Calls for unity in Ethiopia’s Tigray as anti-Abiy sentiment swells

6 mins read
Robbie Corey-Boulet

Ethiopian Tigrayan reggae singer Solomon Yikunoamlak’s new ballad calls for unity in his native Tigrayan

Ethiopian Tigrayan reggae singer Solomon Yikunoamlak’s new ballad calls for unity in his native Tigrayan (AFP Photo/Michael TEWELDE)

Mekele (Ethiopia) (AFP) – In his cramped studio, Ethiopian reggae singer Solomon Yikunoamlak plucks his guitar and reads over his latest ballad, a strident call for unity in his native Tigray during a time of national upheaval.

It is unusual material for an artist who rose to fame singing love songs, but Solomon expects it will resonate with Tigrayan listeners who have witnessed their authority fade under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s leadership.

Since coming to power last year, the 42-year-old leader has loosened controls in long-authoritarian Ethiopia and shaken up decades-old power arrangements, angering some Tigrayans who feel sidelined as other ethnicities jostle for influence.

“Nowadays everybody becomes activists, and everybody becomes politicians,” Solomon told AFP, reflecting on the fevered political climate that has taken hold since Abiy assumed office. “This is because of the current problems.”

In Mekele, the regional capital, Tigrayans complain they have been scapegoated by the prime minister, who is an ethnic Oromo, for Ethiopia’s woes in recent years.

Anti-Abiy sentiment in Tigray was spotlighted following the killings last month of five high-ranking government and military officials — violence Abiy says was part of a coup attempt in Amhara state, neighbouring Tigray.

Two of the victims, including the army chief, were from Tigray, and their funerals in Mekele sparked an outpouring of grief, with some mourners denouncing Abiy as a traitor.

“There is a huge frustration here in Tigray,” said Nebiyu Sehil Mikael, a writer and lecturer at Mekele University.

“There is a sharp opposition against the federal government.”

– ‘We are under threat’ –

Yet anger with Abiy was a feature of daily life in Mekele before the June unrest.

Tigrayans grumble of a central government hostile to their interests.

Though they make up just six percent of Ethiopia’s population of 100 million people, Tigrayans were long seen as wielding outsized authority.

After toppling the brutal communist Derg regime in 1991, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front transformed from a rebel movement into the strongest political party of the ruling coalition that remains in charge today.

But the TPLF was undermined by several years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power.

It remains part of the ruling coalition, though it has been weakened further under Abiy.

Tigrayans have been stripped of top positions and in some cases jailed on charges of corruption and human rights violations.

Some of those targeted under Abiy have become Tigrayan heroes.

Clothing vendor Zayid Meles said one of her top sellers these days was a T-shirt declaring “I am Getachew Assefa” — a reference to the powerful Tigrayan former spy chief who Abiy fired last year.

Despite being the target of an arrest warrant, Getachew remains at large and is believed to be hiding somewhere in the region.

Zayid said the T-shirt — which includes a rendering of Getachew’s face shielded by a scarf, hat and sunglasses — is a way of signalling to Abiy that Getachew will never face trial.

“All Tigrayans buy it,” she said. “Getachew is a hero.”

Tigrayan fears for their future override other concerns about the TPLF’s shortcomings in promoting democracy and fighting poverty, said Mahari Yohans, a prominent Tigrayan political commentator.

“The politics of Tigray is the politics of security,” he said. “We are under threat.”

– Regional disunity –

The situation has become so polarised that Tigrayans are increasingly entertaining the idea of secession, said Wondimu Asamnew, a Mekele native and longtime Ethiopian diplomat.

“It’s very sad,” he said. “They have started even to question whether or not they belong to the country.”

Even if secession is a far-fetched prospect, it’s clear the tensions are colouring everything from Tigrayans’ Facebook posts to how they watch football.

Fans of Mekele’s Ethiopian Premier League club, Mekele 70 Enderta F.C., were dismayed earlier this year when supporters of a rival club tore down a poster of Tigrayan former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi during a match in Addis Ababa.

The teams’ supporters skirmished again at a follow-up match in Mekele, prompting the Ethiopian Football Federation to temporarily suspend the league.

The TPFL has seized the opportunity to turn support for Mekele 70 Enderta F.C. into a regional cause.

Party officials were on hand Sunday to watch the club win its last match of the season at Mekele Stadium, securing the league championship.

As jubilant fans jammed city squares and set off fireworks late into the night, Twitter posts praised the team for its triumph and for overcoming what one user called a “corrupt” federation that “tried all it could to deny them”.

For some fans in Mekele, though, the politicisation of football was too much.

“The so-called politicians need to focus on their politics,” said Asmelash Nigus. “It would be better if they don’t involve themselves in football.”


  1. Never, never, never trust Neftegna Amhara again. Ethiopia is now a chaotic place and some may urge the Tigraay state to intervene and bring the situation under control. The way ahead for Tigray is to declare independence and focus on development.
    The tegaru investments in Ethiopia have been moving the country forward but anti-development groups in the Oromo and Amhara regions have destroyed them. Instead of learning from the disciplined and hard working tegaru investors, these groups made uprisings and damaged their own economies. Oromia is on the move. We Oromos have all our marbles set in positions. The next few decades is the time when Oromo will emerge as the force to recon with in HOA. We are the larger majority and we will determine our own fate regardless of what others may think or do. The Oromo lions are roaring as we speak. We thank TPLF for being a loyal strategic partner. The Abyssinias are only trying to temporarily derail our march to the eventual Oromia State…the only viable state to be risen out of the ashes of the Neftegna empire.
    Nephtegna are flexible their muscles to destroy everything on their path and they’re in full swing by murdering Tigrean people I mean who is next? As Debretsion said it well the killing is not going to stop it’s only the beginning and if Tplf chose to compromise concerning any territorial issues it’s going to be the political slander ever in history of Tigrean people. I hope Tplf see what world is understanding the situation in Ethiopia. Abiy is paid Arab mercenary and don’t let him fool you when he was crying At murdered generals viewing for that act Abiy deserves academy award. He got lots of things to do with our heroes generals murder. I’m just worried now who is going to get murdered? Please Tplf protect your own hell with Ethiopia, from now on Tigray first. Amara lost God given right to rule Ethiopia for ever, I also understand We have to face the reality and stop lying to ourselves, there are new sheriffs in town ‘Oromo people’. Imagine for thousands years not even having a voice in your own country where you are the majority. Talk about oppression and injustice. One can question the government motives or the way they are ruling the country, but most people are mad or can’t believe that Oromo is in power. It’s time for majority rule and minority rights.




    ” Detained Tigrayan youth land blow on TPLF ”

    Expropriations in places such as Gambella, in Oromia around highly contested Addis Ababa, and the far south, have caused outrage after violent displacements, imprisonments, and beatings.

    Now, it’s Tigray’s turn to suffer unrest due to land tensions—which is just the latest of the region’s challenges.

  3. amhra leboch ke abiy gar honachuh ye zer matfat wenjelachuhn teyayizachuhutal amhara will never ever be trusted and donot bring developpment including to its own tribe ; Amhara sewun masrechen masgedal new seriyaw amhara astekuwash geday asgeday new amhara is immersed in blood foe over centuries .

    Stop playing your outdated and foul smelling game. Pongy kumar!

    Stop using Religion as your hand made cave and cover up.

  4. Ethiopia built so many sugar factories because when the khat leaf is chewed without a sweetener it tastes so nasty. If khat consumption was outlawed or better yet if Ethiopian people simply beat their khat addictions , the sugar consumption in Ethiopia would go down by more than two thirds.

    Each hardcore khat addicted person in Ethiopia is estimated to use half a kilo of sugar or use five liters of sweet soda beverages each time the person chews khat , since sugar is the only a vital ingredient used to sweeten the nasty taste of the khat leaf.

    Making khat business and sugar business intertwined. Currently the Ethiopian government is finalizing it’s plan to sell all sugar farm lands and sugar factories to land grabbers foreign investors , EPRDF expects to generate over two hundred Billions of Birrs from the sales of sugar farm lands and sugar factories to land grabbers within the year 2019 .

  5. It is flat out none factual excerpt. On top of that one paragraph contradicts the other . You had your chance to lead the country but you squandered it.Don’t try to create havoc, to bring TPLF to power as it is it impossible. My advice to you is to fall in line with the all ETHIOPIAN ethnic groups to uplift the country.

  6. Every body should realize unity of the country is a vital interest for Ethiopian a and the Horn of Africa.Tigray alone as a country will unacceptable by the rest Ethiopian s because there is Ethiopia with out Tigray and vise versa.The politcians should think carefully before they put the people of Tigray into a trap of bad future.Aby is a bad leader he be supported ,Please Stop blaming to each other .Pawer greed seems the main character of. The whole current story .Ethiopia was much better during King Haileslasse.

  7. The Tigrians have survived Mengstu they will service Abey. please don’t let this temporary situation distract the people from what is important,we have always been Ethiopians that is undenyaible and divided we fall.

  8. Dear political analyst

    are you advocating for Amahra elites , who paracticed teret,metet, tinkola , zerefa, sodomaite and other sorts of crimes and impersonal acts and put blame on Tigray and TPLF. Do you think amharas forgive Tigreans let alone TPLF who they believe killed 10 million amharas which doesn’t add up at all ?

    Tigray people donot expele Amharas , but amharas expelled , robbed , stonned tigray people as the whole world know via facebook, a giant social network which you cannot cover it up by any mischievous means.

    Amhara was expelled by other robbers and killers who want to consficate their land and properties as amahara want to get control of every tribe and disparage everyone calling them miniorities. Amhara was fighting with Oromo with Tigreans and others if you look what happened in many universities.

    Claims of amahra Pol. party are nonesense simply a complete fabrication.

    You seem to back up amhara since they outnumber other tribes and they are motormouthed . Amahra takes pleasure in belittling and vilifying people inluding church leaders who are nonamhara just for the sake of gaining power and money.

    Amahra makes himself comfortable using its outdated parables and sayings(tere-tate, kere-rito) to downgrade its counterpart .

    Amhara mashmutate sewun mabeshaket yawukebteal , bedemu new yalew le sidib yetefetere kebahir yewota ye 666 awure new ADP, a beast which came out of the sea and endowed with pile of insults and blasphemy.

    Amahra is hypocrite when it come to amahra religious approach and pretentious act .

    try not to meddle up to get an online fame and prestige while being biased in your political stance.

    Thank you for not persisting in your attack on TPLF and Tigray People, peaceful and respectful than ADP.

  9. I have read news about the recent back and forth between the leaders of the Tigray and Amhara regions. It tell about the leaders the TPLF finding it hard to work with their neighbors.

    What do you mean by ‘TPLF will be unable to work with ADP’? That does not sound good and it is not right. I also heard that the ADP has responded in similar scathing terms. All I can say to these two fools is ‘stop it!!!!’ It once again proves to me that the part of every region is not as healthy as it is wished to be. They are infested by grand-standing connivers and those who are poisoned by bigots. We all know that the TPLF, the organization that was founded for a noble cause, was hijacked by sweet talking ruffians a long time ago.

    After smart alecks managed to expropriate the house the noble people Tigrai built up with blood and sweat, they were able to change those gallant people into their beasts of burden. They don’t allow the slightest criticism. If you do that you will not know what hit you. It was told that they had gone as far as to slip in doses of lethal poison in meals to eradicate those who showed any signs of dissent. It was also told by one of their former comrades how every resident of that region was(is) left to always look over his shoulders. I did not make this up. I had read it in one of the interviews given by one of their former army commanders. Such is the environment over there as we speak. Just look at what they have done to one of the founders of their organization last week. He was extremely lucky to come out alive. Dare if you speak up! Dare even if you think about joining another group!!! Now is this the act/behavior of the common/woman of Tigray? Absolutely not!!!

    Such environment is not confined to Tigray. It has existed in every region even though they are showing a reform here and a reform there. And all these ruffians and smart alecks are not going anywhere thanks to the ineptness and divisions of the opposition. They have also garnered unprecedented prestige and accumulated unthinkable fortunes to die for. They send their children to prestigious/exclusive schools when a Tigrayan farmer is ravaged by swarming fries and fleas. They drive their children to schools in government supplied cars when the child of the poor farmers of Tigray walks on foot for hundreds of miles in hope of making it the Arabian Peninsula or Europe and losing his life in the process. His family doesn’t get the chance to give their son/daughter a dignified burial. I didn’t make this up either. Just ask every top official of every region with school going children which school they are attending or attended. This is how hypocritical these sweet talkers are. Their mentors use to tell us ‘Workers of the world unite!!!’ What they meant by that is ‘you just be one and united so you will be strong enough to carry me around with ease’.

    What is very worrisome to me now is the danger of these smart alecks going after each other in full scale wars. The best advice of the day to all of them is to cool it!!!

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