Who is new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali?

The new PM is the first Oromo to head the ruling EPRDF coalition

Ethiopia: Who is new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali?

March 29, 2018 – Ethiopia’s new prime minister is the first Oromo to head the ruling EPRDF coalition in the country’s 27-year history. Some observers believe he can bring about change in conflict-ridden regions.

After weeks of negotiations behind closed doors, Ethiopia finally has a new prime minister. 41-year-old Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali is set to be confirmed on Saturday, but he has already become something of a sensation. He is the first Oromo chairman of the ruling four-party coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Although the Oromo ethnic group makes up a third of the country’s population of 105 million, so far they have always had a disadvantage against the older ruling Amhara group and the minority Tigre group. The latter have determined the country’s political and economic fortunes for a quarter of a century and control both the military and intelligence services.

The multilingual Abiy was born in 1976 in the Jimma region of western Ethiopia, the son of a Muslim father and a Christian mother. When violent unrest broke out between the two religious communities he actively engaged in a peace forum for reconciliation.

‘Charismatic and credible’

While still a teenager, Abiy reportedly joined the resistance movement against the “Red Terror” regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam. After its demise he joined the Ethiopian army in 1993, where he first worked in the intelligence service and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the Rwandan genocide of 1994, he was deployed as a member of the United Nations peace mission and later served in the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Seyum Teshome is an Ethiopian blogger and university lecturer who was arrested by security forces in early March. Shortly before, he told DW he had previously praised Abiy’s qualities. “He has been overwhelmingly accepted by members of the opposition parties. He has strong willpower, great charisma and great credibility.”

It was not until 2010, after heading the cyber-intelligence service INSA, that Abiy moved into politics and quickly rose within the ranks of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO). He was elected to the House of Representatives, and in 2016 he became the Federal Minister of Science and Technology in Addis Ababa. However, he soon returned to his native province of Oromia to take up the position of Head of the OPDO Secretariat.

At the end of 2015, Abiy found himself at the center of a violent dispute over illegal land-grabbing in the Oromia region. Although the controversial ‘Addis Ababa Master Plan’ was suspended in early 2016, the fallout continues to this day, with a death toll of thousands and many thousands injured. Abiy — along with regional president Lemma Megerssa — became one of the central figures of a newly awakened Oromo nationalism.

Ethiopia’s youth want to see action

Together, Abiy and Megerssa tried to reassure young people in the Oromia region and listen to their concerns but in interviews with DW, representatives of the Qeerroo, which means youth in the Oromo language, call for action and no more delays.”We should not let ourselves be lulled by his appointment now,” one of the Qeerroo told DW, “It does not mean that we have now gained freedom, just because he is an Oromo, “We young people want a fundamental change, and if that does not happen we Qeerroo will rise up again.”

Mulatu Gemechu, vice-president of the seven-party opposition coalition Medrek, told DW the path won’t be easy for Abiy. “There will certainly be many demands from the public now,” he said, “And we can only hope that the EPRDF is ready to fulfill them.”

Political commentator Mengistu Assefa expressed reservations about Abiy, saying: “I do not think he can bring a big change.” What is needed, he said, is a change of government to bring about fundamental political change. “I would like to ask him if he would lift the current state of emergency and bring to justice the brutal armed forces.”

Opposition politician from the Arena Tigray party, Abraha Desta, is a bit more optimistic. “It could well be that the new leader [of the EPRDF] manages to expand the political space,” he told DW, “This would be very important for the political process in our country.”

A new approach

Human rights groups in Ethiopia and beyond are now calling for a swift national dialogue. Fisseha Tekle, an Ethiopia researcher at Amnesty International, told DW she welcomes Abiy’s election, but there is still a lot of work to be done. “The past three years have been marked by uprisings, serious human rights abuses and torture,” she said, “We expect the new prime minister to take steps to alleviate these violations.”

The fact that Abiy, a married father of three daughters, is an ardent visitor to fitness clubs in Addis Ababa, is likely to serve him in good stead in the coming weeks and months. His academic qualifications should also help — Abiy holds a master’s degree in transformational leadership and change and a PhD in conflict mediation.

In an interview in late 2017, the aspiring leader said he was convinced he would be able to win the support of Ethiopian citizens, but that they “expect a different rhetoric from us.” According to Abiy, if there is to be political progress in Ethiopia, “then we have to debate the issues openly and respectfully. It’s easier to win people over to democracy than push them towards democracy. This can only succeed peacefully and through political participation.”
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The world’s longest river is in trouble

The Nile River and Delta as seen from space. (NASA)

The Nile is running out of clean water and running out of time.

March 29, 2018 — As I chased the fading daylight on a drive north from Cairo toward the Mediterranean Sea, a farmer in a field off the highway beckoned me over with a welcoming smile. I was investigating the problems facing those who work the land here in Egypt’s Nile Delta. The waterway that fed Ramadan Saad’s field was clogged with garbage.

“There is a main Nile-connected canal nearby that is supposed to flow into the tertiary canal around the farm,” Saad told The WorldPost. “But it does not. The tertiary canal here has been entirely blocked by garbage disposal, and we cannot access the Nile water, which is the most fertile for irrigation.”

The Nile Delta is the final stretch of the world’s longest river, a landscape of fertile soil, farms and a constellation of towns and cities where the river fans out and drains into the Mediterranean. It is one of the largest river deltas in the world and is home to almost half of Egypt’s population.

But due to the country’s rapidly increasing population, climate change, and poor garbage, sewage and pollution management, this verdant region is at risk. Today, the river can barely supply the country’s water needs. Egypt’s population is expected to double by 2050, and with that growth comes increased demand for farms and food. So, too, comes greater pollution of the river and canals, on which farmers rely heavily to irrigate their fields.

Another problem for farmers is the reduction in sediment, which is necessary to maintain a fertile delta, carried downstream by the river; dams, like the two near Egypt’s southern city of Aswan, halt that natural flow and threaten the long-term health of agriculture near the Mediterranean coast. Worse may be to come. Thousands of miles upriver from the Delta, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, the main river’s principal tributary, is nearly complete; once construction is finished, it will be the largest hydroelectric power plant on the continent and may further restrict the flow of freshwater and essential nutrients that are vital for agriculture in the Delta.

For a farmer like Saad, all of these problems build up. Instead of having access to water from the Nile less than a mile away, he has to rely on hand-dug wells. But the groundwater doesn’t have enough nutrients for his crops. And anyway, Saad said, garbage and pollution have ruined the Nile water around here. “It is full of toxins,” he told me. “That water causes kidney failure.”

In the 1940s, there was an average of around 90,000 cubic feet of water available per person each year. Now, it is less than a third of that, well within the United Nations’ zone of water scarcity. The Egyptian government projects water availability to fall even further over the next few years, to what the U.N. defines as “absolute scarcity.”

All this is happening amidst a changing climate. Taha el-Erian, the head of water resources at the Egyptian Public Authority for Shore Protection, told me that as the sea level rises, parts of the coast are being consumed, and the freshwater that farmers need for their crops is turning increasingly brackish. As the Delta’s agriculture land becomes saltier, farming here may become impossible.

“Even after the seawalls we set up,” Erian said, “the shoreline in the Delta is still retreating gradually, at an average rate of 20 meters [60 feet] per year in some coastal cities.” Reports forecast the sea will rise more than three additional feet this century, which would likely leave much of the northern part of the Delta under water.

In the northern coastal city of Rosetta, where the Nile finally meets the Mediterranean, these dangers are already apparent. Hamada Henidy owns a small farm here, but he cannot grow crops anymore. He does not know why. “I carried out a few tests on my land,” he told me. “I am not sure why it is not fertile anymore. It could be pollution. It could be high level of soil salinity because my land is near the sea.”

Sewage adds to Henidy’s farming troubles. The authorities generally ignore sewage disposal into the river, and the banks of the canal are constantly clogged with garbage. The water is becoming more and more toxic. “Five years ago,” Henidy said, “we started feeling the pollution through the water coming from the main canal nearby, which is contaminated by chemically treated sewage disposal. And that kills our crops. The government does not care. They throw chemical waste into the Nile everywhere.”

About 20 miles away from Henidy’s farm, I met Mohamed el-Sabrout, a day laborer who works on a farm not far from the Mediterranean. Sickle in hand, he talked with me about what it’s been like to work the land here over the years. “There are around 18 clay brickmaking factory towers around the farms here,” he said. “The smoke coming out of these towers laces the plants with smoke exhaust, which eventually stunts the crops here.”

The government controls the amount of water that goes into the canals, Sabrout went on, and many farmers don’t know how the system works. There is competition between some landowners, he said. “It is a matter of who manages to get more water, leaving the other landowner most likely suffering a shortage. Back in the day, there was coordination and respect. There is no water management among us here.”

Eventually, I turned away from the coast and headed back inland. Eighty miles from the sea, in the small town of Tanta, I found that the story for farmers was no different. I met an older woman named Beh Shaaban sitting next to her cattle. She lamented the loss of a bird called the cattle egret that used to be ubiquitous around here.

The birds “have always been friends of the farmer in Egypt,” Shaaban told me. “They always helped by eating pests and insects that kill the crops. They remove the ticks and flies from the cattle as well. Now, the birds are dying because of pollution. They are also transferring diseases after eating from the huge garbage pile near the farm here. There is pollution everywhere.”

Adel Khedr and his son Ismail at their wheat farm in Tanta. (Jonathan Rashad for The WorldPost)

Next door to Beh Shaaban, I met Adel Khedr. His farm is only a few dozen feet from a canal, but it no longer supplies enough water for his crops. He dug a well to get to groundwater to supplement the trickle from the canal. But the well water does not have enough nutrients, he told me. He went on: “Its salinity is high, which could kill our crops at any time.”

Years ago, Kheder did not have a problem getting enough water from the canal. That world is long gone. “All the water and canals around us are drying out gradually,” he told me. “It seems like there will not be water here in the future. And that has already happened in other cities in the Delta.”

This was produced by The WorldPost , a partnership of the Berggruen Institute and The Washington Post.
Source: by Jonathan Rashad who is a photojournalist based in Cairo. March 22, 2018 is the 25th anniversary of World Water Day.

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