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Ethiopia’s Tigrayan locals express “frustration” over PM Abiy’s administration5 minutes read

Since coming to power, PM Abiy has undertaken reforms that the Tigrayans argue has sidelined them

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Ethiopia's Tigrayan locals express "frustration" over PM Abiy's administration
A picture taken on July 7, 2019, shows a monument in Mekele, the capital of Tigray Region, Ethiopia. (Photo by Michael TEWELDE / AFP)

In his cramped studio, Ethiopian reggae singer Solomon Yikunoamlak plucks his guitar and reads over his latest ballad, a strident call for unity in his native Tigray during a time of national upheaval.

It is unusual material for an artist who rose to fame singing love songs, but Solomon expects it will resonate with Tigrayan listeners who have witnessed their authority fade under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s leadership.

Since coming to power last year, the 42-year-old leader has loosened controls in long-authoritarian Ethiopia and shaken up decades-old power arrangements, angering some Tigrayans who feel sidelined as other ethnicities jostle for influence.

Ethiopia's Tigrayan locals express "frustration" over PM Abiy's administration
Ethiopian Tigrayan reggae singer Solomon Yikunoamlak, poses during an interview with AFP on July 7, 2019, in Mekele, the capital of Tigray Region, Ethiopia. (Photo by Michael TEWELDE / AFP)

“Nowadays, everybody becomes activists, and everybody becomes politicians,” Solomon told reporters, reflecting on the fevered political climate that has taken hold since Abiy assumed office. “This is because of the current problems.”

In Mekele, the regional capital, Tigrayans complain they have been scapegoated by the prime minister, who is an ethnic Oromo, for Ethiopia’s woes in recent years.

Anti-Abiy sentiment in Tigray was spotlighted following the killings last month of five high-ranking government and military officials — violence Abiy says was part of a coup attempt in Amhara state, neighbouring Tigray.

Two of the victims, including the army chief, were from Tigray, and their funerals in Mekele sparked an outpouring of grief, with some mourners denouncing Abiy as a traitor. 

“There is a huge frustration here in Tigray,” said Nebiyu Sehil Mikael, a writer and lecturer at Mekele University. 

“There is a sharp opposition against the federal government.”

‘We are under threat’ –  

Yet, anger with Abiy was a feature of daily life in Mekele before the June unrest.

Tigrayans grumble of a central government hostile to their interests. 

Though they make up just six per cent of Ethiopia’s population of 100 million people, Tigrayans were long seen as wielding outsized authority. 

After toppling the brutal communist Derg regime in 1991, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front transformed from a rebel movement into the strongest political party of the ruling coalition that remains in charge today.

But the TPLF was undermined by several years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power. 

It remains part of the ruling coalition, though it has been weakened further under Abiy.  

Tigrayans have been stripped of top positions and in some cases, jailed on charges of corruption and human rights violations. 

Some of those targeted under Abiy have become Tigrayan heroes.

Clothing vendor Zayid Meles said one of her top sellers these days wears a T-shirt declaring “I am Getachew Assefa” — a reference to the powerful Tigrayan former spy chief who Abiy fired last year.

Despite being the target of an arrest warrant, Getachew remains at large and is believed to be hiding somewhere in the region. 

Zayid said the T-shirt — which includes a rendering of Getachew’s face shielded by a scarf, hat and sunglasses — is a way of signalling to Abiy that Getachew will never face trial. 

Ethiopia's Tigrayan locals express "frustration" over PM Abiy's administration
Mahari Yonans, social media activist and civil society organiser, a prominent Tigrayan political commentator, speaks during an interview with AFP on July 5, 2019, in Mekele, the capital of Tigray Region, Ethiopia. (Photo by Michael TEWELDE / AFP)

“All Tigrayans buy it,” she said. “Getachew is a hero.”

Tigrayan fears for their future override other concerns about the TPLF’s shortcomings in promoting democracy and fighting poverty, said Mahari Yohans, a prominent Tigrayan political commentator. 

“The politics of Tigray is the politics of security,” he said. “We are under threat.”

Regional disunity – 

The situation has become so polarised that Tigrayans are increasingly entertaining the idea of secession, said Wondimu Asamnew, a Mekele native and longtime Ethiopian diplomat.

“It’s very sad,” he said. “They have started even to question whether or not they belong to the country.”

Ethiopia's Tigrayan locals express "frustration" over PM Abiy's administration
Wondimu Asamnew, a Mekele native and longtime Ethiopian diplomat, speaks during an interview with AFP on July 6, 2019, in Mekele, the capital of Tigray Region, Ethiopia. (Photo by Michael TEWELDE / AFP)

Even if secession is a far-fetched prospect, it’s clear the tensions are colouring everything from Tigrayans’ Facebook posts to how they watch football.

Fans of Mekele’s Ethiopian Premier League club, Mekele 70 Enderta F.C., were dismayed earlier this year when supporters of a rival club tore down a poster of Tigrayan former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi during a match in Addis Ababa. 

The teams’ supporters skirmished again at a follow-up match in Mekele, prompting the Ethiopian Football Federation to temporarily suspend the league.

The TPFL has seized the opportunity to turn support for Mekele 70 Enderta F.C. into a regional cause. 

Party officials were on hand Sunday to watch the club win its last match of the season at Mekele Stadium, securing the league championship. 

Ethiopia's Tigrayan locals express "frustration" over PM Abiy's administration
Mekele football club supporters watch their team during an Ethiopian Premier League match on July 7, 2019, in Mekele, the capital of Tigray Region, Ethiopia. (Photo by Michael TEWELDE / AFP)

As jubilant fans jammed city squares and set off fireworks late into the night, Twitter posts praised the team for its triumph and for overcoming what one user called a “corrupt” federation that “tried all it could to deny them”.

For some fans in Mekele, though, the politicisation of football was too much. 

“The so-called politicians need to focus on their politics,” said Asmelash Nigus. “It would be better if they don’t involve themselves in football.”

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East Africa News

U.S. conducts airstrike against al-Shabaab

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The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), in support of the Federal Government of Somalia, conducted an airstrike against al-Shabaab terrorists who engaged the Somali National Army, Danab Unit, near Bangeeni on Sunday, January 19. According to a statement from AFRICOM, the airstrike killed three militants.   

“This airstrike targeted al-Shabaab fighters who pose a direct, immediate, and significant threat to our partner forces,” said Maj. Gen. William Gayler, the director of operation, U.S. Africa Command. “Al-Shabaab consists of terrorists and criminals who seek to export hate and violence more broadly. We remain committed to supporting our Somali partners and the security progress; together we are building in the region.”   

The US military unit stationed in Africa aims to provide auxiliary support to the government of Somalia and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to increase security and seize ground from the al-Qaeda-aligned al-Shabaab.

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East Africa News

Aston Villa sign Tanzania captain Mbwana Samatta

27-year-old becomes first Tanzanian to play in the English Premier League

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English Premier league side Aston Villa have completed the signing of Tanzanian striker Mbwana Samatta for £10m on a four-and-half-year deal, subject to a work permit and international clearance.

The 27-year-old scored 10 goals for Genk in all competitions this season including a goal against Liverpool at Anfield in the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Villa manager Dean Smith hailed the signing “I’m really pleased we have managed to bring Mbwana to the club, he has scored goals throughout his career and I’m looking forward to working with him.”

Samatta makes history as the first Tanzanian to play in the Premier League but will be unavailable for Villa’s home match against Watford on Tuesday.

Samatta who is captain of the Tanzanian national side expressed his joy at making the move “I’m so excited, it’s a huge step for me in my career. It’s a big step for the country too. Everyone was looking for a Tanzanian to play in the Premier League.

“I know a lot about Aston Villa. I used to watch Gabby Agbonlahor when he was here.”

Samatta is Villa’s third signing of the January transfer window following loan signings of midfielder Danny Drinkwater from Chelsea and goalkeeper Pepe Reina from AC Milan.

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One US citizen, four Africans arrested by Kenyan Police for spying for Al-Shabaab

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Three men and two women have been arrested by Kenyan security forces for preparing a terror attack in Nairobi, a police report seen by AFP on Sunday showed.

The report stated that the group comprising three men — a US citizen, a Somali and their Kenyan driver — and two Somali women were believed to be on a reconnaissance mission for an attack in the north of the capital, the report dated Saturday said.

Police received information on Friday saying that “suspected terrorists” were carrying out a surveillance operation at a pub on Kiambu Road, a spot popular for its many bars and nightclubs.

Kenyan security forces have been on high alert since the Somali Al-Shabaab group, close to Al-Qaeda, stepped up attacks in the east of the country this month, threatening to target more Kenyan and US interests.

On January 5, the Somali Al-Shabaab group attacked Camp Simba, killing three Americans and destroying several aircraft and warning Kenya to withdraw its forces from Somalia while they still “have the chance”.

Kenya sent troops into Somalia in 2011 as part of an African Union peacekeeping mission fighting against Al-Shabaab, and has seen several brutal retaliation attacks both on its troops in Somalia and civilians in Kenya.

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