Young, popular and preaching peace, prime minister Abiy Ahmed has accelerated reform across all sectors in Ethiopia since coming to power in April. But his radical and transformative agenda has faced opposition—more so from within the country’s establishment.
On Monday (Nov. 12), attorney general Berhanu Tsegaye said evidence indicated senior members of the country’s security branches orchestrated an attack against Abiy at a rally in June, according to Reuters. Two people were killed and scores injured after a grenade went off at a political rally in the capital Addis Ababa that Abiy attended.
The government issued arrests for 36 officials from branches of the security forces including the national security agency, the federal and Addis Ababa police forces.
“The evidence we gathered shows that the senior leadership of the national security agency instructed Oromos to carry out the attack because it would mean that the prime minister—an Oromo—was killed by Oromos,” the attorney general said. “It would (also) give the impression that he is not endorsed by the Oromo population.”
As many as 26 officials from the military-run Metals and Engineering Corporation also appeared in court where they were denied bail. METEC was once responsible for constructing the $4 billion dam project on the River Nile, expected to be Africa’s biggest hydroelectric project, but was ousted from the contract in August.
The arrests and arraignments showcase that Abiy’s efforts to transform Ethiopia after decades of authoritarian rule will be easier said than done. Since ascending to the head of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition, the 42-year-old has ended an internet blackout, dismissed charges against diaspora-based media outlets, released prisoners and government critics, engaged exiled opposition groups, appointed a unprecedented 50% female cabinet, and mended relations with the country’s long-time neighboring foe Eritrea.
But those reforms have also been dogged by domestic challenges. These include ethnic clashes in the eastern Somali region, deadly flag protests, and unrest in the capital and its surrounding that led to dozens of killings, mass arrests, and an internet shutdown.
The current predicament also demonstrates the fragility surrounding the swift political reforms, and questions if and how the 100-million people nation can sidestep ethnic divisions to attain a united future. This is especially true of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, an ethnic minority party that was once the dominant force in the country’s politics until Abiy ascended to power.
Abiy has preached a message of “medemer,” or togetherness, as opposed to ethnic compartmentalization—but the arrests yesterday showcase that he’s now ready to get tough to save his own legacy.
Sign up to the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief here for news and analysis on African business, tech and innovation in your inbox