Reformer-in-chief: Abiy Ahmed Has Made an Impressive Start

Ethiopia’s new prime minister wants peace and privatisation. (Getty Images)

The Economist

THE speed of events caught Ethiopians off guard. When Abiy Ahmed took office as prime minister on April 2nd he did so as the head of a deeply divided ruling coalition. The inexperienced 42-year-old, who came from the Oromo wing of the ethnically based coalition, was viewed with deep suspicion by many of his establishment colleagues. He was taking charge of a country under a state of emergency after more than three years of anti-government protests and ethnic unrest. Few expected him to achieve much soon.

The past few weeks have pleasantly surprised. After an inaugural address in which he called for unity and apologised for the government’s killing of protesters, the former army officer toured the country to muster support. At mass rallies and town-hall meetings he adopted a strikingly different tone from that of his two most recent predecessors. Hailemariam Desalegn, who resigned in February, was timid and aloof. Meles Zenawi, who ruled as a strongman from 1995 to 2012, was stern and cerebral. Mr Abiy, by contrast, presents himself as a friend of the country’s young protesters. “We want to work hand-in-hand with you,” he told cheering crowds in Oromia, the centre of unrest.

Exiled opponents have been invited home. Representatives of dissident media outlets based abroad have been encouraged to set up shop in Addis Ababa, the capital. Terrorism charges against dozens of activists have been dropped, including against a British citizen, Andargachew Tsige, who had been on death row.

Mr Abiy says he plans to amend the constitution and introduce term limits for his position. On June 2nd his cabinet said the state of emergency would be lifted two months earlier than planned. Then, on June 5th, the politburo of the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), said it would at last implement a peace agreement, signed in 2000, that would hand over disputed territories to Eritrea and put a formal end to the war the two countries fought (and Ethiopia won) from 1998 to 2000. That could pave the way for reconciliation and, perhaps, give Ethiopia renewed access to Eritrea’s ports.

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