not born but are the result of hard work and dedication. However, politicians in Ethiopia have failed to listen to one another, creating a nation that “consumes its leader” and leading to a recent spate of difficulties for the Amhara people.
Despite these challenges, Chuchu remains hopeful that strong leaders will emerge from the nation, bringing with them the stability and security that Ethiopia so desperately needs. He emphasizes that disagreements and differing viewpoints are a natural part of the political process and do not make leadership any harder than it already is.
For Mulatu Gemechu, an opposition figure, the recent murders in Ethiopia have a political motive and are a result of the government’s inability to establish law and order. He suggests that the government has failed to use its authority and resources effectively, making it challenging to identify the actual perpetrators of each crime.
Mulatu emphasizes that satisfying the interests of the people through a strategy that benefits everyone is key to promoting harmony and security.
In contrast, Tiruneh Gemta, the secretary of the Oromo Federalist Congress, blames the ruling party for the current situation in Ethiopia, stating that the government’s transgressions are the primary cause of the country’s current predicament.
“As an opposition party, we have lost the lives of our members,” says the politician, demanding an investigation by a third party.
Tiruneh further argues that the violence has affected not only government officials but also civilians and opposition party leaders who have been targeted because of their political beliefs. He believes that the narrow political playground is the root cause of all problems.
With these differing viewpoints on the issue, it remains to be seen how the government will respond to the ongoing violence and what steps will be taken to ensure the safety and security of all Ethiopians.