Soon after the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia finished his speech on June 23rd at the Meskel Square, a grenade was denoted causing 10,000 supporters to run in fear of their lives. His supporters were eager to hear about his new reformist agenda. As a result of the attacks, four people have been confirmed dead and more than 150 injured. The bombing comes less than three months after Ahmed was appointed as the new prime minister following the resignation of Hailemariam Desalgn at the end of March.
The Federal Police Spokesman, Commander Bemsash Hailu, attributed the blasts to organizations attempting to discredit the work of the new government. He further stated the attack is a clear indication of the “hopelessness of the terrorists who have been relentlessly working to disturb peace and order in the city.”
Other potential suspects include hard-line members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) or the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) due to their previous attacks and rhetoric against the government.
A week after the grenade attack, police officers, including the Deputy Commissioner of the city police, have been detained. The government wants to understand the security lapse that allowed for such an attack to happen. Additionally, six people have been arrested for their suspected involvement in the attack at the Prime Minister’s rally.
The African National Congress of South Africa immediately condemned the attacks in Ethiopia. The spokesman of ANC, Pule Mabe, added that these attacks were “barbaric and cowardice acts of assassination attempts and deliberate ploys to destabilise and create disunity and confusion in our sister African countries. These…acts have no place towards a peaceful, prosperous, and integrated Africa.”
The African Union, United Nations, and the United States also issued statements condemning the unnecessary acts of violence. As one of the strongest allies in United States’ “War on Terror”, the State Department announced their intentions to send a team of investigators to help the government solve this tragic event.
The attack at the political rally in Ethiopia is a defining moment for Prime Minister Ahmed with the potential of shaping his legacy. Before the attack, Ahmed had been on a quest to shift the narrative that the Federal Government is not doing enough to safeguard the protection of all its citizens. Furthermore, the prime minister visited the Oromo and Ogaden regions, who have had long and troubling relationships with the government, to assure them of the incoming political reforms. To build trust between the disfranchised regions and the government, he released hundreds of mainly Oromo political prisoners.
In the context of the region, Ahmed has made significant policy changes that affect the Horn and East African region. The Ethiopian and Eritrean governments celebrated the Ethiopians decision to fully accept the 2000 Peace Treaty by sending a delegation to Addis Ababa. This momentous occasion is viewed as a turning point that can foster peace and stability in the region. The fact that Eritrea’s ambassador to Japan publicly condemned the grenade attack immediately solidifies the steps currently being made. The prime minister has suggested steps to improve relations with Somalia.
Following the attacks, Ethiopians wonder how the prime minister is going to handle the situation. They are curious if Ahmed will revert to the established authoritarian ways of the government and imprison opposition or whether the government will fairly use the judicial system to prosecute the responsible parties. Ethiopians also wonder whether the reforming and progressive agenda placed during his short term will continue with the same momentum or will they start shifting.
In the context of the region, the attack in Ethiopia, as well as the one in Zimbabwe, has sent shockwaves throughout the African continent. On the same day, Prime Minister Ahmed and President Emerson Mnangagwa escaped unscathed after bombs were denoted at their rallies. The trajectory of both these leaders is quite similar. Both rose to power after their predecessors resigned from office as a result of mounting public pressure. Both their appointments were met with optimism with many thinking that they symbolize a new era in their political history.
African political leaders fear that they will be targeted by those who oppose their agenda. The momentum is rising among African youth who are tired of the status quo and are challenging the establishment. The frustration has led some pockets of the population to believe that the change should be achieved by any means necessary. This mentality is worrying for African leaders since they are not sure whether they will be the next casualty. The spokesman of the ANC echoed this fear stating that “we must not allow our countries to be taken back to the use of violence and assassinations as a means to silence political opponents and those who occupy different positions to us.”