Country Risk

Coup attempt in Ethiopia’s Amhara and associated assassination highlight deteriorating military cohesion, hostility between regional states

24 June 2019

Ethiopian Prime Minister’s Office press secretary Billene Seyoum (left) and spokesperson Negussu Tilaaun speak during a press conference in Addis Ababa on 23 June, following assassinations on 22 June. Source: Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has described as a "coup attempt" the (probably linked) assassinations of Amhara region's president, Ambachew Mekonnen, in Bahir Dar and subsequently of the federal military chief of staff, General Seare Mekonen, in Addis Ababa on 22 June. Federal authorities have attributed the orchestration of these events to General Asaminew Tsige, head of Amhara region's security forces, who was likely facing imminent removal from his post over allegations of having recently made implicitly critical statements about Ahmed's administration, and his involvement in the recruitment of ethnic Amhara militias.

  • These events indicate an increased risk of elements of the regional and federal security forces being drawn into armed confrontations with each other in the two-year outlook. The assassinations were likely carried out using covert influence structures parallel to the regional and federal security forces' formal chains of command, indicating a further deterioration in military cohesion. While outright civil war remains unlikely, these incidents increase the probability that rival elements of the regional and federal forces will be drawn into the escalating competition between different political factions and territorial disputes between, and within, regional states, ahead of national elections scheduled for 2020, but which will likely be delayed. This would most likely involve localised exchanges of fire between regional state forces and federal forces deployed to maintain security. Key flashpoints for such violence include the Amhara region's Oromia zone, the Welkait and Raya areas of Tigray region (claimed by some Amhara activists and politicians), the borders between Somali region and Oromia and Afar regions, during violence between security forces and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in Oromia, and around the Sidama statehood efforts.
  • General Tsige remaining at large would increase the risk of an insurgency in Amhara region. Ethiopian authorities confirmed on 24 June that Tsige remains at large, but subsequently also claimed he had been shot dead in Bahir Dar.

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