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Is a Coup in Ethiopia Imminent?


Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was once the toast of the international community. He was young, spoke the language of democracy, and was willing to reverse longtime policy to end the border conflict with Eritrea. In 2019, he took home the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

Today, he is a Nobel embarrassment.

On July 18, 2021, his office issued a statement with the type of ethnic incitement that would make Rwanda’s Hutu génocidaires blush: He referred to Ethiopia’s Tigrayans as “the cancer of Ethiopia” and called on all Ethiopians “to remove the invasive weed.” Human rights organizations and journalists say he is systematically seeking to starve the Tigray province, and he has begun closing or seizing businesses owned by the Tigray. In effect, this replicates what late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin once did with his country’s ethnic Indian population. Both the war and the internal economic disruption have undercut Ethiopia’s already tenuous economy.

Rashid Abdi, one of the East Africa’s most insightful and perceptive analysts, now reports via twitter, “Embassies in Addis [Ababa] making contingency plans to move to Nairobi in case situation deteriorates in coming weeks. Economic and financial collapse feared.” He cited one analyst as suggesting the prospects of an internal coup are very high.

Such a scenario is not farfetched. In last month’s elections, Abiy’s party reportedly won 410 out of 436 seats. The State Department, however, called the election “flawed” and international elections monitors pointedly refused to call the polls free and fair. Most opposition remains in prison. The Tigray Defense Force’s recapture of the Tigray provincial capital Mekelle after Abiy claimed victory is an embarrassment Abiy cannot hide. Nor, even with the tight control Abiy’s regime holds over the media, can he hide the images of thousands of Ethiopian troops paraded through the capital as prisoners.

This creates a perfect storm for Abiy. The government wants a scapegoat for their failure, and top generals could target Abiy if only to preempt the prime minister targeting them. Nor is Tigray the only insurgency Ethiopia now faces.  At the same time, the implosion of Ethiopia’s economy means that Abiy is hemorrhaging the support of ordinary Ethiopians in the capital and across the country. While the Ethiopian Birr is officially 44 to the US dollar, it is trading in the Ethiopian-Somaliland border town of Wajaale at 61 to the dollar, a 38 percent drop.

Abiy’s arrogance toward fellow African leaders and the African Union means that, while none care for the precedent of a violent overthrow, neither would any intercede if members of Abiy’s own entourage pushed Abiy aside. Regime change in Ethiopia will be internal and may likely come in a matter of weeks rather than years. Let us hope the White House and State Department are not asleep at the switch, and that the Pentagon is already considering how to achieve a noncombatant evacuation operation for the tens of thousands of American citizens who call Ethiopia home.

Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor. 

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).



  1. Slack

    July 19, 2021 at 7:37 pm

    It is time for American citizens ‘residing’ in Ethiopia to return home. Unless they are surrepticiously already involved in clandestine work.

    It is best for the US not to get involved in Ethipia’s internal affairs as history has shown that anything uncle sam touches eventually dissolves into chaos. Recall Libya? Or Afghanistan, Yemen, and other places?

  2. Ted Haile

    July 19, 2021 at 11:17 pm

    Thank you for speaking the Truth. I also believe that US should not get involved in Ethiopia’s internal matters. It will not help the people of Ethiopia nor US citizens.
    ON another note,Please lecture Rubin he lacks the knowledge to judge Dr. Abiy.
    The article he wrote sounds written by TPLF & TPLF’s propaganda. As a scholar, you should know the consequence of WAR specially in Ethiopia. If his intent is to put TPLF back in power, I got news for him that is not gonna happen.

  3. Gnuts

    July 20, 2021 at 12:05 am

    You are a joke! Everything you are saying is the opposite! Not surprised but quite shameful!

  4. Amhara Ethiopia

    July 20, 2021 at 1:26 am

    This is hate speech totally. And accept my revenge. You are supper idiot. ?

  5. Eli

    July 20, 2021 at 2:00 am

    And you are a scholar? You are such an irresponsible person and disseminating such a dangerous lie. If you can’t analyze your sources really well, and check the facts, what makes you a scholar? Abiy never said any of the claims you said about the people of Tigray. TPLF and the w of Tigray cannot be synonyms.

  6. Fasil Mengiste

    July 20, 2021 at 3:19 am

    This is very sloppy. ” Would make the Hutu genocidiare’s blush” ! – clearly you’re not well informed about what happened in Rwanda. Mr Abiy referred to separating the Weed (TPLF) from the Wheat (Tigrayans) something he has referred to in the past regarding how difficult it was in fighting the TPLF when they hide amongst the people.
    Comparing Idi Amin’s wholesale expulsion of Asians from Uganda for being asian and Abiy’s closing a few businesses and arresting a few Tigrayans who were seen celebrating the defeat of Ethiopian Army in the middle of Addis Ababa seems absurd.
    Most opposition members are not in prison, this is just outright false. A few prominent ones are but there were at least thirty political parties represented in the polls and Abiy won handily.
    “Rashid Abdi, one of the East Africa’s most insightful and perceptive analysts” – besides Rashid does anybody else believe that or is it because he’s what’s available to you on Twitter ?
    The war against the TPLF is so popular people believe the explanation Abiy is giving them.
    Prior to the conflict Tigray which represents 5% of Ethiopia’s population had 250,000 troops, while the Federal army had 130,000. How is he going to blame his generals for a war that TPLF forced on them ?
    What Generals are going to try to remove a leader who won 90% less than a month ago.?
    “Abiy’s arrogance towards fellow African leaders” – WTF!!! , Has any Ethiopian outside of Haile Selassie courted African leaders like Abiy ????
    Sir, before you write on something you don’t know much about try to read up from various sources otherwise fiction like this does a disservice to your readers.

  7. Slack

    July 20, 2021 at 3:25 am

    Ha, the US State Dept ought to wake up at what’s happening in Haiti, a lawless paradise situated right off America’s underbelly.

    Strangely, antony blinken is saying nary a word DESPITE media reports that a firm in Florida organized the raid (operation assassin) in Haiti. Colombian and US mercenaries were hired by a local politician via the firm for carrying out the hit job.

  8. Anteneh

    July 21, 2021 at 5:09 am

    Dear Rubin,
    Take time to critically analyze the Ethiopian real situation, instead of writing biased information. All your points were completely copied from proTPLF medias. And, the coup you are eager to C is completely your wish for Ethiopia. Furthermore, you unknowingly witnessed that the State Department as an Entity always crafting coups in countries where their governments/leaders are not puppets of US. Enough is enough! TPLF has been a puppet government for you (greedy and full of conspiracy Americans) in its regime for more than 25 years. We have never been colonized! And, want to assure you that we do not accept your modern time colonization too! You might hire and fund terrorist groups to destabilize my country(Ethiopia) to realize your National Interests (mostly exploitation of natural resources from my country), but Our God is not asleep to rescue us from your always evil and arrogant plans! I don’t mean that all Americans are not Good! But, the USG Foreign Policy needs to be revised and should be aligned with the Democracy they are always talking. Please, Walk your Talk!

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