Ethiopia’s PM Abiy Ahmed takes on the military
A year ago, many Ethiopians would not have dared to imagine the spectacle they are being treated to right now, as the government intensifies its crackdown on alleged corruption and gross human rights violations within the military and intelligence services.
The nation has watched in disbelief – and then cheered – as former high-ranking officers have been arrested on live television, handcuffed while surrounded by heavily armed security personnel and bundled into police vehicles. Times have indeed changed.
This is the biggest crackdown on corruption in Ethiopia’s recent history and it is being spearheaded by the bold and reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in April.
His critics say he is carrying out a purge of the old guard in the military and intelligence services who for years have been almost untouchable and only answerable to those within their ranks.
Others argue it is merely political and is targeting officials from the Tigray region, who have long controlled the military and intelligence services. But the crackdown has also nabbed people from other ethnic groups.
The prime minister seems to be responding to concerns raised by the public, especially during the last four years when massive anti-government protests broke out in many parts of the country.
At the heart of the demonstrations were serious concerns about the alleged corruption which touched at the very core of the government and the military.
Torture and sodomy charges
The corruption scandals which have hit the military-run conglomerate, Metals and Engineering Company (Metec), have not been a secret in the country – they have long been whispered in homes, pubs and coffee places.
But no-one, it seemed, had the courage to take the problem head on until Mr Abiy came to office.
In this fight, the prime minister seems to have huge public support, having won over even some of his doubters who thought he did not have it in him to take on the military elite.
Other arrested officials have already appeared in court, facing charges that include torture, rape and sodomy.
Again, this did not come as a surprise to Ethiopians. Thousands of them were arbitrarily arrested over the years, and human rights groups have written numerous reports about the allegations against security officials.
Abiy’s rapid pace of reform:
- 2 April – becomes prime minister after unexpected resignation of Hailemariam Desalegn
- May – frees thousands of political detainees, including opposition leader Andargachew Tsege
- 5 June – lifts state of emergency two months early
- 5 June – agrees to accept border ruling giving disputed territory to Eritrea
- 9 July – alongside the Eritrean president declares the end of war between the two countries
- 11 September – reopens land border with Eritrea
- 16 October – appoints women to half of ministerial posts
One question that has so far remained unanswered is the whereabouts of former intelligence chief Getachew Aseffa.
On Monday, the attorney general accused “the senior leadership of the national security agency” of being behind a failed assassination attempt against the prime minister during a rally in the capital Addis Ababa in June.
At least two people died when a grenade exploded just metres from the podium where Mr Abiy had addressed tens of thousands of his supporters.
But so far no-one has heard from Mr Getachew and it is not clear if the government has started a manhunt for him.
Before his exit from the intelligence services in June, he wielded massive power over the security apparatus.
But he constantly faced accusations of gross human rights violations, including the torture of suspects.
Mr Abiy last month accused a section of the military of attempting to stage a coup – a clear sign that despite the huge reforms he has brought into the country, he still faces pockets of resistance.