New Ethiopian PM Unlikely to Change Political System

The new PM will be as constrained as Hailemariam was by the dominant EPRDF

ANALYSIS
New Ethiopian Prime Minister Unlikely to Change Political System, Tackle Regional Protests

MOSCOW, March 28 (Sputnik) – Abiy Ahmed, the newly-elected chairman of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition, will be unable to change the political system if he becomes the country’s new prime minister or effectively quell anti-government protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions, experts told Sputnik on Wednesday.

Local media reported that Ahmed won 108 out of the 180 votes from the party’s council on Tuesday, securing the position as the chairman. The EPRDF and its allies control all 547 seats in Ethiopia’s parliament​​​. The parliament will confirm the new prime minister next week.

NO CHANGES TO POLITICAL SYSTEM

The election of a new chairman for the EPRDF follows Hailemariam Desalegn’s resignation as both prime minister and the ruling coalition’s chairman on February 15.

Dr. Fantu Cheru, a senior researcher at the African Studies Center of the University of Leiden, said that even if Ahmed was elected prime minister, he would be unable to change the current political system in Ethiopia.

“The struggle is not about electing a new leader — it is all about completely changing the entire political system in Ethiopia,” Cheru said.

Dr. Assefa Fiseha, a professor at the Center for Federal Studies at the Addis Ababa University, said that Ahmed would have to work in tandem with the EPRDF to implement reforms in the country.

“The question is whether Dr. Abiy and EPRDF will deliver as government and whether long overdue reforms will be made,” Fiseha said.

Cheru went on to explain that the reason why Ahmed will be unable to alter the political system in Ethiopia is due to the nature of politics in the country, where the party rather than the prime minister leads on policy.

“He will not be able to institute fundamental changes. He will still work with the institutional parameters of a dominant one party state — the EPRDF. He will have no control over defense and security matters; prime ministers do not make policies in Ethiopia — the party makes all important decisions. He will in essence be as constrained as Hailemariam was,” Cheru said.

The parties that form the EPRDF are mainly divided along ethnic lines. They are the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organisation (OPDO) and Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM). Ahmed is an ethnic Oromo, and was the head of the OPDO before the chairmanship vote.

Youth unemployment, government inefficiency and maladministration are the main issues to be tackled by both the new prime minister of Ethiopia and the ruling party, Fiseha stated.

“At the end of the day, responding to the youth unemployment, government inefficiency and maladministration are critical issues that need urgent response. These issues stand out there regardless of who the prime minister is,” Fiseha said.

According to data provided by the World Bank, youth unemployment in Ethiopia stands at 7.6 percent, while according to the African Development Bank, the average youth unemployment rate for Africa is 6 percent.

Cheru added that foreign policy would not be driven by the prime minister but by the defense wing of the government and the military.

“Foreign policy will remain the same — here again it is the military security complex that decide on the direction of Ethiopia’s foreign policy, considering the bad neighborhood that the country is located,” Cheru said.

What Cheru was likely referring to was Ethiopia’s tense relationship with its neighbor, Eritrea. The two countries recently exchanged harsh rhetoric after the state-owned Ethiopian Broadcasting Corp. on March 17 quoted the country’s police chief as saying that Eritrea had “tried to destabilize the peace and security” in the country.

ANTI-GOVERNMENT PROTESTS

Ethiopia faces another challenge to its stability: anti-government protests which arose in the Oromia and Amhara regions last year and continue up to this day. According to statistics by Human Rights Watch, over 400 people have been killed in these protests, while on October 29, the Ethiopian government announced the arrest of 245 people in connection with the protests.

Due to the unrest, Ethiopia is currently in a state of emergency, which was announced a day after Desalegn’s resignation. This is the second state of emergency since the first one — instituted in October 2016 — was lifted in August. Ethiopia’s Defense Ministry issued an order on February 16, which bans public protests and prohibits speech sowing discord in the country.

Rallies in Oromia first began in 2015, after a plan proposed by the government to expand the boundaries of the capital, Addis Ababa. The protesters were farmers on the border of Oromia who were concerned that their land would be confiscated. On December 16, 2015, the plan was dropped by the OPDO.

The protests nevertheless continued over the perceived ethnic marginalization of the Oromo people, who make up 34 percent of Ethiopian population.

Fiseha pointed out that the change in the chairmanship to Ahmed, who is ethnically Oromo and will be the first prime minister from the Oromia region, was a response of the party’s council to the protests arising from marginalization in the region.

“I am not sure if the cause of the protests were merely about leadership change, though that was one source. Surely the change responds to the perception of marginalization coming from Oromia,” Fiseha said.

Ahmed was elected deputy president of Oromia state in October 2016 at the height of the protests in the region.

That year, protests in Amhara, where protesters felt they were politically and economically marginalized by the dominant party in the EPRDF coalition, the TPLF, also arose.

Fiseha stressed that the protests in the Oromia region were the prime minister’s largest challenge.

“[Ahmed’s] biggest liability is stabilizing Oromia and winning the trust of other regional states,” Fisehu said.

Yet even though Ahmed, who is likely to be the next prime minister, is ethnically Oromo, he will only manage to quell the protests temporarily and will unlikely bring any substantive change, according to Cheru.
Source: by Sofya Grebenkina, Sputnik News Service, March 28, 2018
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After Years of Unrest, Ethiopia Seeks Calm With a New Leader

Abiy Ahmed

Abiy Ahmed

March 28, 2018 — Ethiopia’s governing coalition named a new leader late Tuesday night, paving the way for a peaceful transition of power in a country rocked in recent years by violent protests.

Abiy Ahmed, who is expected to become the country’s next prime minister, would be the first member of the Oromo ethnic group, which makes up a third of Ethiopia’s population, to lead the government. The group, which has suffered political and economic repression, has been at the center of protests demanding more economic opportunities and greater freedom of expression.

The country has been in a state of emergency since the former prime minister’s resignation in February.

The choice of Mr. Abiy was widely seen as a move to maintain stability in Ethiopia, which has East Africa’s largest economy and is a critical player in the regional fight against terrorism.

“The short term significance of this choice is that it will calm things down,” said Mekonnen Mengesha, a political analyst and professor at Wolkite University, which is about 100 miles outside of Addis Ababa, the capital. “But in the long run the main question is, is this move just shuffling leaders, or is it a systematic change from the administration?”

Mr. Mekonnen said Mr. Abiy would face many challenges in unifying and leading the country.

“It will be a struggle to change the status quo,” he said. “He is energetic and reformist, but that could also shake the government.”

A movement for change began in 2015 with street protests in the Oromia region, which includes Addis Ababa, and spread to other regions unhappy with the dominant party’s grip on economic and political power. At least 700 people have died in the protests.

Earlier this year, Ethiopia’s governing coalition had made concessions to popular demands for change, releasing hundreds of political prisoners, a move championed by Oromo activists.

The resignation in February of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, was widely viewed as an acknowledgment that those concessions had not gone far enough — making it virtually inevitable, experts said, that the next prime minister would come from the Oromo group.

Although the country is led by a coalition of four parties, the minority Tigrayan party has long been seen as controlling the political and economic life of Ethiopia.

Mr. Abiy, 41, was named the leader of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization, one of the four parties in the coalition just last month. Young and charismatic, he delivers public statements in multiple languages, including English, to appeal to people beyond his own ethnic group.

“Abiy was probably the most popular candidate, the most favored candidate, by the public, broadly speaking,” said Hallelujah Lulie, a political analyst in Addis Ababa.

That support has come in part because of the welcoming way in which Mr. Abiy has spoken about the street protests and demands for change, Mr. Hallelujah said — but he has always done so as a political insider, equally attuned to the demands of power inside the governing coalition.

Previously, Mr. Abiy has been a soldier, an intelligence officer and a minister of science and technology, as well as the vice president of the Oromia region.

The news was greeted with unexpected calm across Ethiopia, and with hope that life — and business — will go back to normal. Leaders of large companies have complained that foreign exchange has been difficult to come by, making business and investment difficult.

“Our businesses were crumbling,” said Daniel Gebre, who runs an electronics maintenance shop in Addis Ababa. “It was very difficult to do anything because the roads were blocked and there was a shortage of goods.”

Mr. Abiy’s appointment as prime minister will become official with the approval of Parliament, expected in the next two weeks.

Mr. Mekonnen said the first real signs of the new prime minister’s strength and intentions would come when he named his cabinet — and if he decided to lift the state of emergency.

His handling of the security agencies will be equally important. The intelligence and security services have a hand in the economy, Mr. Hallelujah, the analyst, said.

Many Ethiopians perceive the security services — and the money and power they control — as dominated by members of the Tigrayan ethnic group, a wealthy minority that also controlled the governing coalition, until the Oromia protests forced talk of political change.

But some people warn that the success of the street protests from Mr. Abiy’s region may also be his downfall, because sometimes violent protests can result in changes in power.

Hadra Ahmed reported from Addis Ababa, and Jina Moore from Nairobi, Kenya.
Source: NYTimes.com Feed, March 28, 2018
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Ethiopia is on the brink, we should all be concerned

March 28, 2018 – Following the dramatic events in Ethiopia a couple of weeks ago, international media and public attention seems to have tapered off.

The lack of international attention and particularly within African policy circles is hard to explain. Ethiopia is without a doubt, a regional hegemon.

Beyond being home to the African Union, it is a security anchor for the Horn of Africa and for external interests, a broker on conflicts on the continent and one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in the region.

It is also the poster child for economic growth and attempts at economic inclusion through the largest social assistance schemes in the region despite its archaic and controlled financial system.

But above all else, Ethiopia needs to be on the international radar because of its continued failure to respect the decision on its border with Eritrea and its alarming stand-off with Egypt in respect to the River Nile.

The world and no less its neighbours cannot afford to ignore its internal situation. If Ethiopia doesn’t get its act together, we are all going to pay the price.

In short, our silence doesn’t help us or Ethiopians, or the powers that be in Addis Ababa. Something needs to be done to stabilise the country in a manner that advances, rather than constrains the freedoms in the country.

The “how” was the topic of a Chatham House panel discussion in London this past week, addressed by three Ethiopian academics currently in the United Kingdom: PhD candidate in politics at Cambridge, Goitom Gebreduel; law lecturer at Keele, Dr Awol Allo; and economics teaching fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Dr Nemera Mamo.

It was agreed that: The intense focus on who the next prime minister will be is irrelevant since the ruling coalition Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary and Democratic Front (EPRDF is dominated by the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF).

What is relevant, however, is how the TPLF manages the now obvious split within the coalition.

What then are the options for the EPRDF? One view was that for the citizens to overcome the sense of ethnic and regional exclusion, the politics need to coalesce around class as an organising principle.

Another view was that the ethno-regional federalism of the Constitution is not the problem, rather it is the non-respect for the promise of that Constitution. Real regional autonomy, with a ceding of funding to the regions, public and security service positions to the regions, would be a way out. In effect, to separate the party from the state.

A case was made for this separation by citing what was referred to as Ethiopia’s current “triple deficit” — fiscal, trade and political deficit.

That in the wake of the protests, businesses were attacked, leading to an economic slowdown, jeopardising Ethiopia’s capacity to manage its debt repayment obligations. Separation of party from state therefore will deal with political and also economic instability.

The conclusion was that the EPRDF and the TPLF must use the Constitution as it was intended and enable genuine decentralisation.

That the powers that be should understand that freedom will also liberate the EPRDF, and those outside the country vouching for stability over democracy must understand that what pertains now is neither stability nor democracy.

That Ethiopia’s prospects are dire if stability and democracy are not prioritised.
Source: by L. Muthoni Wanyeki, The East African, March 28, 2018
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Ethiopia Completes Historic Leadership Change

World’s fastest-growing economy announces new prime minister from aggrieved ethnic group to soothe unrest

March 28, 2018 – Ethiopia’s ruling party chose a new prime minister, selecting a young politician from one of the country’s most marginalized ethnic groups in a bid for national reconciliation, in the world’s fastest-growing economy that has been threatened by domestic unrest.

After weeks of negotiations, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front—the power behind the country’s one-party authoritarian rule—late Tuesday picked Abiy Ahmed, a 42-year-old engineer to lead the party and the country.

Mr. Ahmed is relatively untested, having served just one year as a minister of Science and Technology under the outgoing prime minister. But he has represented in regional parliament the Oromos, an ethnic group that is Ethiopia’s largest, but most marginalized.

His selection ends a process that unnerved Ethiopia’s neighbors and investors, coming nearly two months after the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Mr. Desalegn’s departure presented the world’s fastest-growing economy with its first-ever leadership change that wasn’t precipitated by conflict or the demise of a leader.

Soon after Mr. Desalegn’s resignation, the EPRDF imposed a draconian state of emergency in an effort to stifle dissent as it decided on its own, and the country’s, future. Government security forces cracked down on freedoms of movement and free speech, and arrested opposition figures.

Now, the choice of Mr. Ahmed could reassure those worried that Ethiopia—a pivotal country that is a major Western ally in terrorism and migration and has been the target of large-scale investment from China—would succumb to ethnic conflict.

The Oromo group, which represents up to 40% of the population, and other smaller ones have protested, sometimes violently, their exclusion from Ethiopia’s growing prosperity, and have seen their leaders incarcerated. Many hope Mr. Ahmed can now heal those rifts.

This delicate transition will determine whether the country, which just 30 years ago was a byword for famine and poverty, can continue its economic miracle.

Today Ethiopia is a regional leader in East Africa, and the host of the African Union headquarters. It is Africa’s second-most populous nation after Nigeria with 100 million people, and was the world’s fastest-growing economy last year, expanding by 9.5%.

A top destination for foreign direct investment in Africa, Ethiopia has attracted keen interest from international businesses. It has posted an average 9% annual growth rate in recent years despite tight government control over its economy, drought and outbursts of violent protest.

The state controls key industries like finance and retail, but private investors have been piling in other areas including health care and construction.

The challenge facing Mr. Ahmed lies in keeping Ethiopia on its path of rapid economic growth to lift millions out of poverty and create jobs for a burgeoning young population. The country, whose state-reported unemployment rate is around 17% but has many more jobless who aren’t counted in official statistics, has a median age of just 18.

The new premier must also effect political participation reforms that will quell the social and ethnic unrest that over the past two years has left hundreds dead and led to the destruction of businesses, some owned by foreign investors.

If it fails to reform, Ethiopia risks succumbing to the kind of instability that plagues some of its neighbors, say business leaders and human rights groups.

“It has been clear for some time that unless grievances of citizens are addressed it is likely there will be more protests and unrest. Expectations will be high on the new prime minister to ensure that reforms happen quickly to stem the potential for further unrest,” said Felix Horne, an Ethiopia analyst for Human Rights Watch.

The new leader should prioritize the private sector, particularly with tax credits for industries that create jobs, said Zemedeneh Negatu, chairman of US-based investment firm Fairfax Africa Fund.

“The private sector will be the major job creator in the next 10 to 15 years,” Mr. Negatu said.

Elsewhere, Ethiopia’s one-party authoritarian government has forged strategic alliances with the U.S. in fighting al-Shabaab, the al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia and one of the oldest and most resilient Islamic terrorist groups in the world.

The Ethiopian army is a vital part of United Nations and other peacekeeping missions in Africa, including in war-ravaged South Sudan, another protracted crisis spot high up on Washington’s Africa agenda.

Ethiopia is also a critical partner in Europe’s new strategy of stemming the flow of migrants by working with countries of origin or transit, and receives hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.N. to fight drought, hunger and other recurring humanitarian disasters in the broader region.

Write to Matina Stevis-Gridneff at matina.stevis@wsj.com
Source: by Matina Stevis-Gridneff in Nairobi and Yohannes Anberbir in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, The Wall Street Journal Online, March 28, 2018
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