Don’t call it a coup

The chief of staff of Ethiopia’s army, another retired general and three senior Amhara region officials have been shot dead in what the prime minister’s office branded as “an orchestrated coup attempt.” Questions linger on why the government keeps calling it a ‘coup,’ while the circumstances show that is not the case.

The government has to be commended for containing the situation and the ensuring security of Bahir Dar area. Much more bloodshed would have occurred had the situation degenerated into chaos. Based on the information that is coming out, there have been disagreements between regional security chief General General Asaminew Tsige and the region’s administration over issues of safeguarding the region’s stability. The regional and federal government have clearly stated the attack has been carried out by the General. Yet, to understand the nature and reasons behind the attack requires knowing many details. And questions must be asked.

It is not at all clear what the government’s purpose has been in hastily reaching the conclusion that the whole thing has been a “coup.” To say that someone who has a vast experience in military that entailed practical maneuvers such as General Asaminew would think of seizing of power by murdering regional leaders is highly dubious. How much power does he possess that lead him to believe that he could succeed in controlling the region’s security force and declaring his own unilateral independent government? Even he manages to do that, how is it possible to argue that he could possibly entertain the thought of governing the region, defying the federal army?  

By framing the event as coup d’état instead of assassinations of officials has made the case garner wider international attention. A military coup would harm the country’s international image, making investment and tourists more difficult to attract. Any responsible government should have taken careful consideration before casting the affair in such manner even in the presence of strong evidence for the sake of the image of the country and physchology of the population, let alone one in the absence of sufficient and solid evidence.

By labelling the event as a coup from the beginning the intention of the government seems to make us believe us it would investigate it independently. It gives also the impression that there are political objectives that the state is trying to achieve behind it. We cannot be sure if it was not deliberately characterised as such with the intention of cracking down the nationalist opponents that are gaining ground in the region. If that is indeed the intention of the government, to benefit this episode to get rid of the opposition who have no direct involvement in the event, this could only aggravate the situation. There is no question that the utmost care must be taken to avoid such mistakes.

The link between the attack in Bahir Dar and the Chief of Staff Seare and ex-officers’ assassination in Addis Ababa is not clearly established. General Asaminew is experienced enough to understand as to who is in charge of the army and claiming that he would order the shooting of Seare does not hold much water. It is also hard to buy the argument that someone who is associated with General Asmainew would be hired to be a guard to the Chief of Staff. The narrative that the late General Seare was spending time with a retired friend at his place while leading a counter-coup operation that was happening Bahir Dar is also questionable. Maybe the argument that the killing was orchestrated by hostile groups that used the advantage to exterminate him could be more palatable. If the government continues connecting it with General Asaminew, it has a mountain to climb in order to convince us.

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Don’t call it a coup