This year’s 19th of November marked the two-year anniversary of the disappearance of Ethiopian businessman Samson Teklemichael. Dragged from his car on a street in Kileleshwa, in broad daylight, with onlookers watching, Teklemichael’s abduction was brazen and shocking.
It was captured on camera by a variety of bystanders and his cries of panic and calls for citizens to record his capture can be easily heard in the video recordings. In some of the recordings, a traffic officer, wearing a high-visibility vest clearly emblazoned with the word ‘Police’ stops and presumably inquires about the commotion.
Words are exchanged between the men dragging Teklemichael from his vehicle and the traffic officer. The latter then, curiously, leaves the men to it.
Whatever was exchanged between the police officer and Teklemichael’s abductors cannot be heard on any of the video recordings. However, the fact of the exchange’s happening, the fact that it resulted in the traffic officer’s moving off, and the fact that since the day of Teklemichael’s abduction – now over two years ago – his family have received no information of his whereabouts has prompted many questions still in need of answers.
Who is Samson Teklemichael?
Samson Teklemichael is an Ethiopian national who moved to Kenya in 2009 and had called Kenya his home for nearly 16 years before he went missing. Before his abduction, Teklemichael was happily married with 3 children, the oldest of which is now a 16-year-old daughter.
Teklemichael was involved in the export of gas to Ethiopia and, by many accounts, had done quite well for himself. The fact of his being abducted from his Bentley stands as illustrative of his business’ success. The fact of his Bentley’s being left behind while the Teklemichael himself is bundled into a white Subaru just makes the motive of his kidnapping even more unclear.
Despite Teklemichael’s obvious wealth, tying his kidnapping to obvious elements of criminality is difficult. Why wouldn’t they take the car? Why didn’t the traffic officer make the abduction his business?
The answer, activists and Teklemichael’s family members would have us believe, may lie in Teklemichael’s ethnicity. Samson Teklemichael’s passport may once have read ‘Ethiopian’ but his regional identity may be more central to this story; Teklemichael is an ethnic Tigrayan.
The conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region
Since November of 2020, Ethiopia’s northernmost region of Tigray has been the focal point of a conflict between the national government and the regionally influential Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The conflict has since managed to enwrap a variety of Ethiopia’s different and distinct ethnic groups as well as neighbouring Eritrea.
Despite communications blackouts enforced by the Ethiopian government under present prime minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, reports coming out of the Tigray are chilling. Civilian infrastructure has been systematically destroyed – by shelling and looting – by the Ethiopian national government. The area is, as a result, largely cut off from electricity and water.
The result is that in 2021, some 5.1 million people were internally displaced in Ethiopia, making it the largest population of internally displaced peoples in the world. The widespread damage to Tigrayan infrastructure, the continued conflict between armed forces and the displacement of so many millions has resulted in a humanitarian disaster.
What’s more, reports of mass killings have surfaced. In February of 2021, Amnesty International reported on the killing of over one hundred civilians and unarmed people by the Eritrean army – allied with the Ethiopian national government – near the city of Axum.
As with many, if not all, conflicts, the roots of this one can be traced back as far as one is willing to go. One can, however, point to 1991 as a suitable starting point in the analysis of how this present conflict came to be as fiery as it is at present.
In 1991, and despite that the Tigrayans constitute a small minority in Ethiopia, the Tigray’s principle political organisation, the TPLF, began what would prove to be a 20-year stint of dominance in Ethiopian politics. Under the leadership of Meles Zenawi, a former solider, the TPLF controlled Ethiopian government with a strong, centralised and autocratic rule.
TPLF rule of Ethiopia enfranchised Tigrayans above other ethnic groups. It was a period characterised by suppression and the restriction of certain freedoms. After, Zenawi’s death in 2012, TPLF rule continued until 2018 when, present prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ascended to the top job.
Having campaigned on a platform of promoting ethnic harmony, Abiy Ahmed’s regime was initially welcomed as a chance for Ethiopia to right the wrongs of TPLF rule. He was heralded as a potential salve for the burn marks and scars of the previous two centuries’ ethnic tension. In 2019, he even received the Nobel Peace Prize for rolling back previously restrictive laws and for ending the conflict Ethiopia then had with neighbouring Eritrea.
Less than a year after Abiy Ahmed’s recognition for his work in promoting peace and derestricting freedoms, Ethiopia was on the brink of civil war.
A variety of happenstances, variably linked by one or the other side to their opposing force, cited overreach as the main reason for why the situation was so deteriorated. Regardless of to whom one might want to accredit blame for the worsening of relations, Ethiopia was soon consumed by military conflict.
Of course, over the course of the conflict both sides have been accused of atrocity. However, the profiling and subsequent degradation of ethnic Tigrayans by the Ethiopian federal government has been an especially notable, and deplorable, theme of the conflict.
Multiple commentators, including the head of Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church, members of the American government and Amnesty International, have labelled what is now going on in Tigray as a genocide. Often citing reports of unlawful killings, systematic sexual violence and the torture of Tigrayans, these reporters present the picture of this conflict’s having become a smokescreen for the destruction of the Tigray people.
How does Samson Teklemichael’s disappearance fit within the narrative?
Since Teklemichael’s abduction, his family have understandably sought answers from every conceivable angle. Petitions to Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Affairs, the Ethiopian embassy, the office of Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs have all been fruitless.
Answers to any of their questions, Teklemichael’s wife Milen Mezgebo says, have been entirely unforthcoming.
The silence coming out of the combined Kenya and Ethiopia governmental offices, coupled with the fact that Teklemichael’s abduction was conducted in such a brazen manner, with little to no concern for the presence of onlookers and that traffic police officer, has cast Teklemichael’s disappearance in a very suspicious light.
So suspicious are the details surrounding Teklemichael’s disappearance that a February 2022 call made by the Ethiopian ambassador to Kenya – demanding answers from Kenya’s police as to where Teklemichael is – has done little to dispel the impression that, at least on some level, the abduction involved the collusion of either one or both national governments.
Regime change sparks hope of finding missing father and husband
The Ethiopian government is still under the charge of Abiy Ahmed Ali and, despite the present ceasefire between government and TPLF forces, tensions with the Tigray leadership and community are still running high.
There is the sense that the answers family members and activists are likely to get out of the Ethiopian government and embassy are just as likely to be obscure and unhelpful now as ever they have been.
However, the belief that Kenya’s government, now under president Ruto’s leadership, might be able to give the answers the previous government could not has given Teklemichael’s family reason for optimism.
Milen Mezgebo, understandably distraught at the loss of her husband, told The Star in October of 2022 that she was previously considering leaving Kenya. She stated that it was the change in government that prompted her to stay. The hope, she intimated, was that, with this change in leadership, answers may finally give her family peace.
With Ruto’s ascendance to the Kenyan presidency, there also came a change to the top job at the Kenyan Directorate of Criminal Investigations. On the 15th of October 2022, Mohamed Amin replaced George Kinoti as DCI boss. Amin had been in office a little over a month when the 2022 anniversary of Teklemichael’s disappearance, and it’s corresponding press coverage, came about.
Only a month into the job, Mohamed Amin may not then have had enough time to make the necessary investigations into Teklemichael’s abduction. Now, however, he has had the job for more than a year, and we know that the family has spoken to him about Mr. Teklemichael’s disappearance and their need for answers.
Samson Teklemichael’s family are now well within their rights to be demanding that this new regime right the wrongs of those that sat their seats before.
If you want to help find answers to the questions relating to the disappearance of Samson Teklemichael, consider signing your name to the Change.org petitions set up by his family and friends.
Photo credit from Justice4SamsonKE X (formerly Twitter) account.