The real test for Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed

By Madeleine Burt

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has achieved a lot since coming into office in 2018. From freeing imprisoned journalists and lifting bans on political parties, to appointing half of the ministerial posts in his government to women and planting hundreds of millions of trees, he has brought about much necessary reform and initiative. One of his main goals is unification both in and out of the country, and he leads the way as the first of Oromo ancestry, one of the main ethnic groups that had been neglected and side-lined by the government in the past.

Unification has also been achieved in his momentous peace deal with neighbouring Eritrea in 2018 to end a war that had been going on for decades. This move was the final push to earn him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

However, Abiy’s work is a tale of two stories. In January, following the awards ceremony for the prize, Donald Trump uncharacteristically tweeted claiming that the prize deserved to go to him for his role in ending the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict and not to Abiy.

Although Trump’s comments mostly seem unfounded with minimal US contribution to the peace deal and more help coming from the UAE, the prize can still be seen as controversial, as can many of Abiy’s other initiatives and reforms.

In early 2019, despite cross border trade and families reuniting after the peace deal in 2018, Eritrea shut border crossings again with Ethiopia. Abiy’s predecessor resigned following mass protests and general unrest in a country where tensions between ethnic groups run high. Such ethnic conflicts drove 3 million people from their homes in 2018, and remains a major problem.

He has brought about much necessary reform

Revoking bans on extreme political parties to broaden democratic representation, he has let out centrifugal political forces which he cannot control.

Just recently, the kidnapping of university students that has been kept quiet by the government has led to more suspicion on the motives of Abiy, and whether his reform and change is strategic.

Ethiopia’s problems are far from solved but the prospects are relatively bright

It will be key to see how his current dispute with Egypt over damming the Nile plays out. The peacekeeper Prime Minister has threatened (potentially not seriously) water war if Egypt does not cooperate over the dam, and both countries have travelled to America to resume diplomatic talks.

The upcoming August 2020 election comes with much uncertainty regarding its fairness and how Abiy and his Prosperity Party (PP) will perform against opposition such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).

With so much potential leading Ethiopia out of authoritarian rule into reform and democracy, we can only hope Abiy does not slip at the final hurdle and support undemocratic elections. Either way, Ethiopia’s problems are far from solved but the prospects are relatively bright.

Image: PMO Ethiopia via Creative Commons

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