By Addis Getachew
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AA) - Ethiopians over the past few days have been trying to make sense of what has been described as "a failed coup" as armed men gunned down high-ranking military officers and officials in the capital Addis Ababa and the northern city of Bahir Dar.
The government has launched an investigation but public opinion differs widely. An Internet blackout and lack of details leads one to speculate.
An organized group allegedly led by the autonomous northern Amhara region's defense chief, Brig. Gen. Asaminew Tsige barged into a meeting in Bahir Dar on Saturday, killing regional chief Ambachew Mekonnen and his adviser Ezez Wase and wounding the regional attorney general Migbaru Kebede, who later died of his wounds.
Before people could shake off these events, another shocker occurred in Addis Ababa -- this time killing Ethiopian army chief Gen. Sea’re Mekonnen and his friend Maj. Gen. Geza’e Aberra. They were shot dead by the army chief's body guard at his home in the late hours of Saturday.
In the wee hours of Sunday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appeared on national television confirming the events to the nation and urging calm.
He also established a link between what happened in Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa saying the army chief was killed by a 'mercenary' linked to the people who orchestrated the alleged coup to topple the Amhara regional government.
He said the coup was thwarted in less than an hour.
It is unclear if any other people apart from the top officials were killed in the event or how many people have been arrested.
At any rate, the televised message by the prime minister gave the nation a sense that a more sinister plot was brewing.
On Sunday, police said the coup leader, Tsige was shot dead in the outskirts of Bahir Dar as he tried to escape.
- Possible reasons for ‘coup’
What would he have achieved if he had succeeded in bringing the regional administrative infrastructure under his control? While this is a mission impossible in itself, if he succeeded he surely would have had come under fierce measures by the federal government, which until now had remained reluctant to react against elements that tried to subvert wide-ranging reform measures underway in the country.
Tigisu Awelu, a prominent opposition politician in Ethiopia, described the string of killings as "brothers killing brothers".
“It is common with communists to kill one another because they are not accustomed to the market of ideas,” he said, taking a dig at the ruling party's leftist leaning.
He added that the army chief could have been killed by people who wanted to stop reforms which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been bringing since coming to power last April.
While eliminating the man at the helm of the military apparatus might have led to a breakdown of the chain of command, the anti-reform elements wanted to show government that they are around and could cause damage as serious as this one, he said.
“And they did it in exactly a year from the day they threw a bomb at a rally held in support of the coming to power of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.”
Abiy has led remarkable transformation in the East African nation after coming to power. He has freed thousands of political prisoners, ended a 20-year war with neighbor Eritrea and appointed the country's first female president.
But his rule has also seen a marked rise in tensions in the ethnically diverse nation.
Ironically, late Tsige was a man who benefitted from the reforms introduced. He was released from prison where he had been languishing in on what many believe a trumped up charge of mutiny.
- Ethnic tensions
A well-informed source who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal told Anadolu Agency that tensions between the Amhara and northernmost Tigray regional governments put "nags in the way of reform".
The two neighboring regional states had been bickering against each other on unresolved issues of the identities of certain tribes such as Wolqait, Tegede and other minority groups of people and the lands they inhabit.
“Brig. Gen. Asaminew Tsige represented ardent and newly brewed nationalists in Amhara region who want those regions back, among many other demands related to justice,” the source said.
Over the past year, there has been difficulty transporting goods to Tigray region through Amhara as young people blocked freighters, which put immense pressures on people’s lives in the Tigray region.
“This is the main reason that top officials in Tigray came out and threatened to secede from the Ethiopian federation in recent days, and get the prospect of elections delayed,” the source said, referring to a recent declaration by Tigray regional state chief Debretsion Gebremariam that the people in Tigray were demanding independence.
Ethiopia’s constitution gives the right to self-determination up to cessation.
But there has been a more potent revelation made by the slain army chief's close friend.
Gen. Abebaw Tadessse told a high-profile event held to remember the late general who hailed from Tigray: “When he [Gen. Sea’re] joined the reform, he was considered a traitor. He is a man who does not negotiate his Ethiopian identity. He has a strong love for his people [Ethiopians] and his country.”
According to Abebaw, he was very determined to support the reform and serve all of Ethiopia, and not the interest of a certain group.
“He said he could die for the cause.”