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Abiy's year one: Ethiopia's best hope for stability

10 105 660
02.04.2019

On April 2, 2018, the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) elected Abiy Ahmed, a little-known reformist leader from the Oromo community, as prime minister, setting the stage for dramatic political and economic liberalisation.

A year on, the early euphoria, dubbed Abiymania by the Economist, is giving way to ambivalence and incertitude. But, on balance, Abiy's accomplishments over the past year are nothing short of a miracle.

Given Ethiopia's gargantuan societal divisions and the breadth and depth of its problems, sustaining such a trajectory takes supernatural abilities. And no man can measure up to that challenge. However, to stay on this hopeful path, his administration now needs to deepen democratic practices and institutionalise the sweeping political and economic reforms.

Abiy, 42, a former army colonel and intelligence officer owes his meteoric rise to power to four years of street protests mostly by Oromo, later joined by Amhara, youth activists calling for democratisation and an end to economic marginalisation.

Prime Minister Abiy took over a deeply divided coalition and a country facing myriad political, security and humanitarian crises. The second state of emergency in as many years was still in full swing. Tens of thousands were imprisoned in political cases, including journalists. The country had to provide for some 2.4 million IDPs, the highest in its history of torture.

Abiy's appointment, following a bitter internal power struggle inside the EPRDF, was greeted with unprecedented optimism and hope across Ethiopia and around the world. Exiled EPRDF opponents, hitherto proscribed as terrorists, were invited to return home and pursue peaceful political struggle. The prime minister set up boundary and reconciliation commissions to address disputes over administrative borders, to end intercommunal violence, and to reckon with the abuses of the past regime.

He quickly lifted the martial law, released political prisoners and apologised for the violence and excesses of the state. He crisscrossed the country touting his bold philosophy of Medemer (Amharic term for synergic unity). He extended an olive branch to neighbouring Eritrea, ending a two-decades-long cloud of war and stalemate.

He laid out plans to partially privatise key state-owned enterprises, including the Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, and the sole telecom provider, EthioTelecom. A range of midsized state enterprises, such as sugar plantations and industrial parks, were also slated to be fully privatised. His office is reviewing the ease of doing business index to improve Ethiopia's investment climate by streamlining regulation, making it easier to start a business and boosting access to finance.

He has significantly expanded political space. Today there are more private newspapers than at any time over the past 15 years. For the........

© Al Jazeera