- At least one fatality has been reported after a grenade attack occurred as a political rally was underway in Addis Ababa on 23 June 2018.
- Police in Ethiopia are treating the incident as an assassination attempt on new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
- 132 more have been injured according to the health minister but the Prime Minister remains unharmed.
Ethiopia’s health minister has reported that there has been one death and 132 injuries (including eight critical cases), after a suspected grenade attack at a political rally led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Meskel Square, Addis Ababa on 23 June 2018. Abiy had just finished speaking when the attack occurred. According to the prime minister “A few Ethiopians were injured…there are a few people who lost their lives”. The new prime minister remains unharmed and was promptly whisked away by his security detail. Thousands were attending the rally in the Ethiopian capital, the largest such pro-government event in years. The rally in the capital was mirrored by smaller events nationwide. Authorities in Ethiopia are treating the incident as a “well-orchestrated” assassination attempt on Abiy and three suspects have already been arrested.
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If an investigation does show that this is a targeted assassination attempt on Abiy, the motives are clear. Abiy’s ascension to the top of Ethiopian politics has brought about numerous promises of reforms and the new prime minister is hugely popular according to reports. Ethiopia has been beset by violent unrest based for around three years, hundreds were killed in significant anti-government protests during this period. The unrest in Ethiopia centred around the country’s Oromo and Amhara regions. The Oromo and Amhara peoples constitute around 61 per cent of Ethiopia’s population yet have historically received little representation in Ethiopia’s government or security forces. The country’s ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), is dominated by the Tigrayan ethnic group, who make up only six per cent of Ethiopia’s 100 million-strong population. Abiy Ahmed is Ethiopia’s first ethnic Oromo leader.
The list of reforms undertaken and promised by Abiy are extensive, and include:
- Peace with Eritrea – under Abiy, Ethiopia has unilaterally agreed to adhere to Algiers agreement which demarcates the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Ethiopia had failed to implement the agreement since its inception in 2000.
- The relaxation censorship by unblocking hundreds of websites and TV channels.
- The promise to release hundreds of political prisoners.
- Economic reforms, including the opening up of state-owned companies to private investment, has been promised.
- An end to the six-month state of emergency two months early.
It is highly possible that this was an attack conducted by those upset that the country is led by an ethnic Oromo or those unhappy with Abiy’s reforms. It is unclear if this attack marks a single event or the potential beginning of violent opposition to Abiy reforms which have generally been well received domestically and internationally. Though there has been an ongoing power struggle within the ruling coalition between Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and the current administration. TPLF, a faction of the ruling EPRDF, dominated Ethiopian politics and its security forces for the last 27 years. Commentators have suggested that they have been shocked by recent admissions by Abiy that the government used violent repression to maintain its position and that they may fear legal and judicial repercussions. Indeed, one supposed eye-witness claims that it was a police officer who threw the grenade, though this has not been confirmed.
It should be noted that on 22 June 2018, Ginbot 7, an Ethiopian rebel group based out of neighbouring Eritrea, suspended its armed resistance against the government on the back of Abiy’s reforms.
Moderate Terrorism Risk
Travellers and expatriates should remain vigilant at all times, maintain a low profile, and follow local developments closely. Travellers should also note that there are communication difficulties in Ethiopia and foreigners are routinely subject to cyber monitoring by the state. Travellers should be aware of the increased security presence in Ethiopia, especially in the capital Addis Ababa and throughout the Oromo and Amhara regions. If travelling within the country, it is vital that travellers adhere fully to the instructions of security forces; opposition may result in a forceful response.
If caught in a potential terrorist incident, travellers are advised to RUN – HIDE – TELL – FIGHT. RUN – If in a location where gunfire or explosions are heard, leave the area or building by any safe and available exit immediately. HIDE – If unable to run away, find suitable cover or barricade yourself in a room. Remember to silence your phone and turn vibrate off. TELL – Inform emergency services or alert someone who is able to do it for you. Once the police arrive, comply with their instructions and do not make any sudden movements. FIGHT – As a last resort, if confronted with a gunman, it is recommended to fight back by using the element of surprise by shouting, screaming and running fast at the attacker. If sheltered with others, convince them to do the same and rush the attacker all at once. Ensure the person entering the shelter is the attacker and not law enforcement.
In the event of a terrorist bombing or grenade attack, Travellers should take cover in case of secondary blasts or follow-up attack. It is important to stay away from glass or electronic fixtures. If possible, travellers should move away from danger areas as soon as possible. It is advisable to avoid crowds and do not return for any lost belongings. Travellers should avoid gathering in a group immediately following a blast as a secondary blast is likely to target obvious assembly points.
For most travel to Ethiopia, including the capital Addis Ababa, Solace Global would advise clients to employ the minimum of an airport meet and greet and a locally-vetted driver for all travel. It is advisable that this level of security is increased for other areas of the country or for specific client profiles. Travellers are also advised to use travel-tracking technology with an intelligence feed. This should enable a traveller to be alerted of any security updates within their vicinity and to update others of their movements in case of an emergency.