The intrigue behind Ethiopia coup allegation and denial


By Barry Malone | Reuters

A plot is defined as “a plan made in secret”, but even by the usual shadowy nature of such matters around Africa, the recent conspiracy to overthrow the Ethiopian government has been hard to see clearly.

The story broke two weeks ago when the government of Prime Minister Ethiopia’s dictator Meles Zenawi said 40 men had been arrested for planning a coup after police found guns, bombs and “written strategies” at their homes. But a few days later the government communication office was asking journalists not to use the word coup anymore. The “desperados”, they said, had planned to “overthrow” the government by using assassinations and bombings to create enough chaos to get supporters on the streets to topple the government.

The sensitivity surrounding the language and the details of what was actually going on highlight the caution that still exists in sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous country after a disputed 2005 election ended with police and soldiers killing about 200 opposition street protesters who were marching on government buildings.

Understandably, many Ethiopians are sceptical that people would take to the streets again. And others question whether the will is still there to march against a government that most analysts consider the most effective the desperately poor nation Horn of Africa has ever had.

The suspected involvement of an Ethiopian economic professor who teaches at an American university was a detail that caught the interest of the international media. {www:Berhanu Nega}, who called the accusation “baseless”, was elected mayor of Addis Ababa after the 2005 poll but was imprisoned along with about 100 other opposition members when the government accused them of orchestrating the street protests.

He was released in 2007 after a pardon deal and soon fled to America, where he teaches economics at Bucknell University in Philadelphia. Another leader released as part of that pardon, 36-year-old former judge {www:Birtukan Mideksa}, was rearrested last year after the government said she violated the terms of the pardon. She remains in prison.

Ethiopians love to talk politics in the bars and cafes of capital Addis Ababa — often in very hushed tones, which is perhaps a hangover from 17 years of brutally repressive communist rule that ended when the rebel group led by Meles Zenawi came to power in 1991.

And the “coup” is now the subject of those whispered chats. Some say there was a real threat to the government that came from Berhanu and his allies in the sizeable and vocal diaspora. Some say there was dissent in the military and Berhanu simply provided a convenient excuse for the government to move against that in its early stages.

And one opposition leader even told me that the government may have invented the coup plot so it could arrest potential politicians ahead of national elections due in 2010.

“Without third party verification I can’t believe there was a plot,” said Bulcha Demeksa, leader of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement.

Amnesty International now says the government is arresting more people in secret.

This intriguing story will surely develop over the weeks to come as the Ethiopian government has said it is preparing evidence that will be presented before “an independent judiciary” and has promised the 40 accused will appear in an Addis Ababa court next week.


7 comments on “The intrigue behind Ethiopia coup allegation and denial

  1. Yoftahe on

    A sound analysis.We all know the true nature of the regime-divisive,hate monger and spreader,and most of all blatant lier.

    Meles’s the con man of the 20th century,his lieutent,Bereket Simon-the leading spin doctor.But the irony’s that he hardly communicates English.Isn’t this a great shame to all of us,Ethiopians?

    The intellectuals of the country are out of the political scene while the ignorant are placed at the helm of power.This’s the main reason which made the country poor.

    Woyanes don’t care a fig for the development of the country and the betterment of the whole population but for their select people and region-Tigrai.

    In such a situation it won’t be surprising to see now and then sheer fabrication to jail real and assumed enemies.The latest victims fall on this catagory.Our people have no choice but to beef up their struggle to secure their all-round freedom.

  2. Miracle on

    Dear Elias, I always knew the EPRDF regime will destroy it self with out any out side force. Most of the prisoners are either servants of the regime or previous servants. Now is the time to stand with Gibot 7 and our true leader DR Berhanu Nega.

  3. Tesfa on

    I cannot believe this reporter calls Woyanne “the most effective the desperately poor nation has ever had”. What does that mean? Effective in what? Come on; he should correct that with “the most repressive”. Furthermore, he said people in Addis are talking politics “in very hushed tones, which is perhaps a hangover from 17 years of brutally repressive communist rule”…Come on Mr. reporter; is this is an attempt to make Woyanne look like good and that the peoples’ fear is unjustified? This is not hangover; people are under the most repressive regime in history!

  4. The main reason for the arrest of amhara officers is that M. Naziawi do not want the Amhara faction of its military to rebel when he officially handover parts of Gondor to the equally brutal regime of Sudan. The agreement was made when Bashir visited Ethiopia.

  5. Zenaw on

    “an independent judiciary ?” Why don’t Meles tell us the sentence.What a joke !!!

  6. Abinet on

    Generally a good piece except for thisI “hungover ” word does’nt the writer know that people had started speaking freely until the events of the 2005 elections !

  7. abebe on

    Some foreign journalists have started making very biased reports favouring TPLF-led government. The reporter indicated EPRDF as “a government that most analysts consider the most effective the desperately poor nation [in the] Horn of Africa has ever had”. Which analysis? in what respect did they make their evaluation? Don’t the Ethiopian people deserve better and progress? Why should it be compared with past governments? Woyane is exploiting the racist logic of such journalists the decieve the external world.

    I appreciate the editor’s successful navigation of Ethiopian information. The site is becoming more neutral, less emotional, and hence more credible. That is what we want from an Ethiopian website if it is going to be a respectable and credible source of information internationally.

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