Abiy gives Ethiopia new hope

The Guardian Weekly - - Internatio­nal news - Ja­son Burke Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Hadra Ahmed

Abiy Ahmed, the prime min­is­ter of Ethiopia, has ac­cel­er­ated a rad­i­cal re­form pro­gramme in the vast, strate­gi­cally sig­nif­i­cant coun­try. The 42-year-old – who took power in April fol­low­ing the sur­prise res­ig­na­tion of Haile­mariam De­salegn – has so far reshuf­fled his cabi­net and fired a se­ries of con­tro­ver­sial and hith­erto un­touch­able civil ser­vants.

He has also reached out to hos­tile neigh­bours and ri­vals, lifted bans on web­sites and other me­dia, freed thou­sands of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, or­dered the par­tial pri­vati­sa­tion of mas­sive state-owned com­pa­nies and ended a state of emer­gency.

In re­cent days, Abiy fired the head of the prison ser­vice af­ter re­peated al­le­ga­tions of tor­ture, and re­moved three op­po­si­tion groups from its lists of “ter­ror­ist” or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Yes­ter­day the former sol­dier met Pres­i­dent Isa­ias Afw­erki of Eritrea in a bid to end one of Africa’s long­est con­flicts. The two men hugged in scenes un­think­able months ago.

“For Ethiopia, a coun­try where ev­ery­thing has been done in a very pre­scrip­tive, slow and man­aged way, these changes are un­prece­dented,” said Ahmed Soli­man, an ex­pert in east African pol­i­tics at London’s Chatham House. “His main task is to sat­isfy all ex­pec­ta­tions of all groups in a huge and di­verse coun­try. That’s im­pos­si­ble but he’s try­ing to.”

De­spite a fore­cast by the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund pre­dict­ing Ethiopia would be the fastest-grow­ing econ­omy in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa this year, even the of­fi­cially sanc­tioned press has ad­mit­ted the coun­try’s se­ri­ous dif­fi­cul­ties. Ethiopia is fac­ing a crit­i­cal short­age of for­eign cur­rency, only tem­po­rar­ily solved by an in­fu­sion of cash from the United Arab Emi­rates. There is grow­ing in­equal­ity, a short­age of jobs for a many grad­u­ates, sig­nif­i­cant en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age, eth­nic ten­sions and a hunger for change.

Dif­fer­ent in­ter­est groups have come to­gether to con­sti­tute a pow­er­ful groundswel­l of dis­con­tent, with wide­spread ead anti-gov­ern­ment protests led by y young peo­ple. At least 70% of peo­ple are un­der 30.

“The youth h [are] the ac­tive force be­hind ehind the coun­try’s growth. wth. Now there must be a new w model to make Ethiopia progress gress eco­nom­i­cally y by cre­at­ing more e job op­por­tu­ni­ities for the youth while re­spect­ing po- lit­i­cal and civil il rights,” said Be­fe­qadu Hailu, a blog­ger who has been jailed re­peat­edly for pro-democ­racy writ­ings.

Abiy has apol­o­gised for pre­vi­ous abuses and promised an end to the ha­rass­ment. “I have al­ways lived in fear but I feel less threat­ened when I write than I did be­fore,” Hailu said. “It’s not only his word … the mo­ment he spoke those words the se­cu­rity per­son­nel down to the lo­cal lev­els have changed.”

But not all back Abiy’s ef­forts. Last month, a grenade was thrown at a rally or­gan­ised to show­case sup­port for the re­forms in Ad­dis Ababa’s Meskel Square. Two peo­ple died and more than 150 were in­jured.

“Love al­ways wins. Killing oth­ers is a de­feat. To those who tried to di­vide us, I want to tell you that you have not suc­ceeded,” Abiy said in an ad­dress shortly af­ter the at­tack.

Since Abiy took power, there have been “or­gan­ised at­tempts to cause eco­nomic harm, cre­ate in­fla­tion[ary] flare-up and dis­rupt the s ser­vice de­liv­ery of pub­lic en­ter­prises”, en­terpr state me­dia said. One cu cul­prit could be a hard­line elem el­e­ment within Ethiopia’s se­cu­rity ser­vices – Abiy has re­place re­placed mil­i­tary heads with civil­ian civil­ians and ad­mit­ted past right rights abuses. An­other could be a fac­tion op­pose op­posed to the ef­fort to t find peace with Eritrea.

‘He has to sat­isfy ex­pec­ta­tions of all groups in a huge, di­verse coun­try’

Getty; Reuters

Sup­port­ers of Ethiopia’s prime min­is­ter Abiy Ahmed (pic­tured be­low) at a re­cent rally in Washington

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