ADDIS ABABA (Associated Press)―These are not ordinary times in Ethiopia. Sweeping changes that seemed unthinkable just weeks ago have been announced almost daily since a new prime minister, Africa’s youngest head of government, took office and vowed to bring months of deadly protests to an end.
From the surprise acceptance of a peace agreement with bitter rival Eritrea, to the opening of major state-owned sectors to private investment, plus the release of thousands of prisoners including opposition figures once sentenced to death, the 42-year-old Abiy Ahmed has kept Africa’s second most populous country buzzing.
“The people have the full right to criticize its servants, to elect them, and to interrogate them. Government is a servant of the people,” he said in his inaugural speech in early April. It was unusual talk considering his military background, and he quickly found enthusiastic crowds as he toured the country.
Abiy has been called “Prime Minister Bolt” for the sprinter-like pace of reforms some Ethiopians say it’s hardly possible to comprehend a single day’s events.
On Tuesday alone, Parliament kicked off by lifting the state of emergency imposed in response to the protests demanding greater freedoms that began more than two years ago. It marked the most dramatic change yet under Abiy’s rule.
By nightfall there was bigger news: the prospect of peace with neighboring Eritrea after nearly two decades of border skirmishes and a two-year war.
Almost as an afterthought came word that Ethiopia, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, was opening state-owned enterprises in aviation, telecommunications and more to foreign investment or outright privatization. That opens the door for stakes in globally successful Ethiopian Airlines and Africa’s largest telecom company by subscribers, Ethio Telecom.
“Now I need to take an umbrella when I get into a shower so that I can grab my phone and follow these rounds of breaking news items,” joked one Ethiopian, Firew Megersa, on Facebook.
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