In a surprise move, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced his government would give up ownership of some state-owned companies, respect a decades-old peace deal with Eritrea and free prisoners. But what’s the catch?

By Abu-Bakarr Jalloh (Reuters, AP, AFP) |

Sweeping changes that seemed unthinkable in Ethiopia just weeks ago are announced almost daily since new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took control as Africa’s youngest head of government.

“The people have the full right to criticize its servants, to elect them, and to interrogate them. Government is a servant of the people,” Abiy said in his inaugural speech in early April.

The 42-year-old is keeping Africa’s second most populous country buzzing.

“Prime Minister Bolt”

Parliament kicked off a day by lifting a state of emergency imposed in response to protests. 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 part or full privatization.

That opens the door for foreign investors to buy stakes in the successful Ethiopian Airlines and Africa’s largest telecom company by subscribers, Ethio Telecom.

Prime Minister Abiy was dubbed “Prime Minister Bolt” for the sprinter-like pace of reforms. Some Ethiopians say it’s hardly possible to comprehend a single day’s events.

“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,” one Ethiopian, Firew Megersa, joked on Facebook.

Abiy, a former intelligence officer, took up his position in April after three years of protests that had threatened the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition’s hold on power.

Toll on import

But a party in the ruling coalition is calling for an emergency meeting, saying the dramatic reforms were decided on without full consultations. The statement by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) appears to be the biggest challenge so far for Ahmed.

But a shortage of foreign currency in the country is threatening the sustainability of sectors that highly depend on importation.

The Ethiopian National Planning Commission said the failure of mega projects to commence production, high demand for imported goods and growing external debt burden worsened the credit crunch.

Continue reading this story at Deutsche Welle
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