The art of raising the spectre of terrorism

On October 13, an explosion occurred in a house in Addis Ababa’s Bole Michael neighbourhood, causing two deaths. Neighbours mentioned first a family feud. The following day, the authorities reported that the explosion was due to a bomb which had gone off unexpectedly as the two victims, Somali nationals, were allegedly plotting a terrorist attack around the Stadium area where thousands were gathering to follow a World Cup qualifying football match. The police claimed to have discovered additional weapons in the house and linked the event to Al-Shabaab terrorists who had attacked a shopping mall in Nairobi on September 21, killing at least 67. No evidence was however released and no one seems to have claimed responsibility.

Never short of an overstatement, the Ethiopian authorities tend to use this kind of event to raise the spectre of ill-intended devilish terrorist neighbouring states and armed groups so as to justify increasing security checks on its citizen and passing new restrictive laws. Thus, when a series of explosions targeting mini-bus and public places rocked Addis Ababa in 2008, the authorities used similar rhetoric, stating that Eritrea, the ONLF or the OLF (pick your favourite) were responsible. In 2008 a mini-bus exploded on May 20 near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, killing 3, including an American-Israeli university professor, and wounding many. Needless to say that the presence of the foreign university professor not only prompted western media to broadcast the information but also raised many interrogations locally. This bombing was followed by a number of rumours of additional explosions which accounted for the spreading of more hearsay and acute paranoia. That same year, a shop in Mercato, two gas stations and a bar apparently blew up. Those events had not much in common other than the limited number of victims (nothing compared to the idea that one might have of a structured large-scale terrorist attack), the randomness of the locations, and the feeling that some could have been accidents or errors.

Indeed, while in Addis Ababa an explosion in a restaurant can be merely due to a faulty gas bottle and a house burnt down to an old electric circuit, it can also very well be used to serve political purposes, transformed into an Eritrea backed Oromo fighters-related action, for instance.

Of course, these events could all be terrorism-related. But it strikes me as odd how authorities can name the culprits within 24 hours while never being able to prevent these attacks. One thing is sure, however, this kind of rhetoric falls right into the current western war on terror and the like. It is also interesting to see how fast mainstream western media jump on the information and make truth of authorities statements, never doubting the Ethiopian authorities statements.

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