Ethiopian Prime Minister Resigns After Failing to Quell Unrest

Updated on
  • Hailemariam has ruled Horn of Africa nation since 2012
  • Resignation follows more than two years of sporadic protests
Hailemariam Desalegn Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned as the leader of one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies after failing to end months of unrest in the Oromia region.

Hailemariam, 52, will remain in the post until a transition is agreed, he said in a statement broadcast by the state-funded Fana Broadcasting Corp. in the capital, Addis Ababa. His announcement came days after the government said it dropped charges against top dissident Bekele Gerba and other opposition figures, and a month after he ordered the release of hundreds of political prisoners.

Ethiopia had seen sporadic, often deadly protests since late 2015 and temporarily enacted a state of emergency due to the unrest that was mainly in the central Oromia region. The violence damaged the country’s reputation as an investment destination and posed one of the biggest challenges to the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front since it came to power in the early 1990s. Groups including Amnesty International regularly accuse authorities of cracking down on human-rights defenders, the media and peaceful protesters.

“There have been efforts to dial back some of the problems that they’ve had, but the problems aren’t going away,” Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, East Africa researcher at Amnesty International, said in a phone interview. “Hailemariam doesn’t represent a big ethnic constituency within the party. The EPRDF has decided they’d rather lose him now than lose the whole country.”

Eurobond Yields

Yields on Ethiopia’s $1 billion Eurobonds due in 2024 climbed six basis points to 6.42 on Thursday, the highest level since August.

Hailemariam, who took office in 2012, said his resignation was “based on my own wishes and desires” and he’s certain it will be accepted and a new premier elected. He described Ethiopia as being “in a very worrying place” and urged citizens to “accommodate and respect each other and continue with the development work.”

His resignation and the recent release of prisoners mark a “watershed moment for the EPRDF,” according to Ahmed Salim, a Dubai-based analyst with Teneo Intelligence.

The ruling coalition’s “control over the country is under threat with only two options available, a disintegration of the party or political reforms,” he said in an emailed note.

‘Symbolic Change’

Jared Jeffery, an analyst at NKC African Economics in Paarl, South Africa, said that while the EPRDF’s previous gestures “hint at a concerted effort to truly open up the political space,” the “symbolism of a change at the very top of the hierarchy was needed to convince people that it is serious.”

The move may be “the EPRDF trying to appease and forestall any real concessions,” he said in an emailed response to questions, adding that the freeing up of the media and reviewing the electoral system would show genuine reform.

“It is undoubtedly a big, symbolic move to make, but it does not address the underlying causes of dissent,” Jeffery said.

— With assistance by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura

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