In Part 1 of “ How Did We Get from There to Here ,” I argued that Ethiopia’s current narrative is flawed and built on the aspirations of external political actors, such as former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Donald Yamamoto. It is a simple narrative of good guys and bad guys. In Part 2, I look at the person Prime Minister Abiy has identified as the primary bad guy in this scenario--Getachew Assefa, former head of the National Intelligence Security Services (NISS). He has just been charged with corruption and abuse of power.
Although identified and targeted last year as the villain of the government’s narrative, the timing of the announcement of these charges raises some interesting questions. Could this be a transparent attempt to distract attention away from the escalating violence and displacement that is steadily dismantling the federal structure that holds the country together?
This week (May 6) has been disastrous for an administration teetering on the edge of legitimacy. While making no statement about the loss of life for some 250 Gumuz people murdered by Amhara vigilante groups, the Prime Minister seems to be grasping for a distraction to turn attention away from his own failed governance.
Just who is Getachew Assefa and why is he playing such an outsized role in this new narrative? How is it that the former head of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) has become a symbol of the “before” in Ethiopia when, just as little as two years ago, one would be hard pressed to find anyone in the general population who knew his name.
The basic facts of Getachew’s early life mirror those of many in the TPLF leadership. He was born in Mekelle where his father served in the police force. Major Assefa, having been stationed in every town with the exception of Axum and Shire, made sure that his children, including Getachew, become more than familiar with the farthest corners of Tigray and its people. Theirmodest home in Mekelle, where Getachew and his large contingent of brothers and sisters were born, today remains the focal point of his close extended family.
Getachew excelled academically in elementary school and was selected to attend the renowned Wingate School in Addis Ababa. A few years younger than Meles Zenawi, Getachew was attracted to the revolutionary ideas that had captured Ethiopia’s youth in the 1970s. Like many of his peers, Getachew left school to join the TPLF and become a tagadaley . His intensely analytical mind led him to be assigned to the front’s military intelligence unit.