Ethiopia’s new PM has the herculean task of reconciling his people and stabilising the polity.
It is the dawn of a new era in Ethiopia’s democratic experience after Dr Abiy Ahmed, 43, was sworn in as Prime Minister on April 2, 2018. Abiy’s election from amongst seven other candidates followed days of intense negotiations amongst members of the ruling EPDRF coalition. His choice is even more significant because Abiy is the first Oromo (Ethiopia’s largest tribe) to rise to the position since the EPDRF came to power in 1991 after overthrowing Mengistu Haile Mariam.
Of greater importance is the fact the Oromos have understandably felt marginalised and left out of the scheme of things to the advantage of “minority” ethnic groups that have tended to dominate central power since 1992. As a result, the people have been at the centre of often violent demonstrations and political agitation in the past three years, calling for national reforms.
Expectedly, the task ahead promises to be tough, though surmountable for PM Abiy Ahmed. His predecessor, Haile Mariam Desalegn took observers by surprise when he announced his resignation last February. He explained his decision by the fact that the political situation in the country was serious, expressing hope that his stepping aside might help in finding a lasting solution.
Even though scores of Oromo intellectuals were detained in the past for their opposition to the central government, they were later released after international pressure – only for some of them to be picked again recently. Reconciling the factionalised polity and ensuring that peace and understanding once more reign amongst the people is one of the challenges for the new PM. Moreover, he has to reach out to his own Oromo people through concrete measures that assure them that they will no longer be shut out of the scheme of things.
Assuaging people who have been harassed, imprisoned and chased into exile in neighbouring countries does not promise to be easy, but given the right political will, Abiy can still succeed. Oromo refugees in Kenya need to be assured of safety and fair treatment back home before considering any plans to return.
Above all, the recent turmoil in Ethiopia – one of Africa’s fastest growing economies – has had serious impact on the country’s political stability and social cohesion, and the economy. He therefore needs the tact required to assuage the fears of locals and foreigners that the country is still a worthy investment destination. Perhaps, what stands Dr Abiy in better stead to appeal to a greater portion of the Ethiopian populace is his multi-ethnic and religious background. A practising Muslim, Ahmed’s father is an Oromo Muslim, while the mother, is an Amhara Christian. His grandparents are also Oromo Muslim and Amhara Christian.
On the international scene, Abiy Ahmed needs to follow up on the olive branch he extended to neighbouring Eritrea for the normalisation of relations after the deadly, but inconclusive border war between the two nations from 1998 and 2000. In the heart of hearts of Addis Ababa, the wounds are still fresh of the 1992 war that led to the former Italian colony breaking from Addis Ababa to form independent Eritrea. It happened at the same time as Col. Mengistu was being chased from power, offering Asmara the golden opportunity to reassert its autonomy.