The end of Abiy’s hon­ey­moon

The Africa Report - - BRIEFING -

The sight of Ethiopia’s Prime Min­is­ter Abiy Ahmed do­ing push-ups with sol­diers who had burst into the ex­ec­u­tive palace de­mand­ing money in early Oc­to­ber may have pro­voked smiles. The re­al­ity – it later turned out – was less com­fort­able, with Abiy ad­mit­ting that they wanted to kill him. It is a sign of this dif­fi­cult mo­ment in Ethiopia: full of op­ti­mism and sweep­ing re­form; fraught with peril and the sense that things could so eas­ily flip into chaos (see TAR 104, Oct. 2018). Abiy took power in April and rapidly launched plans to lib­er­alise the econ­omy and Ethiopia’s pol­i­tics. But chang­ing the sta­tus quo has cre­ated both win­ners and losers. While Abiy has re­pealed ter­ror leg­is­la­tion and freed prison­ers, there are new fac­tors com­ing into play that may yet trig­ger Ethiopia’s old au­thor­i­tar­ian re­flexes. One of these is Eritre­ans pil­ing into Ethiopia to en­joy the free­dom they lack at home. Be­yond the sheer num­bers, a point of fric­tion in the past has been Eritrean traders cir­cum­vent­ing cus­toms con­trols. An­other is the man­ner in which other eth­nic groups now feel free to pur­sue their own po­lit­i­cal agen­das hav­ing seen what ben­e­fits the Oromo now en­joy, hav­ing thrown off the yoke of the pre­vi­ously dom­i­nant Tigrayans. Be­fore Abiy there had never been an Oromo premier. Con­flict has bub­bled over in re­cent months – be­tween the Gedeo and the Oromo in Au­gust, and be­tween the Oromo and the res­i­dents of Ad­dis Ababa in Septem­ber. The gov­ern­ment also has trou­bles in the restive So­mali Re­gion. For­mer gov­er­nor Abdi Mo­hamed Omer, whom the gov­ern­ment forced to re­sign and then ar­rested for mis­man­age­ment, tried to break free from prison in mid-oc­to­ber. A peace deal with the Ogaden Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front in late Oc­to­ber was a sign that sta­bil­ity there could be im­prov­ing. The gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates that the past year’s up­heavals have dis­placed some 2.2 mil­lion peo­ple. Aware of these ten­sions and oth­ers, Abiy reshuf­fled his cab­i­net in Oc­to­ber, cre­at­ing a new peace min­istry to pro­mote rec­on­cil­i­a­tion – though an­a­lysts say the early out­lines of the min­istry sug­gest it will have too nar­row a fo­cus on se­cu­rity. Abiy se­lected for­mer con­struc­tion min­is­ter Aisha Mo­hammed as his new de­fence min­is­ter, Ethiopia’s first woman de­fence min­is­ter and a mem­ber of a cab­i­net that is now 50% fe­male. Ethiopia is a frag­ile patch­work, and Abiy will have to en­sure it does not fray, or the se­curo­crats will be of­fer­ing their own so­lu­tions.

Ten­sion-buster: Abiy’s push-up chal­lenge on TV

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