Transformation and unrest: Ethiopia under Abiy Ahmed

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Addis Ababa, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News – June 18, 2021): Abiy Ahmed vowed a fresh start after years of Ethiopia’s iron rule when he became Prime Minister in 2018 following anti-government street protests in Africa’s second most populous nation.

Ethiopia will vote in the general election on Monday after witnessing rapid and historic changes in the three years under Abiy, but also the outbreak of war and the rise of ethnic violence.

– A New Hope – Abiy was appointed in April 2018 by Ethiopia’s authoritarian ruling coalition after years of unrest by the country’s two largest ethnic groups – the Oromos and Amharas – forced his predecessor to resign.

The country’s Oromo prime minister, Abiy raised hopes for a democratic resurgence early on. The dissidents were released from prison, the exiles were welcomed into their homes, and a formal apology was offered for the state’s brutality.

He also announced economic reforms, including the liberalization of parts of the tightly controlled Ethiopian markets, the establishment of a stock exchange and the opening of state industries to foreign investors.

Abiy’s first lightning days in power were not universally popular. A grenade attack targeted one of his rallies just two months after he took the top post.

– Peacekeeper – In a surprise gesture, Abiy also made peace with Eritrea after a 20-year cold war with neighboring Ethiopia to the north.

Eritrea voted for Ethiopia’s independence in 1993, but a border dispute sparked a war later in the decade that left 80,000 dead before collapsing into an impasse.

Shortly after taking office, Abiy extended an olive branch by accepting the demarcation of the common border of the two countries as drawn by the UN in 2002. He then made a historic visit to Eritrea, where the two sides declared the war over.

Abiy won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize in large part for triggering the thaw, although the award committee noted that the reconciliation process had lost its initial momentum.

– State of unrest – The opening up of political space under Abiy, however, has spurred ethno-nationalism in the troubled pockets of Ethiopia long held at bay by the former repressive regime.

The Sidama people of southern Ethiopia voted overwhelmingly in 2019 to create their own regional state, Ethiopia’s tenth. Other groups have also challenged Abiy for greater ethnic autonomy, sometimes drawing a brutal response from the security forces.

Abiy struggled to bring ethnic violence under control, including in his native Oromia.

In June 2020, the shooting of an Oromo pop singer sparked protests there that saw 160 people killed in inter-ethnic violence and clashes with security forces. Opposition leaders have been arrested and jailed on charges of terrorism.

Oromia also witnessed massacres blamed on local rebel groups. Meanwhile, hundreds of civilians have been killed in ethnically motivated clashes in Amhara, the second most populous region.

– War in the North – At the end of 2019, Abiy dissolved Ethiopia’s long-standing coalition and formed the Prosperity Party with his political allies. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF), which dominated the coalition before Abiy took power, refused to join.

The TPLF complained of being sidelined under Abiy and openly challenged his rule. In September 2020, he held elections in Tigray despite a federal order not to do so.

In November 2020, Abiy accused the TPLF of orchestrating attacks on federal army camps in Tigray and sent troops to the mountainous region. He promised a swift military campaign to detain and disarm the party leadership and militias.

More than seven months later, the war dragged on.

Ethiopia has faced censorship on the global stage as a humanitarian crisis worsened in Tigray, and troops have been accused of mass rape and ethnic cleansing. Eritrean forces, who entered Ethiopia to fight the TPLF, refused to leave.

– Electoral issues – Abiy was nominated, unelected, and pledged to hold the most credible elections Ethiopia has ever seen to secure a mandate for its reform program.

The ruling coalition that preceded it has claimed mind-boggling majorities in the previous two elections, which observers said were far from free and fair.

Voting has been postponed from August 2020 to June 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some of Abiy’s critics declared him illegitimate when his term expired in October.

The election was postponed a second time to June 21 due to logistical issues, including delays in voter registration and a lack of election officials.

The war in Tigray and ethnic unrest elsewhere are expected to make voting impossible in much of the diverse country of 110 million people.

np / rcb / tmc / dl

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