(Foreign Policy) --
Nizar Manek, 4 July 2019
Ethiopia’s prime minister oversaw the chaotic release of thousands of prisoners, including many ethnonationalist militants. His amnesty may now be coming back to haunt him.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia—Former comrades in arms described retired Brig. Gen. Asaminew Tsige, who was shot dead on June 24, as a mediocre soldier and a poor administrator. Asaminew was gunned down by government forces two days after allegedly masterminding the assassination of three senior officials of Ethiopia’s Amhara state, including its president—events labeled part of “an orchestrated coup attempt” by the Ethiopian prime minister’s office.
Asaminew had a long history in Ethiopian military circles—and in rebel movements. He was an ex-rebel fighter in the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement in the struggle that in 1991 felled the Derg, a Marxist junta that preceded Ethiopia’s current ruling system. Asaminew met in 2009 with leaders of the banned opposition movement Ginbot 7 in Dubai, according to members of that movement. On April 24, 2009, the National Intelligence and Security Service and Federal Police Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force arrested 35 people allegedly involved in plotting a coup against Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government; most were members of the military or the police. Asaminew was one of them, and he was imprisoned for nearly a decade.
Last February, Asaminew emerged from prison, having allegedly faced solitary confinement and torture, among tens of thousands of prisoners released following a 12-point reform plan handed down by Ethiopia’s ruling politburo in December 2017.
Under Abiy Ahmed, who became Ethiopia’s new leader in April 2018, Asaminew was honorably retired with full pension rights—and he was appointed by Amhara state later that year to head its administration and security bureau. The effort to release and reintegrate former rebels who had once sought to overthrow the federal government was widely hailed as a bold reform effort. But as the high-profile June 22 killings have shown, that policy has also unleashed forces that Abiy may no longer be able to control.