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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Ethiopia prime minister's reformist government purges old guard in corruption crackdown

Ethiopia's attorney general arrested 63 members of the intelligence services and military officials

Ethiopia has arrested 63 senior military and intelligence officers accused of corruption and human rights abuses, the country's attorney general, Berhanu Tsegaye, said on Monday. AFP
Ethiopia has arrested 63 senior military and intelligence officers accused of corruption and human rights abuses, the country's attorney general, Berhanu Tsegaye, said on Monday. AFP

Ethiopia's attorney general on Monday accused the country's intelligence service of orchestrating a bombing of a pro-government rally to intensify ethnic tensions and discredit popular support for the reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Attorney general Berhanu Tsegaye also accused intelligence services of gruesome human rights abuses including rape, murder and castration, and laid separate accusations of corruption at the feet of Metec, a military-run conglomerate.

Kinfe Dagnew, the former head of Metec and a major general in the Ethiopian army was arrested on the border with Sudan, the state-run broadcaster said on Wednesday. Mr Kinfe was ousted from his post in Metec in April.

Metec had received $2 billion of contracts without the proper bidding process over six years, Mr Berhanu said without naming the international firms involved.

Dozens of intelligence service officials were heard in court on Monday on the accusations of human rights abuses and orchestrating the attack.

The country's attorney general said "senior leadership of the national security agency" intelligence services told members of the Oromo ethnic group, of which Prime Minister Abiy is a part of, to attack him at a rally.

"The evidence we gathered shows that the senior leadership of the national security agency instructed Oromos to carry out the attack because it would mean that the prime minister - an Oromo - was killed by Oromos," the attorney general told a press conference.

"It would (also) give the impression that he is not endorsed by the Oromo population."

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Two people were killed when a grenade was thrown at a stage Mr Abiy had recently left in June. Five members of the Oromo Liberation Front were arrested in September.

Mr Abiy is the nation's first Oromo prime minister and ethnic clashes been frequent during his time in office.

This crackdown on intelligence services and Metec represents an extension of Mr Abiy's reform programme, purging those against the reforms in the economy and intelligence services, Ahmed Soliman, a research fellow at Chatham House's Africa Programme told The National.

"It is part of Abiy Ahmed's continued reform process, which at the very beginning he was having to balance pragmatic power politics with broad governance," said Mr Soliman. "He's clearly showing there is an internal threat to the reform process he is pursuing in Ethiopia and that they're cracking down on it now."

Mr Abiy's governmental reforms have made headlines. A historic rapprochement with former-arch rival Eritrea, the appointment of a 50 per cent female cabinet and of the country's first female president and supreme court judge, have all painted a pretty picture for the future of the country.

But the threats to Mr Abiy's vision go beyond the intelligence service, to an economy dominated by large companies run by the country's elite, like Metec.

"You can reform the overt government institutions, you can have a government reshuffle, but if the government and resources are still controlled by the same people then ultimately your reforms will be falling short," Mr Soliman said, pointing out that over the last few months "the writing had been on the wall" for firms like Metec.

In August, Mr Abiy cancelled a contract for the company to fit the turbines in the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is set to be the largest in Africa and triple the country's energy output.

This crackdown on companies like Metec is a part of a partial privatisation essential to Mr Abiy delivering on ambitious economic targets, Mr Soliman says.

Ethiopia has been posting impressive growth rates over the last decade, but four years of unrest has started to hurt the country's progress.

In total 63 people have been arrested since Friday, 36 of those from the intelligence services, the rest were members of Metec.