Ethiopia: Africa’s Emerging Giant
By admin March 6, 2019

Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most-populous country, has suffered military rule, civil war, and catastrophic famine over the past half century. Yet, in recent years, it has emerged as a beacon of stability in the Horn of Africa, enjoying rapid economic growth and increasing strategic importance in the region. However, starting in 2015, a surge in political turmoil rooted in an increasingly repressive ruling party and disenfranchisement of various ethnic groups threatened the country’s progress. Ethiopia was ruled under a single dynasty, the House of Solomon, from antiquity until the 1970s. One of just two African nations to avoid European colonization—Liberia being the other—it was nonetheless occupied by Italy in the 1930s, forcing Emperor Haile Selassie to flee. He was only able to return after British and Ethiopian forces expelled the Italian army in the course of World War II.

In 1974, a communist military junta known as the Derg, or “committee,” overthrew Haile Selassie, whose rule had been undermined by a failure to address an ongoing famine. During the resulting civil war, the military regime violently persecuted its rivals, real and suspected. This led to a particularly deadly campaign, starting in 1976, known as Qey Shibir, or the Red Terror. Tens of thousands of people died as a direct result of state violence, and hundreds of thousands more died in the 1983–85 famine. In 1989, several opposition groups came together to form the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), led by Meles Zenawi Asres of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. The government had been weakened after losing the support of the Soviet Union, itself on the verge of collapse, and the EPRDF forces defeated the Derg in 1991.

Meles led the country for more than two decades, during which he consolidated his party’s hold on power. He introduced ethnic federalism, or the reorganization of regional government along ethnic lines, and he oversaw an era of massive investment, both public and private, to which many observers attributed the country’s subsequent growth. Critics, however, say Meles was a strongman who suppressed dissent and favored the country’s Tigrayan minority. Following Meles’s death in 2012, his deputy prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, took over. Popular anger swelled in late 2015, driven by frustration over government tactics that denied Ethiopians basic civil and political rights, as well as complaints by the country’s two largest ethnic groups, the Oromo and the Amhara, that they had long been shut out of power by the Tigray minority that dominated the ruling coalition. Additionally, analysts say that Ethiopia’s land tenure system, in which ownership rights are vested in the state, has long fostered discontent. Under the system, the government has forcibly relocated tens of thousands of residents in recent years to make space for commercial agriculture projects.

Protests were triggered by a government proposal to broaden Addis Ababa’s municipal boundary, a move demonstrator said could displace Oromo farmers. Separate protests, sparked by the arrests of Amharas over a boundary dispute with the central government, erupted in the Amhara Region in July 2016. That October, the government declared a six-month state of emergency, giving it sweeping authority to ban protests and make arrests without court orders. Human rights groups accused security forces of widespread abuses, saying that they had killed more than a thousand protesters and detained tens of thousands of people during the unrest. Hailemariam’s government extended the state of emergency to August 2017, and the release of thousands of political prisoners in early 2018 did little to quell anti-government sentiment. In February, Hailemariam unexpectedly resigned, and EPRDF leaders selected forty-two-year-old Abiy Ahmed as Prime Minister.

Many observers hailed Abiy’s selection as a major step toward opening political space. He is Ethiopia’s first Oromo leader and comes from the reformist wing of the ruling coalition. Since taking office, he has undertaken rapid reforms: he has loosened restrictions on internet use, lifted much-criticized terrorist designations that had been applied to several opposition groups, made peace with Eritrea, and set out to open the country’s economy. He has also vowed free and fair elections by 2020. Since taking office in April 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has responded with promises of dramatic political and economic reforms and has shepherded a historic peace deal with neighboring Eritrea. The new leader’s aggressive approach to change has been met with exuberance among many Ethiopians, but experts warn that Abiy’s challenge to a decades-old political order faces major obstacles, and it is yet unclear whether he can follow through on his agenda.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s short tenure in office of barely one year, has showered his country with several dramatic solutions and blessings hitherto considered impossible to handle, let aside to achieve.Abiy quickly embarked on a tour of the country, conducting town-hall meetings and listening to constituents whose voices are rarely heard. He wasted little time in accelerating the reform agenda, releasing several high-profile political prisoners and lifting a draconian state of emergency. He also announced plans to amend the constitution to institute term limits for prime ministers, encouraged exiled opposition politicians to return home and participate in politics, and proposed ending government monopolies in key economic sectors, including telecommunications, energy, and air transport.

Crucially, Abiy moved to end 20 years of hostility with neighboring Eritrea, meeting three times with that country’s reclusive leader, Isaias Afwerki. He went further by meeting with leaders of over 50 opposition parties and declaring that a strong multiparty system based on the rule of law and human rights was essential for Ethiopia. On a trip through the United States, with stops in Washington, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles, he engaged with exiled opposition leaders and other members of the diaspora in an effort to show a commitment to reconciliation. For Ethiopians in the country and abroad who are accustomed to an authoritarian EPRDF that prioritizes economic growth and stability over political and civil rights, the pace and breadth of these changes are exhilarating.

Against the impressive record of achievements, Abiy’s reforms will not go unchallenged. Power struggles within the EPRDF leadership and its affiliated ethnic-based parties continue to simmer. In particular, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, representing a minority ethnic group that has exercised outsized control over the government for decades, stands to lose influence and could be a spoiler. The government blames disgruntled elements in the party and government structures for recent instances of violence, including a grenade attack at a pro-Abiy rally in Addis Ababa in June 2018. A pivotal EPRDF party congress scheduled for September could ratify Abiy’s authority and the party’s new direction. But escalating ethnic-based conflicts throughout the country—especially in the Somali and Oromia regions—also threaten to derail reforms. Nevertheless, there are also several factors working in Abiy’s favor. These include the historic, unprecedented and overwhelming popularity, admiration and trust he enjoys across the tapestry of the mosaic of the Ethiopian nation especially among youth who make up over 60% of the population; dynamic manpower potential; a massive hydroelectric power to be harnessed by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam; and, vast natural resources now led by a robust economic growth. Looking at the future, the number of factors enumerated above are likely to aid and support Prime Minister Abiy to fulfil his worthy mission of reforming and transforming Ethiopia into the much-awaited Emerging Giant of Africa!


By: Dr. David S. Bassiouni

Thanks for sharing !

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