The African Union has fired its chief security officer after the Ethiopian government accused him of undermining Addis Ababa and assisting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to commit atrocities.
Gebre-egziabher Mebratu Melese had been the AU’s Head of Security and Safety Services.
A memo from the AU Commission Chief of Staff to the Acting Director for Human Resources Management, shared by AU staffers on Friday, suggested his contract be terminated and his access denied immediately owing to integrity and security questions hanging over him.
Melese had been listed among 64 TPLF party members and officials, and 32 military officers who are being sought by the Ethiopian Federal Police. Police want to charge them with treason. A statement published by the state-affiliated FANA Broadcasting Corporation indicated there was an arrest warrant on everyone on the list.
The Ethiopian government accuses the officials of belonging to the TPLF ‘junta’, organising to attack the Ethiopian military command centre in Tigray, “dismantling the constitution” and training and funding militia groups prohibited on Ethiopian soil.
The list included Tigray President Debrestion Gebremichael, senior TPLF officials and Ethiopian military chiefs such as Tadesse Werede Tesfaye, Yohannes Goldegiorgis Tesfay as well as police commanders.
The AU did not immediately respond to the sacking of the official who has since been replaced by Mahamat Zene Moussa in acting capacity.
For Melese, however, the swift nature of his firing following a recommendation from his country signalled just how the Ethiopian government controls the position. Traditionally, the unwritten rule has been that the Ethiopian government nominates the holder of the post and can recommend his removal.
Melese served in the Ethiopian military before he took the AU job. He has been at the helm of the AU since 2010. He retired in May 2020. The AU, however, granted him another year on contract to allow time for recruiting his replacement, a process that had been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, Defence Minister Kenea Yadeta wrote to the AU saying there was evidence Melese is “not honest” to the AU and the Ethiopian government.
“The MoD [Ministry of Defence] is very concerned about this officer [and] that may jeopardise the relationship between AU and the country…” Dr Kanea wrote on November 10.
Ethiopia asked that he be repatriated within 72 hours of receipt of the letter.
The actual acts the official committed were not revealed but it comes days after the Ethiopian government launched a crackdown on TPLF leaders for committing atrocities and being “fugitives from justice.”
The list of those accused of treason includes politicians and security chiefs, mostly from the Tigray region. However, the Ethiopian government fought back claims it was targeting one ethnic community.
Redwan Hussein, the Spokesperson for the Committee on the State of Emergency in Tigray, said authorities were rounding up all suspects regardless of gender, tribe or religion.
“The rule of law enforcement operation does not target individuals based on identity as being purported,” he said, terming the accusations as “exaggerated.”
“We call upon all international partners and actors to be mindful of the campaign of disinformation being carried out by the TPLF.”