The Africa Report
Abiy forced to slow down
Go too fast and you risk crashing and burning; go too slow and you may get dragged down by inertia. This is the dilemma facing Ethiopia’s reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as the Covid-19 crisis puts the brakes on activity and thus increases pressure on the Addis regime. He had planned for elections to be held in August to get a democratic mandate for his newly created Prosperity Party and to open the door for opposition parties to compete. The polls have have now been delayed until next year.
More and more cracks are showing in Ethiopia’s power base, with regional tensions coming to the fore. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which was the dominant force in the then ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, refused to join its successor, the Prosperity Party and is pushing for polls to be held in spite of the threat of spreading Covid-19 infection.
Abiy is from the Oromo ethnic group, the country’s largest. It had never had one of its own run the country. The country’s constitution enshrines the principles of ethnic federalism and self-determination, and Abiy’s rise to power has brought those ideas to the fore. In early July, hundreds of people were killed in violent protests after Oromo musician Haacaaluu Hundeessaa was killed.
There are worries that Abiy will increasingly turn to the authoritarian’s playbook in order to deal with the unrest. He has already pointed the finger at “external forces” that he says want to destablise the country. Diplomats say that Ethiopia’s conflict with Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is nearing a peaceful resolution. That could give him some breathing space but would still leave many obstacles to slow down his liberalisation efforts and complicate the debate about Ethiopia’s future economy and society.