Ethiopia: Ruling party elects ethnic Oromo to lead the country

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Ethiopia’s ruling coalition part has picked Abiy Ahmed as its new leader, paving the way for him to become the country’s prime minister.

Abiy Ahmed is the first ethnic Oromo to lead Ethiopia’s ruling party and will be expected to steer the country out of its current political crisis. The Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group and the driving force behind violent protests over the past two years, which ultimately forced Hailemariam Desalegn to resign as prime minister.

Abiy Ahmed elected as EPRDF chairman

With Abiy Ahmed announced as the new chairman for the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition, he is now widely expected to become the country’s next prime minister. Historically, the chairman of the EPRDF has also taken on prime minister duties, which means Abiy Ahmed will likely be named as Ethiopia’s leader once Hailemariam Desalegn officially steps down.

For this to happen, the EPRDF and its allies, which control all 547 seats in the country’s parliament must confirm Ahmed as the new prime minister.

Time for change in Ethiopia?

The EPRDF’s move to elect Abiy Ahmed as its chairman comes as relations between Oromo citizens and the government are particularly fragile. The Oromo movement has progressed beyond violent protests – which turned violent due to government intervention to begin with – and been replaced with a more robust demand for change.

Clearly, the EPRDF hopes that selecting an Oromo leader will help ease the anger of the country’s largest ethnic group, which feels unrepresented by Addis Ababa. Abiy Ahmed’s biggest challenge will be finding a resolution to Ethiopia’s political standoff is a way that doesn’t compromise the government’s position.

Whether this means the ruling party is ready to make compromises for the sake of progress is difficult to predict. This is the same government that scrapped plans to expand the capital into Oromo territory after protests initially flared in 2015 and recently released hundreds of political prisoners, proving there is room for compromise.

However, concessions from the EPRDF have always followed violent clampdowns, oppression and widespread arrests – all of which has fuelled anger more considerably more than the occasional compromise has calmed it.

Simply electing an Oromo figure as the party’s chairman and Ethiopia’s new prime minister isn’t going to do much to ease political tension. There was a time when Oromo protests were largely about an ethnic group feeling neglected by their government but things have escalated far beyond concerns over representation. This is a community whose complaints have been ignored, protests violently quashed and freedoms taken away. Oromo lives have been lost in the process and the government has demonstrated how little it values those lives throughout this ongoing crisis.

At this stage, the government only has two realistic options: address Oromo concerns and surrender a certain amount of political power or clamp down on dissent and risk having that power snatched away from it. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Ethiopia’s leading activists believe change is coming, whether the government supports it or not – and this could be the biggest problem facing Abiy Ahmed and the EPRDF.

If change is inevitable, Abiy Ahmed faces the difficult challenge navigating it in a way that maintains as much of the ruling party’s power as possible and minimises damage to its reputation.

Featured image: Twitter, Abiy Ahmed (Official)

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.