You can’t have it all

Ethiopia: Prime minister Abiy Ahmed starts his five-year term

By Jeune Afrique

Posted on October 6, 2021 15:47

Firefox_Screenshot_2021-10-06T09-24-36.054Z Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed © FINBARR O’REILLY/The New York Times-REDUX-REA
Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed © FINBARR O’REILLY/The New York Times-REDUX-REA

On 4 October, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was officially sworn in for a second term. However, he is under fire from the international community for his government’s involvement in the war in Tigray.

On 4 October, Ahmed was sworn in for a new five-year term. However, this victory has been somewhat diminished, as his government continues to be bogged down by a war that broke out nearly 11 months ago in the northern province of Tigray.

Ahmed, whose Prosperity Party (PP) won a landslide victory in the 21 June elections, was sworn in by the chief justice, Meaza Ashenafi, in Addis Ababa. Abiy’s administration saw the victory as proof that the head of government had received popular approval and that the reforms undertaken since 2018 were supported by the majority of Ethiopians.

However, the vote took place amidst a political and humanitarian context that was anything but peaceful. According to the UN, tens of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and hundreds of thousands more are threatened by famine. This has been enough to tarnish the reputation of the Prime Minister, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

In recent months, fighting has spread to Tigray’s neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara. Meanwhile, Tigray is under a “de facto humanitarian blockade”, in the words of the UN. This situation is fuelling fears of a large-scale famine, similar to what Ethiopia experienced in the 1980s.

It is unclear whether Ahmed’s inauguration will have any impact on the ground and on the government’s offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the political party and rebel group that dominated Ethiopian politics before Ahmed came to power.

The prime minister’s office, which accuses the rebels of having started the war in November 2020 by attacking federal army camps, has indicated that some steps towards de-escalation could be taken (including declassifying the TLPF as a ‘terrorist group’), but only after a new government is formed.

“The [government’s] position has been that any change in approach to the conflict with the forces from Tigray can only occur after the formation of a new government,” says William Davison, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. International partners – such as the US, which has threatened to impose targeted sanctions related to the conflict – “will be looking at this closely to see if there is any shift in position,” he says.

Relations with the international community further deteriorated last week when the Ethiopian foreign ministry announced that seven UN agency officials, including the UN Children’s Fund and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, had been expelled. They had been ordered to leave the country within 72 hours.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “shocked” and the UN issued a formal protest to Ethiopia after the decision, which it considers illegal, was made public.

Westerners are “disappointed” in Ahmed, says Cameron Hudson, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, and this sentiment is likely to shape Ethiopia’s relationship with foreign powers in his second term. “The West will likely revert to a familiar strategic playbook: apply pressure where possible, get involved where necessary, and stay at a vantage point for better options,” he says.

Ahmed was appointed prime minister after several years of protests against the ruling TPLF-led coalition and promised to break with the authoritarian governance of the past, by allowing democratic elections.

With AFP

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