Restoring order, trust in government and the sense of optimism about Ethiopia’s domestic transformation and regional ascendancy is surely the new leader’s most pressing challenge.

By Harry Verhoeven (Al Jazeera) |

After almost two months of deliberations, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has finally chosen a new prime minister to replace the much-criticised Hailemariam Desalegn, who had served since taking over in 2012 from the late Meles Zenawi, the EPRDF’s long-serving strongman and architect of a federal Ethiopia. Abiy Ahmed, who was inaugurated as prime minister on April 2, inherits a country that has been mired in crisis for almost three years: incessant public protests, escalating ethnic tensions and growing numbers of displaced Ethiopians.

Despite the breathtaking economic growth, the enrollment of millions of youngsters in hundreds of new schools and universities and an increase of more than eight years in life expectancy for an ordinary Ethiopian citizen just in the last decade, the 100 million plus population feels frustrated. For many Africans outside the country, these setbacks have come as a shock: over the past 10 years, Ethiopia has undertaken the continent’s most resolute effort at industrialization and infrastructure expansion, generating hope that other African states may one day do so as well. Restoring order, trust in government and the sense of optimism about Ethiopia’s domestic transformation and regional ascendancy is surely Abiy’s most pressing challenge.

To do so, Ethiopia’s new leader must urgently address his biggest problem: the internal fractures in the EPRDF, still widely considered one of Africa’s most formidable party machines, but riven with contradictions and personal rivalries that have deepened in recent months.

The protests that undermined the federal state’s authority and contributed to Hailemariam’s resignation as prime minister were never a simple story of “the government versus the people”. Instead, both Abiy and his comrades-cum-adversaries know that different factions of the EPRDF have mobilized popular anger in different regions of the country to increase their bargaining strength at the center in Addis Ababa.

In fact, Abiy’s own Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), an ethno-regional party that is one of the four pillars of EPRDF hegemony, has reinvented itself by surfing the waves of long-standing grievances held by the Oromo population about their socioeconomic and political marginalization.

Continue reading this story at Al Jazeera
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