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Abiy Ahmed Ali (Amharic: አብይ አህመድ አሊ, Oromo: Abiyyii Ahimad Alii, usually shortened to Abiy Ahmed or just Abiy) born 15 August 1976, is an Ethiopian politician serving since 2 April 2018 as the third and current Prime Minister[2] of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

Abiy Ahmed Ali
አብይ አህመድ አሊ
Abiyyii Ahimad Alii
Abiy Ahmed during state visit of Reuven Rivlin to Ethiopia, May 2018.jpg
15th Prime Minister of Ethiopia
Assumed office
2 April 2018
PresidentMulatu Teshome
Sahle-Work Zewde
DeputyDemeke Mekonnen
Preceded byHailemariam Desalegn
3rd Chairman of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front
Assumed office
27 March 2018
DeputyDemeke Mekonnen
Preceded byHailemariam Desalegn
Leader of the
Oromo Democratic Party
Assumed office
22 February 2018
DeputyLemma Megersa
Preceded byLemma Megersa
Minister of Science and Technology
In office
6 October 2015 – 1 November 2016
Prime MinisterHailemariam Desalegn
Preceded byDemitu Hambisa
Director of the Information Network Security Agency
Acting
In office
2008–2015
Preceded byTeklebirhan Woldearegay
Personal details
Born (1976-08-15) 15 August 1976 (age 42)
Beshasha, Jimma Zone, Socialist Ethiopia
Political partyOromo Democratic Party
Other political
affiliations
Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front
Spouse(s)Zinash Tayachew[1]
Children3 daughters and 1 adopted son
EducationMicrolink Information Technology College (BA)
University of Greenwich (MA)
Ashland University (MBA)
Addis Ababa University (PhD)
WebsiteFDRE Office of the Prime Minister
Twitter@PMOEthiopia
Military service
Allegiance Ethiopia
Branch/serviceEthiopian Army
Years of service1991–2010
Rank13.EA-LTC.svg Lieutenant Colonel
UnitArmy Signals Corps
CommandsInformation Network Security Agency
Battles/warsEthiopian Civil War
United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda
Eritrean–Ethiopian War

He is chairman of both the ruling EPRDF (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front)[3] and the ODP (Oromo Democratic Party) (which is one of the four coalition parties of the EPRDF).[4] Abiy is also an elected member of the Ethiopian parliament, and a member of the ODP and EPRDF executive committees.

A former army intelligence officer, Abiy, since becoming prime minister, has launched a wide programme of political and economic reforms,[5] not all of which have met with favour by supporters of the federalism-based constitution/system of Ethiopia and in Tigray (which Abiy’s shake-up of the Ethiopian state that has targeted Tigrayans is seen as selective).[6][7]

Contents

Personal life and education

Early life

Abiy Ahmed was born in the town of Beshasha[8] in the historic Kaffa Province (in the present day Jimma Zone, Oromia Region), Ethiopia on 15 August 1976.[9][10] His father, Ahmed Ali, is a Muslim Oromo[11] (and had four wives[12]), while his deceased mother, Tezeta Wolde, [13]) was an Orthodox[14] Christian Amhara.[15][16]

Abiy is the 13th child of his polygamous father and the sixth and youngest child of his mother.[8][15] His childhood name was Abiyot (English: "Revolution"). The name was sometimes given to children in the aftermath of the Derg revolution of 1974.[8] The then Abiyot went to the local primary school and later continued his studies at secondary schools in Agaro town. Abiy, according to several personal reports, was always very interested in his own education and later in his life also encouraged others to learn and to improve.[8]

Education

While serving in the Ethiopian National Defense Force, Abiy received his first degree, a Bachelor's degree in computer engineering[17] from the Microlink Information Technology College in Addis Ababa in 2001.

Abiy holds a Master of Arts in Transformational Leadership[17] earned from the business school at Greenwich University, London, in collaboration with the International Leadership Institute, Addis Ababa in 2011. He also holds a Master of Business Administration[17] from the Leadstar College of Management and Leadership in Addis Ababa in partnership with Ashland University in 2013.

Abiy, who had started his Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) work several years ago as a regular student,[18] completed his Ph.D. in 2017 at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies, Addis Ababa University. He did his Ph.D. work on the Agaro constituency with the PhD thesis entitled "Social Capital and its Role in Traditional Conflict Resolution in Ethiopia: The Case of Inter-Religious Conflict In Jimma Zone State". As a follow-up to his Ph.D. thesis, he published a research article on de-escalation strategies in the Horn of Africa in a special journal issue dedicated to countering violent extremism.[19]

Personal life

He met and married his wife, Zinash Tayachew, an Amhara woman from Gondar,[8][15] while both were serving in the Ethiopian Defense Forces.[20] They are the parents of three daughters and one recently adopted son.[20] Abiy is multilingual and speaks Afaan Oromo, Amharic, Tigrinya, and English.[21] He is a fitness aficionado and professes that physical health goes hand in hand with mental health and as such, he frequents physical and gym activities in Addis Ababa.[20] Abiy is a devout Evangelical Pentecostal Christian of the Full Gospel Believers Church.[22]

Military career

As a teenager and in early 1991,[23] He joined the armed struggle against the Marxist–Leninist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam after the death of his oldest brother. He did so as a member of ODP (Oromo Democratic Party), which at that time was a tiny organization of only around 200 fighters in the large coalition army of about 100,000 fighters that resulted in the regime's fall later that year.[21][8][20] As there were only so few ODP fighters in an army with its core of about 90,000 Tigrayans, Abiy quickly had to learn the Tigrinya language. As a speaker of Tigrinya in a security apparatus dominated by Tigrayans, he could move forward with his military career.[21]

After the fall of the Derg, he took formal military training from Assefa Brigade in West Wollega and was stationed there. His military post was in intelligence and communications. Later on he became a soldier in the now Ethiopian National Defense Force in 1993 and worked mostly in the intelligence and communications departments. In 1995, after the Rwandan genocide, he was deployed as a member of the United Nations Peace Keeping Force (UNAMIR), Kigali, Rwanda.[24] In the Ethio-Eritrea War between 1998 and 2000, he led an intelligence team to discover positions of the Eritrean Defence Forces.

Later on, Abiy was posted back to his home town of Beshasha, where he – as an officer of the Defense Forces – had to address a critical situation of inter-religious clashes between Muslims and Christians with a number of deaths.[21][25] He brought calm and peace in a situation of communal tensions accompanying the clashes.[21] This foreshadowed his role as an inter-religious mediator he became in later years.

In 2008, Abiy was one of the co-founders of the Ethiopian Information Network Security Agency (INSA), where he worked in different positions.[8] For two years, he was acting director of INSA due to a leave of absence of the director assigned to the post.[8] In this capacity, he was board member of several government agencies working on information and communications, like Ethio Telecom and Ethiopian Television. In 2010, Abiy eventually decided to leave the military and his post as deputy director of INSA to become a politician. The highest rank he had achieved during his military career was that of a Lieutenant Colonel.[19][21]

Political career

Member of Parliament

He started his political career as a member of the ODP (Oromo Democratic Party).[26] The ODP is the ruling party in Oromia Region since 1991 and also one of four coalition parties of the ruling coalition in Ethiopia, the EPRDF (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front). He became a member of the central committee of ODP and congress member of the Executive Committee of the EPRDF – in quick succession.[21]

 
Religious Forum for Peace with Abiy Ahmed (2010)

In the 2010 national election, Abiy represented the woreda of Agaro and became an elected member of the House of Peoples' Representatives, the lower chamber of the Ethiopian Federal Parliamentary Assembly. Before and during his time of parliamentary service, there were several religious clashes among Muslims and Christians in Jimma zone. Some of these confrontations turned violent and resulted in the loss of life and property. Abiy, as an elected member of parliament took a proactive role in working with several religious institutions and elders to bring about reconciliation in the zone. He was then setting up a forum entitled "Religious Forum for Peace", an outcome of the need to devise a sustainable resolution mechanism to restore peaceful Muslim-Christian community interaction in the region.[19]

In 2014, during his time in parliament, Abiy became the Director General of a new and in 2011 founded Government Research Institute called Science and Technology Information Center (STIC).[8][27] The year after, in 2015, Abiy became an executive member of ODP. The same year he was re-elected to the House of Peoples' Representatives for a second term, this time for his home woreda of Gomma.

Rise to power

Starting from 2015, Abiy became one of the central figures in the violent fight against illegal land-grabbing activities in Oromia Region and especially around Addis Ababa. Although the Addis Ababa Master Plan at the heart of the land-grabbing plans was stopped in 2016, the disputes continued for some time resulting in injuries and deaths.[28] It was this fight against land-grabbing, that finally boosted Abiy's political career, brought him into the spotlight and allowed him to climb the political ladder.[21]

 
Oromia Urban Development and Planning Office

In October 2015, Abiy became the Ethiopian Minister of Science and Technology (MoST), a post which he left after only 12 months. From October 2016 on, Abiy served as Deputy President of Oromia Region as part of the team of Oromia Region's president Lemma Megersa while staying a member of the Ethiopian Federal House of Peoples' Representatives.[29][30] Abiy also became the head of the Oromia Urban Development and Planning Office. In this role, Abiy was expected to be the major driving force behind Oromia Economic Revolution, Oromia Land and Investment reform, youth employment as well as resistance to widespread land grabbing in Oromia region.[31] As one of his duties in office, he took care of the displaced one million Oromo people from Somali region during the 2017 unrest.[32]

As head of ODP Secretariat from October 2017, Abiy crossed over religious and ethnic divides to facilitate the formation of a new alliance between Oromo and the Amhara groups, both making up two thirds of the 100 million Ethiopian population.[33]

In early 2018, a lot of political observers considered Abiy and Lemma as the most popular politicians within the majority of the Oromo community and other Ethiopian communities.[34][35] This came after several years of unrest in Ethiopia. But despite this favourable rating for Abiy and Lemma, young people from Oromia Region called for immediate action without delays to bring fundamental change and freedom to Oromia Region and Ethiopia – otherwise more unrest was to be expected.[28] According to Abiy himself, people are asking for a different rhetoric, with an open and respectful discussion in the political space to allow political progress and to win people for democracy instead of pushing them.[28]

Until early 2018, Abiy continued to serve as head of the ODP secretariat and of the Oromia Housing and Urban Development Office and as Deputy President of Oromia Region. Then he left all these posts after his election as Leader of EPRDF.[36][29]

EPRDF leadership election

Following three years of protest and unrest, on 15 February 2018 the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, announced his resignation - meaning that he also resigned from the post of EPRDF Chairman. As an unwritten rule in Ethiopian politics, the incoming EPRDF Chairman has to be the next Prime Minister. The EPRDF Chairman on the other hand is one of the heads of the four parties that make up the ruling coalition: ODP, ADP, SEPDM and TPLF.

Hailemariam's resignation triggered the first ever contested leadership election among EPRDF coalition members to replace him. A lot of political observers made Lemma Megersa (the ODP Chairman) and Abiy Ahmed the front-runners to become the Leader of the ruling coalition and eventually Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Despite being the clear favourite for the general public, Lemma Megersa was not a member of the national parliament, a pre-condition to become Prime Minister as required by the Ethiopian constitution. Therefore, Lemma was excluded from the leadership race.[37] On 22 February 2018, Lemma's party, ODP, called for an emergency executive committee meeting and replaced Lemma by Abiy as Chairman of ODP. Abiy had the advantage of being a Member of Parliament in contrast to Lemma. A lot of observers saw that as a tactical move to promote Abiy to become Prime Minister.

On 1 March 2018, the 180 EPRDF executive committee members started their meeting to elect the leader of the party. Each of the four parties sent in 45 members. The contest for the leadership was among Abiy Ahmed of ODP, Demeke Mekonnen, the Deputy Prime Minister and ADP leader, Shiferaw Shigute as Chairman of SEPDM and Debretsion Gebremichael as the Leader of TPLF. Despite being the overwhelming favorite by the majority of Ethiopians, Abiy faced major opposition from TPLF and SEPDM members during the leadership discussions.

On 27 March 2018, a few hours before the beginning of the leadership elections, Demeke Mekonnen, who had been seen as the major opponent to Abiy, dropped out of the race. Many observers saw this as an endorsement of Abiy Ahmed. Demeke was then approved as Deputy Prime Minister and got another term in that post. Following Demeke's exit, Abiy received a presumably unanimous vote from both the ADP and ODP executive members, with 18 additional votes in a secret ballot coming from elsewhere. By midnight, Abiy Ahmed was declared Chairman of the ruling coalition in Ethiopia, the EPRDF, and was considered as the Prime Minister Designate of Ethiopia by receiving 108 votes while Shiferaw Shigute received 58 and Debretsion Gebremichael received 2 votes.[3] On 2 April 2018, Abiy was elected as Prime Minister of Ethiopia by the House of Representatives and sworn in.[2]

Prime Minister of Ethiopia

On 2 April 2018, Abiy was confirmed and sworn in by the Ethiopian parliament as Prime Minister of Ethiopia. During his acceptance speech, he promised political reform; to promote the unity of Ethiopia and unity among the peoples of Ethiopia; to reach out to the Eritrean government to resolve the ongoing Eritrean–Ethiopian border conflict after the Eritrean–Ethiopian War and to also reach out to the political opposition inside and outside of Ethiopia. His acceptance speech sparked optimism and received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the Ethiopian public including the opposition groups inside and outside Ethiopia. Following his speech, his popularity and support across the country reached an historical high and some political observers argued that Abiy was overwhelmingly more popular than the ruling party coalition, the EPRDF.[3]

Domestic policy

Since taking office in April 2018, Abiy's government has presided over the release of thousands of political prisoners from Ethiopian jails and the rapid opening of the country's political landscape.[38][39][40] In May 2018 alone the Oromo region pardoned over 7,600 prisoners.[41] On 29 May Ginbot 7 leader Andargachew Tsege, facing the death penalty on terrorism charges, was released after being pardoned by President Mulatu Teshome, along with 575 other detainees.[42]

That same day, charges were dropped against Andargachew's colleague Berhanu Nega and the Oromo dissident and public intellectual Jawar Mohammed, as well as their respectively affiliated US-based ESAT and OMN satellite television networks.[43] Shortly thereafter, Abiy took the "unprecedented and previously unimaginable" step of meeting Andargachew, who twenty-four hours previously had been on death row, at his office; a move even critics of the ruling party termed "bold and remarkable".[44] Abiy had previously met former Oromo Liberation Front leaders including founder Lencho Letta, who had committed to peaceful participation in the political process, upon their arrival at Bole International Airport.

On 30 May 2018, it was announced the ruling party would amend the country's "draconian" anti-terrorism law, widely perceived as a tool of political repression. On 1 June 2018, Abiy announced the government would seek to end the state of emergency two months in advance of the expiration its six-month tenure, citing an improved domestic situation. On 4 June 2018, Parliament approved the necessary legislation, ending the state of emergency.[40] In his first briefing to the House of Peoples' Representatives in June 2018, Abiy countered criticism of his government's release of convicted "terrorists" which according to the opposition is just a name the EPRDF gives you if you are a part or even meet the "opposition". The arguing that policies that sanctioned arbitrary detention and torture themselves constituted extra-constitutional acts of terror aimed at suppressing opposition.[45] This followed the additional pardon of 304 prisoners (289 of which had been sentenced on terrorism-related charges) on 15 June.[46]

The pace of reforms has revealed fissures within the ruling coalition, with hardliners in the military and the hitherto dominant TPLF said to be "seething" at the end of the state of emergency and the release of political prisoners.[47] These hardliners, centered around TPLF chief Debretsion Gebremichael, had grown to deeply resent the leadership of Abiy's predecessor Hailemariam (at times supposedly bringing him to the brink of tears), and had hoped to place a more assertive figure in the prime minister's office willing to "act with an iron fist", rather than a reformist.[48]

An editorial on the previously pro-government website Tigrai Online arguing for the maintenance of the state of emergency gave voice to this sentiment, saying that Abiy was "doing too much too fast".[49] Another article critical of the release of political prisoners suggested that Ethiopia's criminal justice system had become a revolving door and that Abiy's administration had quite inexplicably been rushing to pardon and release thousands of prisoners, among them many deadly criminals and dangerous arsonists.[50] On 13 June 2018, the TPLF executive committee denounced the decisions to hand over Badme and privatize SOEs as "fundamentally flawed", saying that the ruling coalition suffered from a fundamental leadership deficit.[51]

Constitutional reform

In his briefing to parliament of 18 June 2018, Abiy announced that he would set up a commission aimed at reviewing the divisive system of ethnic federalism, which he said was failing to adequately deal with the proliferation of localized disputes over which particular ethnicity was entitled to control certain towns and districts, potentially paving the way for sweeping constitutional reform.[52]

Economic reforms

 
Abiy has announced that state-owned enterprises such as Ethiopian Airlines are to be partially or wholly privatised.

In June 2018, the ruling coalition announced its intention to pursue the large-scale privatisation of state-owned enterprises and the liberalization of several key economic sectors long considered off-limits, marking a landmark shift in the country's state-oriented development model.[53]

State monopolies in the telecommunications, aviation, electricity, and logistics sectors are to be ended and those industries opened up to private sector competition.[54] Shares in the state-owned firms in those sectors, including Ethiopian Airlines, Africa's largest and most profitable, are to be offered for purchase to both domestic and foreign investors, although the government will continue to hold a majority share in these firms, thereby retaining control of the commanding heights of the economy.[55] State-owned enterprises in sectors deemed less critical, including railway operators, sugar, industrial parks, hotels and various manufacturing firms, may be fully privatised.

Aside from representing an ideological shift with respect to views on the degree of government control over the economy, the move was seen as a pragmatic measure aimed at improving the country's dwindling foreign-exchange reserves, which by the end of the 2017 fiscal year were equal in value to less than two months worth of imports, as well as easing its growing sovereign debt load.[55][53]

In June 2018, Abiy announced the government's intention to establish an Ethiopian stock exchange in tandem with the privatization of state-owned enterprises.[52] As of 2015 Ethiopia was the largest country in the world, in terms of both population and gross domestic product, without a stock exchange.[56]

Foreign policy

In May 2018, Abiy visited Saudi Arabia, receiving guarantees for the release of Ethiopian prisoners including billionaire entrepreneur Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi, who was detained following the 2017 Saudi Arabian purge.[38]

In June 2018, he met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo and, separately, brokered a meeting in Addis Ababa between the South Sudanese president Salva Kiir and rebel leader Rieck Machar in an attempt to encourage peace talks.[57]

Djibouti and port agreements

Since taking power Abiy has pursued a policy of expanding landlocked Ethiopia's access to ports in the Horn of Africa region. Shortly before his assumption of office it was announced that the Ethiopian government would take a 19% stake in Berbera Port in the unrecognized Republic of Somaliland as part of a joint venture with DP World.[58] In May 2018 Ethiopia signed an agreement with the government of Djibouti to take an equity stake in the Port of Djibouti, enabling Ethiopia to have a say in the port's development and the setting of port handling fees.

Two days later a similar agreement was signed with the Sudanese government granting Ethiopia an ownership stake in the Port of Port Sudan. The Ethio-Djibouti agreement grants the Djiboutian government the option of taking stakes in state-owned Ethiopian firms in return, such as the Ethiopian Airlines and Ethio Telecom.[59] This in turn was followed shortly thereafter by an announcement that Abiy and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta had reached an agreement for the construction of an Ethiopian logistics facility at Lamu Port as part of the Lamu Port and Lamu-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) project.[60]

The potential normalization of Ethiopia-Eritrea relations likewise opens the possibility for Ethiopia to resume using the Ports of Massawa and Asseb, which, prior to the Ethio-Eritrean conflict, were its main ports, which would be of particular benefit to the northern region of Tigray.[53] All these developments would reduce Ethiopian reliance on Djibouti's port, through which approximately 85% of Ethiopia's foreign trade currently transits.[59]

Eritrea

Upon taking office, Abiy stated his willingness to negotiate an end to the Ethio-Eritrean conflict. In June 2018, it was announced that the government had agreed to hand over the disputed border town of Badme to Eritrea, thereby complying with the terms of the 2000 Algiers Agreement to bring an end to the state of tension between Eritrea and Ethiopia that had persisted despite the end of hostilities during the Ethiopia-Eritrea War.[53] Ethiopia had until then rejected the international boundary commission's ruling awarding Badme to Eritrea, resulting in a frozen conflict (popularly termed a policy of "no war, but no peace") between the two states.

During the national celebration on 20 June 2018, the president of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, accepted the peace initiative put forward by Abiy and suggested that he would send a delegation to Addis Ababa. On 26 June 2018, Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed visited Addis Ababa in the first Eritrean high-level delegation to Ethiopia in over two decades.[61]

In Asmara, on 8 July 2018, Abiy became the first Ethiopian leader to meet with an Eritrean counterpart in over two decades, in the 2018 Eritrea–Ethiopia summit.[62] The very next day, the two signed a "Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship" declaring an end to tensions and agreeing, amongst other matters, to re-establish diplomatic relations; reopen direct telecommunication, road, and aviation links; and facilitate Ethiopian use of the ports of Massawa and Asseb.[63][64][65]

Security sector reform

In June 2018, Abiy, speaking to senior commanders of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) declared his intention to carry out reforms of the military to strengthen its effectiveness and professionalism, with the view of limiting its role in politics. This followed renewed calls both within Ethiopia and from international human rights groups, namely Amnesty International, to dissolve highly controversial regional militias such as the Liyyu force.[66] This move is considered likely to face resistance from TPLF hardliners, who occupy much of the military high command.[67]

Notably, he has also called for the eventual reconstitution of the Ethiopian Navy, dissolved in 1996 in the aftermath of Eritrea's secession after an extraterritorial sojourn in Djibouti, saying that "we should build our naval force capacity in the future."[68] It was reported that this move would appeal to nationalists still smarting from the country's loss of its coastline 25 years prior. Ethiopia already has a maritime training institute on Lake Tana as well as a national shipping line.

On 7 June 2018, Abiy carried out a wide-ranging reshuffle of top security officials, replacing ENDF Chief of Staff Samora Yunis with Lieutenant General Se'are Makonnen, National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) director Getachew Assefa with Lieutenant General Adem Mohammed, National Security Advisor and former army chief Abadula Gemeda, and Sebhat Nega, one of the founders of the TPLF and director-general of the Foreign Relations Strategic Research Institute[69][70] Samora and Sebhat's retirements had been previously announced that May.

Grenade attack

A large peaceful demonstration was organized in Addis Ababa at Meskel Square on 23 June 2018 to show support for the new prime minister. Just after Abiy had finished addressing the crowd a grenade was thrown and landed just 17 metres away from where he and other top officials were sitting. Two people were killed and over 165 were injured. Following the attack, 9 police officials were detained, including the deputy police commissioner, Girma Kassa, who was fired immediately. Questions were asked as to how a police car carrying attackers got so close to the prime minister and soon after the car was set alight destroying evidence. After the attack the prime minister addressed the nation on national TV unhurt by the blast and describing it as an "unsuccessful attempt by forces who do not want to see Ethiopia united". On the same day the prime minister made an unannounced visit to the Black Lion general hospital to meet victims of the attack.[71][72][73][74]

Cabinet reshuffle

In the parliamentary session held on 16 October 2018, Abiy proposed to reduce the number of ministries from 28 to 20 with half of the cabinet positions for female ministers.[75] The new cabinet restructure included the first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde; the first female minister of the Ministry of Defense, Aisha Mohammed Musa;[76] the first female minister of the new Ministry of Peace, Muferiat Kamil responsible for the Ethiopian Federal Police and the intelligence agencies; the first female press secretary for the Office of the Prime Minister, Billene Seyoum Woldeyes.[77]

Criticism

Lack of transparency

With the reason of expanding the free press in Ethiopia, in 2018 Abiy invited mainly two exiled media outlets.[78][79][80][81][82][83][84] One of the invited media outlets was the far-right extremist media ESAT-TV (which had called for the genocide of Ethiopian Tigrayans[85][86][87]).

However, since assuming office in April 2018, Abiy himself has only given one press conference,[88] on 25 August 2018 and around five months after he assumed office, where he answered questions from journalists. As of 21 March  2019, he has not given another press conference where he has not refused to answer questions from journalists (rather than reading prepared statements).[89][90]

Furthermore, this power shift has created fears for Tigrayans, and already "simmering anti-Tigrayan sentiments have led to violence" people told IRIN, "from barricading roads and forcibly stopping traffic to looting and attacks on Tigrayan homes and businesses in the Amhara and Oromia regions". Tens of thousands Ethiopian Tigrayans have been displaced from their homes (or killed), due to ethnic based violence, since Abiy assumed office.[91][92][93][94]

Increasing ethnic unrest

Since the 2018 election of Abiy, around 1.5 million Ethiopians were forced from their homes by ethnic violence – the highest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) of any country in 2018.[95][96][97][98][99]

Some of the worst calamities were in the south, where 800,000 Ethiopian Gedeos have fled from the district of West Guji amid persecution by the Oromo Liberation Front. Abiy's government has been accused by humanitarian groups of ignoring the ethnic violence and withholding of aid from Gedeon refugees.[100][101]

In the north of Ethiopia, in Tigray, the cradle of the successful revolt against the Derg that in 1991 put in place the current governing coalition, there are reports of increasing anger and ethnic tension as Abiy’s shake-up of the Ethiopian state, which has targeted Tigrayans in top positions, is widely seen as biased and vindictive.[6][102]

Debretsion Gebremichael, the acting President of Tigray Region and currently chairman of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and part of the EPRDF ruling coalition, has been reported as having accused prime minister Abiy of "conducting ethnic profiling in the name of fighting corruption" and described "recent arrests of senior military officials as being politically motivated and implemented along ethnic lines"[103], and his criticisms are echoed by other prominent TPLF members and people of Tigray.[104][105][106][7] A local University law professor that IRIN talked to, added and said “there is a lot of [lies] and propaganda, and the TPLF has been made the scapegoat for all vice”.[91] Abiy has also sacked around 160 Tigrayan army Generals and much more lower ranking army officers, in his reforms.[102]

In a March 2019 interview with the Financial Times of London, Debretsion Gebremichael said “concentrating on one ethnic group is dangerous”, when talking about Abiy's crack-down on Tigrayan government workers and politicians, and the fact that Abiy is calling them “daytime hyenas" (a phrase being interpreted as an ethnic slur).[107]

References

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  7. ^ a b "Ethiopia's Tigray region plans 'Respect the Constitution' rally". Africa News. 7 December 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2019. A rally has been planned for Ethiopia’s northern Tigray regional state’s capital, Mekelle, on Saturday. Dubbed ‘Respect the Constitution,’ it will be the second such in a space of three weeks.
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  11. ^ Sengupta, Somini (2018-09-17). "Can Ethiopia's New Leader, a Political Insider, Change It From the Inside Out?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-09-18.
  12. ^ Endeshaw, Dawit (31 March 2018). "The rise of Abiy "Abiyot" Ahmed". The Reporter. Retrieved 25 March 2019. Coming from a very a well-known and extended family, Abiy is the 13th child for his father, who had four wives. He is the son of Ahmed Ali a.k.a Aba Dabes, Aba Fita. Ahmed, now a respected elder in his small town, has contributed to the community by giving his own plot of land so that services giving centers such as clinics and telecom offices would be built. "Aba Dabes, Aba Fita has done a lot for this town," Berhanu, who said that he has known the octogenarian Ahmed for the past half century, told The Reporter.
  13. ^ Endeshaw, Dawit (13 March 2018). "The rise of Abiy "Abiyot" Ahmed". The Reporter. Retrieved 14 April 2019. Abiy's mother, Tezeta Wolde, a converted Christian from Burayu, Finfine Special Zone, Oromia Regional State, was the fourth wife for Ahmed. Together they have six children with Abiy being the youngest.
  14. ^ Boko, Hermann (30 July 2018). "Abiy Ahmed: Ethiopia's first Oromo PM spreads hope of reform". FRANCE 24 (in English and translated from the original French). Retrieved 14 April 2019. ...and an Amhara Christian Orthodox mother, he was 15 when the guerilla group the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front led by Meles Zenawi toppled dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. Abiy was educated in the US and Great Britain, and joined the army at 15...CS1 maint: Unrecognized language (link)
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  23. ^ Endeshaw, Dawit (31 March 2018). "The rise of Abiy "Abiyot" Ahmed". The Reporter. Retrieved 25 March 2019. For some time the EPRDF, was in talks with the OLF; in fact, the later was part of the then transitional government. OLF was, at the time, very popular in Oromia region. However, the peaceful talks failed to bear fruit as things turn to become violent. That was when alternative forces like the Oromo People's Democratic Organization (OPDO) came to the fore.
    According to people who witnessed that critical period, the OLF had strong support in Agaro like most parts of Oromia region.
    It was at that time that Abiy's family was directly affected by the political transition in the country. Abiy's father and his eldest son, Kedir Ahmed, were arrested for some time.
    Unfortunately, Kedir was killed during that time in what was believed to be a politically motivated assassination, according to people close to the family.
    By the time, Agaro, which now has a population of, 41,085, was believed to be a stronghold of the OLF.
    "I think losing his brother at that age was a turning point in Abiy's life," Miftah Hudin Aba Jebel, a childhood friend of Abiy, told The Reporter. "I mean we were young and I remember one night Abiy asking me to join the struggle," he recalls. "To be honest, it was difficult for me to understand what he was saying."
    According to multiple sources, Abiy joined the struggle during early 1991, just a few months before the downfall of the military regime, almost at the age of 15.
    "By the time we were teenagers; Abiy, another young man by the name Komitas, who was a driver for Abadula Gemeda at the time, and myself joined the OPDO," Getish Mamo, the then member of OPDO's music band called Bifttu Oromia, told The Reporter. "We were also close with Abadula Gemeda." Abadula was one of the founders of the OPDO and current speaker of the House of People's Representatives.
    Abiy, at the time, was working as a radio operator, according to Getish.
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  79. ^ "Ethiopia drops charges against two foreign based media organizations, two individuals". FanaBC. 29 May 2018. Retrieved 31 March 2019. The Federal Attorney General has requested the federal high court to drop charges against two foreign countries-based media organizations-ESAT and OMN as well as Berhanu Nega and Jawar Mohammed.
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  82. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2018-12-19). "Ethiopia: Events of 2018". World Report 2019. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 21 March 2019. After years of widespread protests against government policies, and brutal security force repression, the human rights landscape transformed in 2018 after Abiy Ahmed became prime minister in April. The government lifted the state of emergency in June and released thousands of political prisoners from detention, including journalists and key opposition leaders such as Eskinder Nega and Merera Gudina. The government lifted restrictions on access to the internet, admitted that security forces relied on torture, committed to legal reforms of repressive laws and introduced numerous other reforms, paving the way for improved respect for human rights... Parliament lifted the ban on three opposition groups, Ginbot 7, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in June. The government had used the proscription as a pretext for brutal crackdowns on opposition members, activists, and journalists suspected of affiliation with the groups. Many members of these and other groups are now returning to Ethiopia from exile...

    With the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) controlling 100 percent of the seats in parliament, the institutional and legal impediments for sustained political space remain a challenge. Accountability for years of abuses, including torture and extrajudicial killings, and opening the space for political parties and civil society remain significant challenges for the new administration. There are indications that the reform process may ultimately be hindered by a lack of independent institutions to carry forward changes...

    Ethiopia released journalists who had been wrongfully detained or convicted on politically motivated charges, including prominent writers such as Eskinder Nega and Woubshet Taye, after more than six years in jail. The federal Attorney General's Office dropped all pending charges against bloggers, journalists and diaspora-based media organizations, including the Zone 9 bloggers, Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), and Oromia Media Network (OMN), which had previously faced charges of violence inciting for criticizing the government...

    OMN and ESAT television stations reopened in Addis Ababa in June, following calls by Prime Minister Abiy for diaspora-based television stations to return. Additionally, the government lifted obstructions to access to more than 250 websites. The restriction on access to the internet and mobile applications introduced during the 2015 protests was also lifted.
  83. ^ Latif Dahir, Abdi (14 December 2018). "For the first time in decades, there are no Ethiopian journalists in prison". Quartz Africa. Retrieved 21 March 2019. ...Abiy Ahmed, who took over in April also released thousands of political prisoners and journalists and dismissed charges against diaspora-based media outlets. Those released included prominent journalists Eskinder Nega, Darsema Sori, and Khalid Mohammed, who were held for years on charges ranging from treason to inciting extremist ideology and planning to overthrow the government.
  84. ^ Bieber, Florian; Tadesse Goshu, Wondemagegn (15 January 2019). "Don't Let Ethiopia Become the Next Yugoslavia". Foreign Policy. Graham Holdings Company. Retrieved 21 March 2019. The process of liberalizing a political system in an ethnically polarized society is dangerous. During the liberalizing moment, newfound freedom of speech can easily focus on finding culprits, singling out particular groups, and bringing up repressed grievances. Furthermore, there is less tradition to distinguish fact from rumor, and thus fearmongering rhetoric can travel quickly and with fewer checks than in established pluralist environments. This is mostly due to social media but also because of a lack of reliable institutions and structures to turn to in a country where institutions have been decimated by years of authoritarian rule.
  85. ^ "Why ESAT and Messay Mekonen called for genocide on the people of Tigray?". Horn Affairs. 15 November 2016. Retrieved 21 March 2019. Mr. Messay Mekonon has called a genocide attack to such civil population, which are the indigenous people of Tigray-Ethiopia in his satellite TV called ESAT on 4 September 2016
  86. ^ "ESAT Radio and Television: The Voice of Genocide". Horn Affairs. 23 August 2017. Retrieved 21 March 2019. ESAT television, in a public address it made to the people of Gondar, on August 06, 2016, ESAT journalist Mesay Mekonnen broadcasted that "the difficulty that we (Ethiopians) are facing now is not between the oppressor government/regime and the oppressed people, as other countries are facing. What we Ethiopians are now facing is between a small minority ethnic group, representing five percent of the Ethiopian population, who wants to rule Ethiopia subjugating others and the subjugated peoples. And the solution for what we are facing at this time is "drying the water so as to catch (kill) the fish."
  87. ^ "ESAT TV, stop your hate propaganda against the people of Tigrai". Tigrai Online. 27 January 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2019. ESAT's main objective is to provide thinly veiled poisonous hate propaganda against the people of Tigrai. Financed by the traditional enemies of Ethiopia this divisive and very dangerous media outlet has been pumping out thousands of articles, cyber TV programs and radio programs. Majority of those programs are designed to create a permanent discord between the general Ethiopian population and the people of Tigrai.
  88. ^ "Press freedom in Ethiopia has blossomed. Will it last?". The Economist. 2019-03-16. Retrieved 21 March 2019. Two tests of the new opening loom. The first is the willingness of state media to give equal time to the prime minister and his opponents in elections next year. Another will be the openness of Abiy himself to scrutiny: he has given only one press conference and few interviews.
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  91. ^ a b "Power shift creates new tensions and Tigrayan fears in Ethiopia". The New Humanitarian. 14 February 2019. Retrieved 11 April 2019. ...Already simmering anti-Tigrayan sentiments have led to violence, people told IRIN, from barricading roads and forcibly stopping traffic to looting and attacks on Tigrayan homes and businesses in the Amhara and Oromia regions. In the Tigray region’s capital of Mekelle, more than 750 kilometers north of the political changes taking place in Addis Ababa, many Tigrayans feel increasingly isolated from fellow Ethiopians. “The rest of the country hates us,” Weyanay Gebremedhn, 25, told IRIN. Despite the reforms, Tigrayans say what hasn’t changed is the narrative that they are responsible by association for the ills of the TPLF. Although he now struggles to find work, 35-year-old Huey Berhe, who does mostly odd jobs to pay the bills, said he felt safer living among his own community in Mekelle. Huey said he had been a student at Jimma University in western Ethiopia, until growing ethnic tensions sparked fights on campus and led to Tigrayans being targeted. “I left my studies at Jimma after the trouble there,” he said. “It was bad – it’s not something I like to discuss.” “There is a lot of [lies] and propaganda, and the TPLF has been made the scapegoat for all vice,” said Gebre Weleslase, a Tigrayan law professor at Mekelle University. He criticised Abiy for not condemning ethnic attacks, which he said had contributed to tens of thousands of Tigrayans leaving Amhara for Tigray in recent years.
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  99. ^ "Ethiopia Calls on Donors to Help Repatriate Millions of Displaced Persons". 7D News. Retrieved 16 April 2019. ...The majority of the IDPs were uprooted from their villages due to sporadic ethnic conflicts over the last few years. About 1.5 million of them were displaced after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in April last year.
  100. ^ Gardner, Tom (14 March 2019). "Shadow falls over Ethiopia reforms as warnings of crisis go unheeded". The Guardian. London, UK. Retrieved 23 March 2019. As for Abiy himself, his gravest sin seems to be one of omission. He has not visited camps housing displaced people in Gedeo or Guji (or, reportedly, anywhere in the country) since he took office. He has, rightly, turned away from the authoritarianism of his predecessors, but has failed to get to grips with the security crisis that emerged in its stead. The more cynical aid workers I spoke to suggested he and those around him simply want to "erase" the issue of displaced people before it spoils the new administration's international image.
  101. ^ "Humanitarian Action for Children: ETHIOPIA". United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund. Retrieved 16 April 2019. ... Refugees and internally displaced persons, particularly women and girls, require protection assistance due to reports of the inequitable distribution of humanitarian resources based on ethnicity, as well as violence, rape and intimidation. Protection monitoring remains limited in Ethiopia. Seasonal climate-related floods and droughts affect specific regions, compounding acute food insecurity, malnutrition and water shortages, mostly in pastoral and highland areas.
  102. ^ a b Fick, Maggie (16 December 2018). "'Nobody will kneel': Tigrayans defiant as Ethiopian leader cracks down". Reuters. Retrieved 23 March 2019. In the birthplace of the armed struggle that propelled Ethiopia's ruling coalition to power 27 years ago, there is growing anger as the country's new prime minister stages a crackdown on the region's once-powerful leaders...
    Now many leading Tigrayans are being detained or sidelined as reformist prime minister, Abiy Ahmed attempts to draw a line under past abuses. One adviser to Abiy told Reuters that the prime minister has sacked 160 army generals for actions he said amount to "state terrorism".
  103. ^ "Ethiopia PM conducting political, ethnic witch-hunt - Tigray chair". Africa News. 20 November 2018. Retrieved 23 March 2019. While they should have gone after an individual, they went after an ethnic group and a party...
    "The arrests… targeting individuals accused of corruption and human rights has veered from course and is being used to bring Tigrayan people to their knees," Debretsion claimed.
  104. ^ Fick, Maggie (16 December 2018). "'Nobody will kneel': Tigrayans defiant as Ethiopian leader cracks down". Reuters. Retrieved 26 March 2019. "There are efforts to corner the people of Tigray," said Getachew Reda, a senior Tigrayan politician and EPRDF member who served as communications minister under Abiy's predecessor. "But we don't believe that's going to work because we are steeped in the tradition not just of defending ourselves but also rising up to whatever challenge".
    He accused Abiy, a member of the country's largest ethnic group, the Oromo, of selective justice.
    Tigrayans were angered when 60 officials, many of them from their region, were detained for suspected human rights abuses and corruption, he said. These included senior executives at the army-run METEC industrial conglomerate.
    "Abiy controls the international narrative but not necessarily the country," Getachew said.
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  107. ^ "Ethiopian ethnic rivalries threaten Abiy Ahmed's reform agenda". Financial Times. 27 March 2019. Retrieved 11 April 2019. ... “Concentrating on one ethnic group is dangerous,” said Debretsion Gebremichael, acting president of the Tigray region, who added that Mr Abiy’s crackdown on corruption had an anti-Tigrayan bias. Adding that he initially opposed Mr Abiy’s selection as chairman of the ruling coalition and hence prime minister last year, he said: “I told him: ‘You are immature. You are not the right candidate’....Mr Abiy identifies as Oromo, the largest ethnic group with 35 per cent of Ethiopia’s population. The first prime minister in the nation’s history from Oromia, he is accused of stirring tensions by calling his political opponents “daytime hyenas”, a phrase interpreted by some Tigrayans as an ethnic slur. ”

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Hailemariam Desalegn
Prime Minister of Ethiopia
2018–present
Incumbent