Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian reformer whose pending challenges could overshadow his legacy

The peace with Eritrea has not finished materializing in changes and tensions between the ethnic groups of the country have intensified


The reconciliation and reform efforts initiated by the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, after he came to power in April 2018 have earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of the peace agreement with Eritrea and his attempts to leave a page behind in the history of Ethiopia but they have also focused on the issues that have yet to be resolved, particularly ethnic tensions.

The youngest president of Africa has breathed new airs into the politics of his country, but also of the Horn of Africa region, betting on internal reconciliation after two years of convulsed protests starring the Omo and the Amhara – the two ethnic groups majority – but also among the countries of the region, with litigation open to each other.

Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian reformer whose pending challenges could overshadow his legacy
Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian reformer whose pending challenges could overshadow his legacy

Abiy has already left a mark on the history of his country with the signing of the peace agreement with Eritrea, after two decades of hostilities with the neighboring country, in July 2018. This is also seen by the Norwegian Committee, which has cited this step concrete among the reasons to grant him the Nobel Peace Prize.

But he has even gone further, praising Eritrea's president, Isaias Afewerki. “Peace does not emanate from the actions of only one of the parties,” said the Norwegian Committee, recalling that when Abiy “held out his hand, President Afewerki took it.” In this regard, he has trusted that the agreement “will help bring positive change for the population of Ethiopia and Eritrea.”

However, since the signing of the agreement it has been criticized that the initial gestures of reestablishing communications and reopening the border have not followed concrete measures. Moreover, Eritrea proceeded in the following months to close the border crossings.

In the case of this country, the hope that after the peace with the neighbor the iron fist will loosen with which Afewerki has ruled the country since 1993 have not materialized. “I have not seen changes at the level of the internal situation,” particularly in regard to civic and political rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Eritrea, Daniela, told Europa Press in July Kravetz


The other major commitment of the prime minister has been internal reconciliation. Thus, in addition to purging some senior officials who until then were considered untouchables and recognizing some abuses committed by previous governments, he chose to lift the state of emergency two months ahead of schedule.

One of its most important decisions has been the release of thousands of political prisoners and the withdrawal of opposition groups from the list of terrorist organizations, also pardoning members of groups such as Ginbot 7, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the National Front for the Liberation of Ogadén (ONLF), in the case of the latter two also armed groups.

As a result, some of their leaders have returned from exile and the Government has signed two peace agreements with the OLF and then with the ONLF in 2018. The latter organization has already congratulated Abiy, stressing that “his vision and commitment” They allowed the peace agreement. “We have high hopes that your commitment to democratization will succeed. Keep it up, we support you,” the ONLF said on its Twitter.

These gestures eased the tension with the Oromo, who had starred in two years of protests against the Government because they considered themselves marginalized despite being the main ethnic group in the country, but have opened new fronts or revived others.

The fact that Abiy is an oromo continues to generate suspicion among some members of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), made up of four ethnic parties and that until 2018 had led the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), despite to be a minority ethnic group. In recent weeks, information has circulated that Abiy wants the EPRDF to become a unitary party, but from the TPLF they have already warned that they will not accept this change.

In June, in addition, the country faced its most critical moment since Abiy arrived in office, after the failed attack on his person in an act in Addis Ababa in June 2018. The Ahmara region experienced an attempted coup d'etat which left dozens dead, including the regional president, Ambachew Mekonnen. In parallel, on June 22, a bodyguard murdered the chief of the Army General Staff, Seare Mekonnen, in Addis Ababa while coordinating the response.

This event revealed the internal differences in the ruling party, with an exchange of accusations between the TPLF and the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP). Behind the attempted coup was General Asamnew Tsige, a former ADP member distanced from the party, while the army chief was a tigray and was buried with all honors in Mekelle, capital of Tigray.


To these tensions could be added others in the coming weeks, since the Government has agreed to the holding of a referendum for the creation of a state for the sidama, another of the ethnic groups of the country that are currently included in the Regional State of the Peoples, the Nations and the Nationalities of the South (SNNPRS), on November 19.

The Ethiopian Constitution authorizes all ethnic groups in the country to hold a consultation for the formation of a new state, so if a new state for sidama thrives, other groups could make similar requests. In addition, the creation of this state entails the added challenge that the city of Hawassa, the current capital of the region and where minorities of other ethnic groups could rebel, are part of the future territory.

The result of these ethnic tensions is 2.3 million displaced, 1.7 million of which have been due to violence. Therefore, the NGOs have been quick to ask Abiy not to give up his efforts to resolve this situation.

“Now he must make resolving ethnic tensions within Ethiopia a priority and work tirelessly to bring peace to his people,” said the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Jan Egeland.

From Amnesty International, his secretary general, Kumi Naidoo, has hoped that the award will push him and motivate him to “address the pending human rights challenges that threaten to reverse the achievements he has made so far.”

For Laetitia Bader, Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher for Africa, Abiy’s Nobel Prize is “bittersweet news for many who expect to see real and deep reforms in human rights and a definitive break with the abusive past” in Ethiopia .

In his opinion, the Ethiopian government “could and should have done more to avoid some of these” ethnic conflicts, while denouncing that it has responded to displacement “by pressing internally displaced people to return to their homes, even though many felt that these areas were still unsafe and access to limited assistance. ”

In addition, he has denounced, “in another worrying signal, the Government has once again begun to detain people under the detention provisions of the repressive anti-terrorism laws.”

But undoubtedly, the biggest challenge before Abiy, which has endowed the country with its first president and has a joint cabinet, are the 2020 elections. The prime minister has promised that they will be “free and fair,” but he is to see if, given the current situation and the delay in the preparation of the census, the deadline can be met.

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