A rally held in support of Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed was abruptly ended when a “bomb attack” left twenty-nine people injured on Sunday, February 23. All but one of the victims were treated and sent home, according to a statement by Arasa Merdasa, a police official from Ethiopia’s Oromia Region, where the attack took place. Six peoplesuspected of being involved in the attack were later arrested. Abiy did not attend the rally.
Speaking to Agence France-Presse, Arasa said the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), a breakaway armed wing of the Oromo Liberation Front opposition party, was likely responsible for the bombing. The OLA was also accused on Friday of assassinating a security official in Burayu, another town in the Oromia Region, near the capital Addis Ababa.
Why Does This Matter?
Ahead of elections, regional strongmen of ethnic groups have begun amassing influence and political bases, a tension that could erupt on election day in a repeat of the 2005 elections, when than two hundred protesters killed by security forces following accusations of corruption and election meddling by the opposition. This most recent attack in Oromia shows that ethnic tensions exist among the ruling coalition and opposition groups, lending credence to fears the national election will end in disaster.
Should that happen, Abiy’s reform efforts would be seriously compromised and his reputation as a conflict mediator would be tarnished. He was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea, but also for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation with regards to conflicts in Sudan and South Sudan, violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and disputes between Kenya and Somalia over maritime rights. All eyes are on Ethiopia come August to see if what used to be one of Africa’s most repressive nations can hold the course on its democratizing path.