Photo: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed with Presidfent Guelleh of Djibouti on 18 November 2018. - Photo: 2019

Ethiopian Old Guard Rejects Prime Minister’s Sweeping Reforms

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK | ASMARA (IDN) – Since becoming prime minister of Ethiopia in April 2018, Abiy Ahmed has launched a wide-ranging programme of political and economic reforms, not all of which have met with favour by supporters of the federalism-based constitution and system of the land-locked country on the Horn of Africa.

In a challenge to his sweeping reform, rebel gunmen launched a coordinated assault on June 22-23 in the Amhara region. Several senior government officials died in the assault including the army chief and the governor of Amhara state.

Abiy rushed to the region and, wearing army fatigues, condemned the coup plot. “This illegal attempt should be condemned by all Ethiopians,” he said. “The federal government has full capacity to overthrow this armed group.”

Abiy’s efforts to loosen the iron-fisted grip of his predecessors and push through reforms have unleashed a wave of unrest that has displaced around 2.4 million people internally, according to the United Nations.

Abiy, a former intelligence officer has sought to deliver shock therapy to one of the world’s most entrenched one-party systems. He has released political prisoners, removed bans on political parties, prosecuted officials accused of gross human rights abuses, and re-established relations with neighbouring Eritrea.

He has also pledged to liberalize Ethiopia’s tightly controlled economy and partly privatize state-owned enterprises, including Ethiopian Airlines, one of the world’s fastest-growing carriers.

But the prime minister’s reform agenda has created powerful enemies, including the longtime old guard he pushed aside to gain power. The premier has delivered many of his speeches behind bulletproof glass after surviving an assassination attempt last year. Last year, he said, hundreds of soldiers had marched to the office to demand a pay rise and had wanted to kill him.

U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, Tibor Nagy, noted in Pretoria on June 23 that these were not the first attempts by the old guard to torpedo Abiy’s radical changes, and would probably not be the last.

Nagy – a veteran Africanist and former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and described as the “U.S.’s Africa man” – linked the latest violent attacks to rising ethnic pressures suppressed by the previous autocratic regime and now released by Abiy’s efforts to liberalize Ethiopia’s politics.

Nagy said the Tigray region was even more difficult for Abiy “because there the vestiges of the old regime are very much still in control”. Ethnic Tigrayans had dominated the Ethiopian government since the ruling EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) movement toppled the brutal dictator Hailemariam Mengistu in 1991 and until Abiy, an ethnic Omoro, unexpectedly took the leadership of the left-wing party in 2018. According to Nagy, substantial elements of the Tigrayan elite are believed to be unhappy with Abiy continuing to diminish their power. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 June 2019]

Photo: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed with Presidfent Guelleh of Djibouti on 18 November 2018.

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