Ethiopia has been dominating news headlines due to the failed coup attempt which resulted in the death of the President of Amhara Regional Government, Ambachew Mekonnen, and a top advisor Ezez Waaie in the Amhara regional capital of Bahir Dar.
This development wildly shook up the Abiy Ahmed-led government, which has been at the forefront of implementing liberal policies. It was a big test for Abiy Ahmed, the country's Prime Minister. His efforts to move from an authoritarian state to a liberal one were heavily undermined by this coup attempt. In response, the government killed Brigadier General Asaminew Tsige, who was said to be the ringleader behind the coup attempt. Hundreds of people have been arrested in connection with the coup.
But at the heart of this development are fissures in the federal system and fights "over the balance of power between the regions and the centre in Addis Ababa." The federal infighting has reached new levels; levels where there are now attempts to completely discredit Abiy Ahmed and the effectiveness of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, a coalition of regional parties.
When Ahmed got into power, he moved to put in place liberal policies. These included releasing political prisoners, unbanning political parties, freeing up the press and the internet and making more room for women in politics. But these moves have not solved the ethnic tensions that are rife in Ethiopia. These moves may have been made in good faith, but are merely cosmetic. The real challenge with Ethiopia's complex nature of political governance are the underlying ethnic tensions.These have been compounded by economic challenges and massive corruption.
Ahmed hasn't yet still found a solution to address the simmering ethnic tensions. He has promised elections in 2022, but even that is in limbo now. The issue also goes to how Ahmed is rapidly moving from an authoritarian state to democracy. He is trying to change the system of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). It has ruled since the 1991 revolution. It used to govern by being interwoven with the state institutions. Now the parties making up this shaky coalition now face intense competition in their backyards, with reference to the volatile Amhara region here.
The ruling party before Ahmed came was dominated by Tigrayans, the ethnic group that led the 1991 revolution. It makes up 6% of the population. It became difficult for them however because the Oromo, which is the largest group, bemoaned they were marginalised and they made common case with the people of Amhara, the country's traditional ruling class and second largest ethnic group.
Ahmed, who is from the Oromo group, got into power and this acted as a shock absorber to the tensions. And that is when he embraced liberal values. But these are turning against him. He has unleashed the tensions stoked up by waves of ultra-nationalism, where the rights of the country's nine regions threaten the unified Ethiopian nation. And this is what Ethiopia is not showing. The challenges of the federal system.
Murithi Mutiga, the Horn of Africa director for the International Crisis Group said that the motives of those behind the assassinations may have been to further cause divisions within the military, as this would be a dent on Ahmed's authority.
However, Ahmed appeared not fazed. He addressed the country in military fatigues while stressing the issue that the liberal policies adopted will not stop.
Header image credit - Al Jazeera