14 January 2017, hotel attacks in Gondar and Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

17 January, 2017 Hotel Attacks

Two hotel attacks in recent weeks are indicative of the increasing political violence happening in Ethiopia. It is a complex situation involving several ethnic and political issues that are spiraling out of control, making Ethiopia unstable. Civilians, both local and foreign, are in the crosshairs, as are hotels.

The most recent hotel attack, says Geeska Afrika Online, happened on 10 January between 8:00-8:30 p.m. when terrorists threw a grenade into the Entasol Hotel in Gondar. Some reporting says the seat of the blast was the hotel bar, which was full of people watching a local soccer/football match on television. The explosion killed four and wounded as many as 30, reports Borkena. (Earlier reports said one killed and 19 wounded.) The U.S. Embassy suspended travel for its employees to Gondar as a result of the attack.

The Entasol appears to be a roadside motel type establishment, touted as a bed and breakfast and sports bar. It is located on the southern side of Gondar and north of the airport. The responsible party has not been identified, but there is speculation that it is linked to recent political violence between ethnic Welkait-Tegede groups and the government.

(Hypothesized location of the Entasol Hotel; it does not show up as a decisive location on Internet maps.)

The government says that similar grenade attacks happened in Gondar the day before the attack on the Entasol, but few additional details were released.

Preceding the attack on the Entasol, Geeska Afrika Online and Ethsat.com report that on 5 January at 8:00 p.m., terrorists threw a grenade at, or into, the Grand Hotel and Resort in Bahir Dar. Casualty rates are unknown. The 19-storey Grand Hotel and Resort on Lake Tana is purportedly a 4 or 5 star property with 150 rooms.

Ethiopian commentators at Ethsat.com listed three possible reasons for the Grand Hotel attack:

1) anger over a musical concert at the hotel that might have disrespected recently killed Welkait-Tegede anti-government protesters

2) Welkait-Tegede disdain for government personnel who were visiting the hotel

3) Welkait-Tegede contempt for the hotel owner who is said to be close to government officials of the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) and Tigrians People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Both the ANDM and the TPLF are members of Ethiopia’s ruling political coalition. Welkait-Tegede activists are vehemently opposed to these organizations.

Abbay Media reported that a pro-Welkait-Tegede group had distributed leaflets protesting the hotel concert before the attack. The leaflets were entitled (exact wording): “Let’s not make mothers not to cry, be sorry nor curse this generation.” The contents of the leaflets were summarized by the press as saying: “We strongly oppose the staging of the music festival while the blood of our sisters and brothers are still fresh.”

The International Business Times and the BBC also speculate that the hotel attackers appear to be Welkait-Tegede groups or individuals. These are Amhara people, which are Ethiopia’s second largest ethnic group. Welkait-Tegede groups have recently engaged in violent protests and scattered attacks on a wide array of targets because they want their lands to be administered by the government of the Amhara region, not the Tigray state, as it is now. The Welkait-Tegede protests are linked to a wider opposition movement by Oromo ethnic groups displeased with what they perceive as Ethiopia’s military rule, excessive concentrated power in Addis Ababa, and neglect of Ormo concerns.

For a deeper understanding of these complex issues, see an August 2016 open letter to Al Jazeera English written by Achamyeleh Tamiru, a Welkait activist, posted here.

The Welkait-Tegede clashes with government security forces have happened on and off throughout 2015-16, with as many as 500 dying since November 2015. The unrest caused the government to declare a six-month, nationwide state of emergency on 9 October 2016. Afterward, authorities arrested over 9,000 protesters, most of whom were recently released. Shortly thereafter the mass release, the government arrested 12,500 people across the country, allegedly for political agitation.

All of this ethnic/political violence has included shootings, physical assaults, violent riots, and mass arson. Foreigners from the US, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia have been attacked while traveling by car – an American was hit in the head by a rock and died while her car was stoned by a mob on 4 October 2016. She was a biologist in Ethiopia on research.

Both foreign and local businesses have been torched as well. Bloomberg reports that a mob set fire to Dutch-based Esmeralda Farm’s flower plantation on 28 August 2016, which destroyed eight miles of flowers at a cost of $11.1 million. Flower farms run by Belgian, Indian, Israeli, and Italian companies were similarly attacked on 30 August.

Violence in Ethiopia has reached a point that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued a threat warning for multiple locations in country, telling travelers, “There is a general threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.”

Al Jazeera quoted Remco Bergkamp, assistant manager at Esmeralda Farms, saying, “The situation [in Ethiopia] is not stable enough to run a business. You just don’t know where the country is headed.” Esmeralda Farms plans to leave Ethiopia over the violence.

There are five takeaways here. First, the grenade attack on the Entasol Hotel was decidedly effective. The attackers meant to cause mass casualties and spread fear, and they did. Reportedly, four people died, and the blast radius caused 34 casualties in total. The attack also garnered multiple news headlines. Additionally, both hotel attacks happened within the 8:00 pm hour when hotels are thick with people coming and going, having dinner, visiting bars, and being entertained.

(Since the attack on the Grand Hotel and Resort is missing critical details, a more thorough tactical analysis of that incident is not possible at this time.)

Second, Ethiopian authorities suggested that these two attacks might indicate a burgeoning tactical pattern of grenade attacks on civilians, hotels, and other city targets. If reporting on the multiple grenade attacks in Gondar the day before the attack on the Entasol Hotel are accurate, then this pattern is already emerging. Grenade attacks on such locales are some of the easiest terror tactics to employ, especially when the attackers are mobile.

Third, the overall pattern of growing violence in Ethiopia clearly indicates increased instability, and an insurgency and/or a terrorist movement might be developing. Mass arrest of thousands indicates that the government thinks this is possible, too. Accordingly, the threat warnings from the British government and Esmeralda Farms should be taken seriously. Civilians – local and foreign – are increasingly in the crosshairs. Hotels, especially those with links to government entities and those that are particularly associated with foreign brands, should be considered at risk.

Fourth, in such a contentious threat environment, hotels should increase security, firstly to protect against the types of violence occurring – mob violence and grenade attacks – and secondly to protect against potential, future types of violence that are associated with more intense insurgency and terrorism. These include, but are not limited to, bombings, arson, raids, and shootings. Hotel security managers should, on a daily basis, track contentious political issues that could trigger political violence.

Fifth, in this type of hypersensitive ethnic/political threat environment, leaflets warning hotels not to stage ethnic/political activities should be taken seriously. Short of blackmail, dialogue with aggrieved parties aimed at threat mitigation might be considered, and security should certainly be increased, regardless if hotel ethnic/political activities move forward or not. Once a threat is made, hotels have a fiduciary responsibility to patrons, staff, and shareholders to provide protection.

Sources and further reading:

Tensions resurface in Ethiopia’s Amhara region following hotel attacks blamed on ‘anti-peace forces’,” International Business Times, 13 January 2017.

Ethiopia: U.S. Embassy suspends travel to Gondar,” Geeskaafrikaonline.com, 12 January 2017.

Ethiopia: death toll from Gonder grenade attack reportedly reaches four,” Borkena.com, 12 January 2017.

Grenade attack in Ethiopia kills one, injures 11,” Nazret.com, 11 January 2017.

Ethiopia: Another explosive thrown at the hotel in Gonder!,” Abbay Media, 10 January 2017.

Ethiopia: Bomb explosion hit a hotel in Bahir Dar,” Ethsat.com, 4 January 2017.

‘Foreign firms attacked’ as Ethiopia protests continue,” Al Jazeera, 2 September 2016.

Dutch, Israeli Farms in Ethiopia Attacked by Protesters,” Bloomberg, 1 September 2016.

AN OPEN LETTER TO Al Jazeera English FROM AN AMHARA ETHIOPIAN,” Welkait.com, 24 August 2016.

What is behind Ethiopia’s wave of protests?,” BBC, 22 August 2016.

Mass arrests in Ethiopia’s Oromia region days after state of emergency declared,” International Business Times, 17 October 2016.

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