Ethiopia: repression continues despite new Oromo Prime Minister


The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition on Tuesday voted in the 42-year-old Abiy Ahmed, a retired lieutenant general from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, to take over the government, Reuters reports:

Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous country and has had the fastest growing economy on the continent for the past decade, but protests that began in 2015 have caused the biggest threat to the EPRDF since it took power in 1991.

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,” he told Deutsche Welle.

The incoming prime minister must prioritize addressing the country’s deep-rooted human rights crisis, said Amnesty International. But repression of civil society and opposition activists continues despite the change in leadership.

Journalist Eskinder Nega and opposition politician Andualem Aragie are among a wave of high-profile prisoners to be re-arrested after they were released last month through a government amnesty that was meant to jumpstart a national dialogue, according to reports.

Some 40 civil society groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, yesterday sent a joint letter to Ethiopia’s prime minister-designate, urging him to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of recently arrested journalists, and human rights defenders.

“The re-arrest and inhumane detention of 2012 Freedom to Write Award honoree Eskinder Nega is an outrageous attack on the right of free expression in Ethiopia, and contravenes all recent positive progress the government has made toward creating a safe environment for independent voices,” said PEN America.

“Our condition in prison is inhuman, to say the least. Better to call it jam-packed than imprisoned,” Eskinder wrote in a message to friends and supporters:

About 200 of us are packed in a 5 by 8 meter room divided in three sections. Unable to sit or lay down comfortably, and with limited access to a toilet. Not a single human being deserved this regardless of the crime, let alone us who were captured unjustly. The global community should be aware of such case and use every possible means to bring an end to our suffering immediately.

Ethiopia’s prime minister-elect is the first from the Oromo ethnic group that’s been at the forefront of anti-government protests. But is he a young reformer or an entrenched military man? Al Jazeera asks.

The problems of ethnicity were supposedly eliminated in 1991 when rebels of the Tigray People’s Liberation Movement swept to power in Addis Ababa. Under the brilliant, but ruthless, Meles Zenawi a new system of “ethnic federalism” was introduced, notes Martin Plaut, a fellow at the University of London’s Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

Each ethnic group was encouraged to develop local self-government, while being guaranteed representation at the centre. A system of ethnic parties was established and nurtured. These came together in the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of four political movements, he writes for the New Statesman:

Gradually, however, each of the four constituent parties has developed its own political culture. Abiy Ahmed emerged as a key player in what became known as “Team Lemma”, which has been steering change in recent months. The team resisted Tigrayan hegemony in order to transform EPRDF from within, while at the same time governing Oromia legitimately and serving local needs. It would appear that this has now finally succeeded.

“Some cast doubt on Ahmed’s ability to lead this complex transformation, pointing out that he is well connected to the security services,” adds Plaut, the author of Understanding Eritrea.. “Others suggest that his mixed religious background — he has a Christian mother and a Muslim father — his education, and his fluency in Amharic, Oromo, and Tigrinya as making him well qualified for the job.”

Far from being a footnote in the Oromo struggle, musicians like Haacaaluu Hundeessa (above) have been its centre of gravity, African Arguments adds.

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