In Summary
  • 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 of five high-ranking government and military officials — violence Abiy says was part of a coup attempt in Amhara state.
  • Though they make up just six percent of Ethiopia's population of 100 million people, Tigrayans were long seen as wielding outsized authority.

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

MEKELE,

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."

'SHARP OPPOSITION'

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."

OUTSIZED AUTHORITY 

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.

PROTESTS

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

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