After months of turbulent reforms in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, two devastating explosions at political rallies on the weekend were signs that their transitions are stirring up potentially powerful resistance.
The two African countries have seen dramatic shakeups in their political leadership since late last year, and the bloodshed on Saturday was a hint of the turmoil that could lie ahead as they take the first steps away from their traditionally authoritarian systems.
The new leaders of both countries escaped unscathed from the explosions at their rallies, but the toll was still rising on Sunday. Two people were killed and 156 were injured in Ethiopia, while 49 were injured in Zimbabwe, including several senior government officials.
No motive has been established for either attack, but there were many potential suspects among elements of the security forces that have lost some of their influence under the new national leaders.
In Ethiopia, the blast occurred at a huge rally to support the popular new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, who has introduced sweeping reforms. Since taking office in April, Mr. Abiy has released thousands of political prisoners, ended an official state of emergency, pledged to allow opposition groups to work freely, opened a peace dialogue with former enemy Eritrea and taken steps to liberalize the economy.
Tens of thousands of people had gathered on Saturday morning in the streets of Addis Ababa to show their support for the reforms. The explosion took place just after Mr. Abiy spoke to the crowd. Reports said a man in a police uniform had tried to throw a grenade in the direction of the stage but others had restrained him.
Most of the injured were treated in hospital and released, but 43 were still in hospital on Sunday and six were in critical condition, health minister Amir Aman said.
“The people who did this are anti-peace forces,” the Prime Minister said on state television.
He did not identify the attackers, but issued a warning to them. “You need to stop doing this,” he said. “You weren’t successful in the past and you won’t be successful in the future.”
No group has claimed responsibility for the explosion. Nine policemen have been arrested for alleged security lapses at the rally, while 30 others have been arrested as possible suspects, state media reported.
In Zimbabwe, the explosion narrowly missed President Emmerson Mnangagwa as he left the stage after addressing a rally of his ruling party in the campaign for the July 30 national elections.
Speaking to reporters later, he said an object “exploded a few inches away from me.”
Zimbabwe’s state media called it an attempt to assassinate the President. Video clips showed the blast occurring within metres of Mr. Mnangagwa’s entourage as he waved to supporters just moments after leaving the stage at White City Stadium in the city of Bulawayo.
“We will not allow this cowardly act to get in our way as we move towards elections,” Mr. Mnangagwa tweeted. “The strongest response to violence is peace. The strongest response to hate is love.”
The 75-year-old President, who was embroiled in a bitter power struggle with long-ruling dictator Robert Mugabe last year, said he has become accustomed to assassination attempts in recent years. “It is not my time,” he said.
One of Zimbabwe’s two vice-presidents, Kembo Mohadi, suffered a leg injury in the blast, and environment minister Oppah Muchinguri Kashir was also hurt. Among the others injured were several reporters, bodyguards and ruling party members. Mr. Mnangagwa visited some of the victims in hospital.
The new President, who was Mr. Mugabe’s top lieutenant for decades, has introduced economic reforms since ascending to power after a military coup toppled Mr. Mugabe last November. He was strongly supported by Zimbabwe’s military, but has sidelined the former leaders of the police and intelligence agencies and reduced their power.
The campaign for the July 30 vote has been freer than previous elections, but a faction loyal to Mr. Mugabe has remained active.
Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, speaking at a campaign rally on Sunday, the explosion a “terrorist” attack that would not derail the elections.
“Let me make it very clear that nothing will stop the elections in Zimbabwe, nothing at all,” said Mr. Chiwenga, who was lightly bruised in the explosion.
Video clips appeared to show an object, possibly a grenade, hurtling through the air above the crowd near Mr. Mnangagwa’s entourage. A moment later, there was a loud explosion, smoke billowed into the air and many people fell to the ground.
“Investigations are underway,” presidential spokesman George Charamba told the state-controlled Herald newspaper. “There have been multiple attempts on the President’s life over the past five years.”
Last year, Mr. Mnangagwa said he had been the victim of a poisoning plot that required him to be airlifted to South Africa for treatment. The incident occurred in August when he was vice-president and was in a bitter feud with Mr. Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe, who remains unofficial leader of a faction opposing him.