politics

Ethiopian Ruling Party Picks Leader From Protest-Hit Region

Updated on
  • Abiy Ahmed from Oromia expected to be named as prime minister
  • Government has struggled to put down two years of protests

Ethiopia’s ruling coalition appointed a top official from the protest-hit Oromia region as leader, as the government tries to quell unrest that’s posed the biggest challenge to its rule in a quarter-century.

The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front chose Abiy Ahmed, 42, a retired lieutenant general and recently appointed chairman of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization, to succeed Hailemariam Desalegn. Abiy is now expected to be voted in by parliament as the country’s next prime minister.

Abiy Ahmed

Photographer: Samuel Gebru/AFP via Getty Images

Hailemariam resigned last month as premier after failing to end anti-government protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions that began in late 2015 and were spearheaded by young activists known as the Qeerroo. The government has instituted its second state of emergency in two years amid demonstrations that Human Rights Watch says have left hundreds of people dead.

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 $78.4 billion economy, according to the International Monetary Fund, has drawn investors including General Electric Co., Johannesburg-based Standard Bank Group and hundreds of Chinese companies.

Eurobonds Rally

Ethiopian assets rallied after the leadership announcement. Yields on the nation’s Eurobonds due in 2024 fell 22 basis points, the most since November 2016, to 6.31 percent by 1:21 p.m. in London. Through last week, the bonds had lost 3.3 percent year-to-date, which was the worst performance for sub-Saharan African dollar debt after Zambia’s.

A speaker of three Ethiopian languages and English, Abiy holds a doctorate from Addis Ababa University in traditional conflict resolution and has been on the OPDO’s central committee and represented his Oromia hometown of Agaro in parliament since 2010. He previously served as director of the nation’s Information Network Security Agency, which says it provides technical intelligence to support the government.

“It’s the Qeerroo that paved the path for the new OPDO to take leadership” of the ruling party, said Masresha Taye, an independent analyst based in the capital.

Ethnic Makeup

More than a third of Ethiopians belongs to the Oromo community and about 20 percent to the Amhara, according to a census conducted by the Central Statistical Agency in 2007. Together they make up more than half Ethiopia’s 105 million population, Africa’s second-largest after Nigeria.

Demeke Mekonnen, a deputy prime minister under Hailemariam since September 2012 and chairman of the Amhara National Democratic Movement, will be deputy chairman of the ruling coalition, the local Fana Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Masresha said Abiy didn’t attend a parliamentary vote to ratify the state of emergency this month. His support for it may have cost him support from young people while his opposition could have alienated elements of the ruling coalition.

‘Mass Suport’

The Oromo party “will continue to have a strong mass support” if they respond to the demands of the people in the region, Masresha said.

Abiy’s election can be seen as “one of the Qeerroo movement’s victories,” Lammi Begna, a Qeerroo activist, said by phone from Oslo, Norway.

While he welcomed Abiy’s election and the “historic rise” of Oromo protests and the Qeerroo movement, Lammi said Abiy’s previous role in surveillance makes him “more suspect than loyal to the popular cause.”

There should now be an opening of “political dialogue with all stakeholders to bring national reconciliation, reforming the intelligence and military structures,” Lammi said.

— With assistance by Paul Wallace

(Updates with Eurobonds rallying in fifth paragraph.)
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