On Africa’s East Coast, Two Reformers Work to Keep the Peace

Ethiopia’s President, Mulatu Teshome

Political rallies in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe were disrupted by grenade attacks on June 23, shedding light on the dangers that the political opposition represents to politicians in these countries. In Ethiopia, a grenade attack killed two and wounded more than 150 at a rally featuring the country’s new prime minister Abiy Ahmed.

The rally took place in Addis Ababa’s Meskel Square and was attended by tens of thousands of people. Thirty were arrested after the attack, but the culprits are yet unknown. Abiy’s office claimed the attack was part of a larger disruption of the economy: power and telecommunications outages occurred and government agencies have been prevented from delivering services.

Abiy’s office said in a statement in the week following the attack that the attack stemmed from anger at reforms implemented by Abiy in April. Abiy, who replaced former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn after he resigned in February, is the first prime minister from the Oromo ethnic group in 27 years. Abiy found support from young Ethiopians after he released jailed dissidents, liberalized the economy by opening state-owned companies to private investment, and allowed for greater media freedoms.

He has also asserted his willingness to implement a peace deal with Ethiopia’s neighbor, Eritrea, to end their two-year war. But Abiy still faces political opposition from within the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, the dominant party in Ethiopia’s governing coalition.

Ethiopia has created a committee to investigate plots against the reforms, which include efforts to sabotage infrastructure and increase inflation. According to Ethiopian scholar Mohammad Girma, if Ethiopia is to continue to liberalize, Abiy must continue spreading his message in the face of “anti-peace elements” who are attempting to halt progress and damage his narrative.

Zimbabwe’s President, Emmerson Mnangagwa

In Zimbabwe, two people died and nearly 50 were injured in a grenade attack at a Zanu-PF rally in Bulawayo. President Emmerson Mnangagwa described the attack as an attempt on his life. On July 1, two men were arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack. Both suspects were from Bulawayo despite Mnangagwa’s claims that they were assassins from another province. The men are being held on charges of insurgency, banditry, sabotage, or terrorism.

Just as Ethiopia’s Abiy faces internal political opposition, Mnangagwa’s party control is being questioned by the Generation 40 faction lead by Grace Mugabe, wife of former president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe. Mnangagwa’s Lacoste faction has seen the internal rivalry with Generation 40 since battling them for succession in 2016.

Mnangagwa blamed members of Generation 40 for carrying out the grenade attack, although there is no conclusive evidence as yet. With national elections taking place in Zimbabwe on July 30, it is yet to be seen how Zanu-PF’s squabbles will impact the political landscape. Mnangagwa is running against Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change, and more than five million Zimbabweans have registered to vote. Like his neighboring reformer, Abiy, Mnangagwa will allow international observers into the country to ensure it is a fair election.

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