New prime minister is reinventing Ethiopian politics and he has electrified the country with his informal style, charisma and energy

By Jason Burke (The Guardian) |

Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia, has accelerated a radical reform program that is overturning politics in the vast, strategically significant African country.

Since coming to power as prime minister in April, Abiy has electrified Ethiopia with his informal style, charisma and energy, earning comparisons to Nelson Mandela, Justin Trudeau, Barack Obama and Mikhail Gorbachev.

The 41-year-old – who took power following the surprise resignation of his predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn – has so far reshuffled his cabinet, fired a series of controversial and hitherto untouchable civil servants, reached out to hostile neighbors and rivals, lifted bans on websites and other media, freed thousands of political prisoners, ordered the partial privatization of massive state-owned companies and ended a state of emergency imposed to quell widespread unrest.

In recent days, Abiy fired the head of Ethiopia’s prison service after repeated allegations of widespread torture, and removed three opposition groups from its lists of “terrorist” organizations.

On Sunday, the former soldier met president Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea in a bid to end one of Africa’s longest running conflicts. The two men hugged and laughed in scenes unthinkable just months ago.

“You don’t want to exaggerate but for Ethiopia, a country where everything has been done in a very prescriptive, slow and managed way, these changes are unprecedented,” said Ahmed Soliman, an expert in East African politics at London’s Chatham House. “His main task is to satisfy all expectations of all groups in a huge and diverse country. That’s impossible but he’s trying to do so with some gusto.”

Despite an International Monetary Fund forecast predicting that Ethiopia would be the fastest-growing economy in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018, even the officially sanctioned press has admitted the country’s serious difficulties.

Continue reading ‘These changes are unprecedented’: how Abiy is upending Ethiopian politics at The Guardian
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