Ethiopia Needs ‘Fresh Forces' to Deal With Upheaval, Party Leader Says

Updated on
  • Ethiopian premier announced surprise resignation last week
  • Government has failed to end more than two years of protests

Ethiopia’s ruling party needs “fresh forces” in its leadership to tackle political upheaval and achieve its economic goals after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s shock resignation last week, a leader of his party said.

Hailemariam, 52, announced Feb. 15 he’s stepping down after an internal evaluation of the South Ethiopia People’s Democratic Movement, one of four parties that make up the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, said Tesfaye Beljige, secretary-general of the SEPDM.

Hailemariam Desalegn

Photographer: Carl Court/Getty Images

Hailemariam tendered his resignation “on the basis of the national situation and especially the current political situation” and not because of “his failure to perform individually,” Tesfaye said. The prime minister told the SEPDM’s leadership that he has faced a “very hectic situation” over the past six years, Tesfaye said in an interview Sunday in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia, Africa’s fastest-growing economy over the past decade, is a key U.S. ally in its battle against al-Qaeda in the Horn of Africa. Home to more than 100 million people, the $72 billion economy has drawn investors including General Electric Co., Johannesburg-based Standard Bank Group and hundreds of Chinese companies.

Emergency Measures

Ethiopia’s government declared a state of emergency on Feb. 16 following Hailemariam’s resignation, which came after more than two years of sporadic, often deadly, anti-government demonstrations and amid conflict between the Oromo and Somali regions that has displaced more than 900,000 people. Similar measures introduced in 2016 failed to curb the turmoil mainly in the Oromia and Amhara regions -- home to the biggest ethnic groups who say they’re excluded from political and economic power.

In a policy shift, ruling party-affiliated media outlets have announced since January that more than 7,000 detainees would be released and further reforms would be implemented.

Zadig Abraha, head of public relations for the prime minister’s office, said the prisoners being released include “political leaders and individuals convicted by a court of law for committing crimes.”

U.S. Criticism

The new emergency “undermines recent positive steps toward creating a more inclusive political space, including the release of thousands of prisoners,” the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia said in a statement. “Restrictions on the ability of the Ethiopian people to express themselves peacefully sends a message that they are not being heard.”

The European Union in Ethiopia said in a statement on its Facebook page that Hailemariam’s resignation “opens a period of uncertainty” and the government should pursue the “positive reforms” he initiated. It said the state of emergency should be “as limited in time as possible and respectful of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The suspension of the constitution will continue for six months and be extended if necessary, Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa announced on Feb. 17. Siraj, who didn’t respond to two text messages and two calls seeking comment, dismissed “false rumors of a military takeover of the government,” according to ruling party media outlets.

The EPRDF and SEPDM’s executive committees have accepted Hailemariam’s resignation. They’re now preparing a letter to be submitted to an EPRDF Council that contains 180 members from the four parties, which will then decide whether to accept it, Tesfaye said. Hailemariam will remain the country’s leader until then, he said.

Information Minister Negeri Lencho didn’t respond to two text messages and two calls seeking comment on when the council is expected to make a final decision on the resignation. Zadig declined to comment on party procedures.

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