At least 65 people detained as prime minister Abiy Ahmed seeks to clean up government
Yared Zerihun after his arrest
Photo : SM
Tom Wilson in Nairobi November 16,2018
Ethiopia’s government has arrested dozens of senior officials from its security services and one of the country’s most powerful state-owned enterprises in a wide-ranging attack on alleged corruption and human rights violations.
At least 65 officials have been detained since Monday in the most significant attempt yet by reformist prime minister Abiy Ahmed to tackle graft and hold current and former officials accountable for past rights abuses.
According to local press reports, those arrested include 36 members of Ethiopia’s intelligence and prisons services and 27 employees of the state-owned military-industrial company, Metals and Engineering Corporation, known as Metec.
The arrests follow a five-month state investigation led by the attorney-general into the security establishment and Metec.
Mr Abiy was elected in April and has embarked on a rapid programme of widespread political and economic reforms, promising to dismantle Ethiopia’s authoritarian state and open the growing economy to investment.
Metec, Ethiopia’s biggest industrial company, was closely controlled by the country’s former governing elite and became a major government contractor, developing a dominant position in the state-led economy with interests in engineering, construction and arms manufacturing.
It was established in 2010 by combining nine businesses previously owned by the ministry of defence — some of which had operated since 1970.
In August Mr Abiy cancelled a Metec contract to install turbines on the country’s biggest hydroelectric damn, but the latest arrests go much further, according Mengistu Assefa, a political analyst and commentator at the independent news site Ethiopia Insight.
“Abiy Ahmed’s reform agenda has so far been focused on opening up political space, working on the amendment of repressive laws, restructuring his cabinet and ending the two-decade old stalemate with neighbouring Eritrea” Mr Mengistu said.
“The recent arrests are another step towards upholding the rule of law by holding the powerful to account and serving justice for the victims of gross human rights violations.”
Those arrested include Yared Zerihun, the former deputy head of the national security agency, and the former director-general of Metec, Major General Kinfe Dagnew. The two men and Metec could not be reached for comment.
Others arrested include intelligence officers and staff from Ethiopia’s vast prison network, in which the Ethiopian government has previously been accused by human rights groups of detaining and torturing victims, sometimes without trial.
The arrests were accompanied with a 45-minute documentary on Metec, broadcast this week on state-owned media, outlining many allegations against the company.
While the crackdown has been widely celebrated in Ethiopia, Mr Mengistu expressed concern over the apparent attempt by the government to influence public opinion via the television broadcast.
“Documentaries produced by government controlled media on pending court cases sound like the same propaganda the previous administration used to silence dissenting voices” he said.
The judiciary should be left alone to independently “unveil the alleged misdoings by Metec or any other organisation” he said.