The course of the election of the chairman of EPRDF has been the most anticipated political activity in the country since the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn from his post both as head of government as well as party chairmanship.
For Hailemariam’s resignation was unexpected and left the public in state of uncertainty as to who could replace him, both local and international media have been eagle watching the political developments in the country perhaps more eager than the situation of the country during the last three years where it was rocked by violence emanating from the Oromia and Amhara regions.
To support this anxiety, the meeting and discussion among the various bodies of EPRDF and the four member parties were getting particularly long and heated.
Finally, the ruling party managed to fill the vacant position at the helm of the party after conducting its elongated party conferences for close to a month and half. On Tuesday March 27, 2018, Abiy Ahmed (PhD), a young and outspoken political persona, who hails from the Oromo People’s Democratic Movement (OPDO), was elected to chair the Front garnering 108 votes out of the voting 170 council members that day.
“Young and charismatic, he delivers public statements in multiple languages, including English, to appeal to people beyond his own ethnic group,” New York Times described Abiy, in an article entitled Ethiopia Seeks Calm with a New Leader.
Another article by France 24 asserts that, “The young, outspoken Abiy Ahmed is now poised to take power, as the ruling Front and its regional affiliates hold all parliamentary seats.”
Abiy, who appeared in many international media outlets after his election as the chair of EPRDF, was mostly described by his ethnic background—the Oromo. The Oromo comprises of more than 35 percent of the country’s population. Because he is from the party that represents the Oromia region, the region which has been at the center of the past three years’ violence and protests, Abiy’s election is believed to bring calm to the country and out of the haunting violence that killed many, displaced thousands and destroyed property worth millions. But, there are also indicated challenges.
A New African article entitled “Who is Abiy Ahmed—Ethiopia’s incoming Prime Minister?” states that “Ahmed’s ascendance to the top political post, may quell further tension. But his appointment comes just days after several recently freed (by Desalegn) political prisoners and journalists were re-arrested at a social gathering, for “violating” state of emergency laws, which prohibit gatherings without police authorization. Similar arrests were also reported in Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara region—another hotbed for political dissent and protest in the past three years.”
“A young reformer of entrenched military man, Ethiopia has a new leader, the first from the Oromi Ethnic Group that’s been the forefront of antigovernment protests,” narrates another article by Al Jazeera entitled “Can Ethiopia’s New Leader Bridge Ethnic Divides?”
Citing the prospects of Abiy as the next leader of the country, the BBC news article entitled “Abiy Ahmed named as head of Ethiopia’s EPRDF ruling [coalition]” pointed out that, “He inherits a country that has seen one of the fastest economic growths in the world in recent years,” and “Mr Abiy’s background is crucial to the way people view him.”
The BBC also indicated that, “Abiy Ahmed has a big task ahead of him.” And he will have the leverage to overcome them as “… the 42-year-old is often seen as being among a group of young reformers.”
Following Abiy’s selection as chairman of the Front, diplomats and foreign leaders have also congratulated him as well as the nation.
“We congratulate Dr. Abiy Ahmed on his selection as the new EPRDF Chairperson,” said Nick Barnett, US Embassy Spokesperson, in an email response sent to The Reporter.
In his congratulatory messages to Abiy, Paul Kagame, the president of the Republic of Rwanda stated, “As chairman of the AU on behalf of other African leaders I wanted to express our solidarity with the Ethiopian people & their leaders as they continue to find from within and among themselves solutions to the recent political problems they faced! Looking very much forward to having Ethiopia continue play its historical central role effectively and soon on our Continent!!”
But, many have hoped that Abiy will at least bring calm to the conflict ridden Ethiopia.
“The choice of Mr. Abiy was widely seen as a move to maintain stability in Ethiopia, which has East Africa’s largest economy and is a critical player in the regional fight against terrorism,” concludes the NYT article.
By Brook Abdu and Dawit Endeshaw