A coup attempt led by former general Asamnew Tsige resulted in the death of the regional government’s president Ambachew Mekonnen. Courtesy of Brookings Institution

Coup attempt in Ethiopia fails

A coup attempt led by former general Asamnew Tsige in the Amhara region of Ethiopia failed on June 22 and resulted in the deaths of multiple high-ranking government officials. 

There were two separate attacks on the day of the coup attempt. The first was the interruption of a meeting in Bahir Dar. The armed group killed the regional government’s president, Ambachew Mekonnen, and his advisor, Ezez Wassie. 

“Several hours [after the attack in Bahir Dar], in what seems like a coordinated attack, the chief of staff of the national security forces, Seare Mekonnen, was killed in his home by his bodyguard in Addis Ababa,” Ethiopian government spokesmen Billene Seyoum told Al Jazeera.

Reuters reported that a retired general was also killed, and Amhara’s attorney general was severely wounded in Addis Ababa. Officials have reported the attacks are connected but failed to mention what connects them. 

This was not the first time Tsige attempted to stage a coup against the Ethiopian government. According to Al Jazeera, the former general was arrested in 2018 for a similarly attempted coup, but later received amnesty and was released. Tsige was shot and killed by Ethiopian police forces on June 24.

“The coup attempt in Amhara regional state is against the constitution and is intended to scupper the hard-won peace of the region,” the Ethiopian government said in a written statement, according to Deutsche Welle. “This illegal attempt should be condemned by all Ethiopians and the federal government has full capacity to overpower this armed group.”

Several people have speculated the attacks are likely related to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s recent reforms. Ahmed has “won praise for opening up one of the continent’s most closed nations,” but has also made several enemies within the country who are uncertain about the changes he has implemented, according to Al Jazeera

“There are vestiges of the old regime in power,” United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia, Tibor Nagy, told Reuters. “Some of the elites are very unhappy with some of the reforms that…Abiy is taking for a variety of reasons, including, I’m sure, some ill-gotten gains.”

Al Jazeera reported that authorities have made nearly 250 arrests in relation to the attempted coup as of June 27. The National Movement of Amhara (NAMA) reported at least 56 of these arrests were party members. NAMA has publicly condemned the coup and denies any connection to it. 

NAMA is currently the main opposition party, and several members have criticized authorities, saying the arrests are an attempt to end the opposition. When a judge granted authorities 28 days to investigate those arrested and cited the country’s anti-terrorism law as the reason, NAMA called it a “an identity-based attack.”

“The campaign of arrests against NAMA members and sympathizers isn’t just directed against a party, but is also an identity-based attack,” NAMA spokesmen Christian Tadele told France 24.

NAMA members are not the only ones seeking out against the government’s use of the anti-terrorism law. Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega told France 24 the use of the anti-terror law is “a return to the past,” citing examples of how, previous to Ahmed’s reforms, the law had been “used to clamp down against peaceful opposition.” 

“It will damage the government’s reputation if it is widely perceived as engaging in anything that looks like a purge of rivals or a crackdown on opponents in the aftermath of these assassinations,” William Davison of Crisis Group told Al Jazeera, warning Ethiopia to proceed with caution.