A nation grieves
Ethiopia’s army chief of staff, General Seare Mekonnen, and President of the Amhara Regional State, Ambachew Mekonnen (PhD), were killed on Saturday June 22, 2019, in Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar, respectively. The incident in Bahir Dar also claimed the lives of Ezez Wassie, the president’s senior advisor, and Migbaru Kebede, the region’s Attorney General. Seare was shot dead at his home by his bodyguard, Corporal Mesafint Tigabu, who also killed visiting retired Major-General Geza’e Abera. Saturday’s deadly attacks occurred a few hours apart sending shockwaves across the nation.
In a heart wrenching emotional public funeral, Ethiopians from all walks of lives paid tribute to noted public servants whose lives were abruptly cut short late last week.
General Seare Mekonnen, Major General Geza’e Abera, Amhara Regional State President Ambachew Mekonnen (PhD) along with his colleagues, Ezez Wassie and a rising political star, Migbaru Kebede, who was serving as the Attorney General of the regional state, and dozens of others who died in the line of duty were laid to rest after a national day of mourning.
“We have not just lost a great military man, who deeply cared about his nation and its people, but someone who cared about its unity,” said Tesgaye Kirstos, a self-described family friend of the General told The Reporter, the day after the tragedy in Bole, his home for the last year. “He was a family man, a great friend to many and mentor to a slew of public servants in uniform.”
Since Abiy Ahmed (PhD) became Prime Minister last year, it has been a new dawn of political revival for the nation. He had invited the opposition leadership to Ethiopia and have them participate fully and openly in its democratic revival, advocating for human rights, freeing thousands of prisoners, including pardoning Asaminew Tsige (Brigadier General), after close to a decade of imprisonment accused of an attempt to overthrow the previous government.
However, the Prime Minister is starting to exhaust his political honeymoon and now stands accused of giving little attention to the internal displacements of thousands of Ethiopians, the fast growing resentment of his leadership and ethnic violence that is growing and while giving overwhelming and ill-prepared plan to bring peace in Sudan and Yemen, with little obvious success.
Upon learning of the fast-moving news, he announced and recognized that there “was an attempted coup d’état in Bahir Dar and attacks on the icons of the Amhara people” and later recognized, Seare Mekonnen, the noted officer during the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF’s) guerilla days turned a moderate and respected General was also attacked and killed, sending shockwaves to a nation and to the world, that has taken a note of Ethiopia’s progress forward in the last year.
The General became the nation’s Army Chief of Staff last year replacing General Samora Yenus, who had been at its helm for 17 long years. In a new era of politics, notably a peaceful engagement with neighboring Eritrea, the General had become one of its noted public faces, of a lack of stability that had been elusive for two decades.
Asaminew would later be appointed as the Amhara head of security and now stands accused of inciting the violence that has now forever changed the regions narrative and is said to have killed many people, including its noted political leadership.
“Three officials ran for an exit but were gunned down,” said La’ke Ayalew, the then deputy head of the region and now its acting. “The rest hid. Guards and attackers exchanged fire.”
Ambachew became the regions president last year, after Gedu Andargachew resigned and was slated to take over the helm of Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry. In his farewell speech, he had warned about strong Ahmara nationalism that was becoming rampant and growing within it.
Asaminew Tsige, an advocate of the arming of Amhara civilians, was becoming its noted architect and to include that fringe sentiment, the new president, had handed him an important portfolio to appease that segment of its society, but that would become the president’s death wish.
“Ambachew had five children. He had wedded his daughter a month ago and he was elated,” a family friend told The Reporter. “While the affairs of the nation took him away from the family often, he knew his sacrifice needed to be made, to help move Ethiopia forward. For that, we should always be thankful.”
Ambachew was a self-made man, was known as an astute public servant and mentor to young people.
The son of peasant farmers from Gondar, he had his education cut short during Ethiopia’s endless civil war during the era of the Derg, substituting his education to service within the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement. He would later join Ethiopia’s Civil College, joining his other colleagues who had defeated the Derg regime, and were suddenly put in charge of running the nation and needed to be refurbished with some education in a short time frame.
In later years, he would complete a PhD from Kent University and would be entrusted with a number of senior cabinet positions, including that of Construction.
At his family’s residence, in the Sar Bet area of diplomats and heads of non-governmental-organizations, the mourning of hundreds of people who had gathered, replacing the joy of marrying his daughter a month ago, was overwhelming.
“I was at that wedding. He seemed happy and excited and the whole family was overjoyed. Now, this tragedy has made that wonderful and memorable day a distance past,” said a neighbor. “I am not sure, if the family would accept that reality in the distance future. It’s an overwhelming tragedy that is being played in the public eye.”
Mere hours from taking a flight to Bahir Dar, that would have him buried as a public hero, with thousands in attendance, Kidist Mekonnen had come to pay her tribute. She had known him since she worked with him at one of the government offices and was taken aback by his demeanor and mentorship who wanted to follow in his footsteps.
“He was a consummate public servant. He worked hard. He encouraged us to pursue our education further and take advantage of our youth. He wanted young leaders in leadership positions and contribute in a meaningful way, not just be the token face of what seems to always go on in Ethiopia,” she said.
Many of the young people who worked under him had his cell number and we had access to him.
“He handed me his business card and wrote his personal number and said if I needed any advice, I could count on him. Little did I know, most of the young people (men and women) who worked for or with him, had also the same privilege. That is the legacy I will remember him by,” she told The Reporter.
In Bole, near Atlas Hotel, many people also paid tribute to the General, a father of two; many came to offer their final tribute, including people in uniform, government officials and family members who had come from near and far.
“I joined the military two years ago. It’s a fine profession, with few privileges but much responsibility and hardship. The General spent his life as a military man. Just imagine all the sacrifices he made, in order to serve and protect his nation. He certainly did not deserve to die in such circumstances,” (Pvt) Henok Berhane said.
“I have never met him, but I am saddened that he died under such circumstances,” a young man, who refused to give his name, but works at Washington Hospital said. “He came to our hospital badly wounded and we did all we can to save him. His death and the death of the others are our public humiliation and tragedy,” he added.
At General Seare’s sendoff, along with his colleagues, retired Major General Geza’e Abera at the Millennium Hall attended by the Prime Minister, President Sahle-Work Zewde and others, thousands of people from all walks of life attended to bid them farewell, before their burial in Mekele’s St. Gabriel Church.