Ethiopia’s prime minister appointed a new army chief of staff with a specialist’s background on Eritrea, days after authorities said they’d implement a peace deal with their Horn of Africa neighbor and long-standing foe.
The appointment of Seare Mekonnen marks the first change at the top in 17 years in Ethiopia’s army, which plays a dominant role in the country that has Africa’s biggest population after Nigeria. Ethiopia is a federal state designed to give autonomy to its myriad ethnic groups, and Seare is from the Tigray community, who’ve largely held the top military, security and intelligence ranks since the then-rebel Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front seized power in 1991.
His appointment was announced late Thursday by the ruling party-funded Fana Broadcasting Corp. Named one of three deputy chiefs of staff to the Ethiopian National Defense Force earlier this year, Seare also previously led its Northern Command, whose jurisdiction covers areas bordering Eritrea.
“Having headed Northern Command as well as training, Seare really understands where the ENDF are at the moment, and has the credibility as a soldier to have his judgment trusted,” said Sandy Wade, a former U.K. defense attache in Ethiopia who now advises investors in the Horn of Africa. “This is technical: choosing the right man for the job of taking the ENDF forward.”
Eritrea declared independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after decades of conflict, and the nations have been at odds after a 1998-2000 border war that claimed thousands of lives. A peace deal signed in 2000 was never implemented, with Ethiopia refusing to recognize a monitor’s findings on ownership of a disputed town. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed pledged in April that the country will “resolve problems” with Eritrea.
Seare succeeded General Samora Younes, another ethnic Tigrayan, who’d held the role since 2001.
Abiy also named Adem Mohammed as new director-general of the National Intelligence and Security Services, Fana reported on Thursday. Adem, an ethnic Amhara who previously commanded Ethiopia’s air force, was also appointed as a deputy chief of staff earlier this year.
“Defense doesn’t have ethnicity or race,” Abiy said late Thursday in a televised address on the state-owned Ethiopian Broadcasting Corp. “We should know that we die together for one country, for one flag.”
(Updates with analyst’s comment in fourth paragraph.)
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