Elections, slow reforms raise tensions in Ethiopia

Saturday November 09 2019

Oromo youth chant slogans during a protest in-front of Jawar MohammedÕs house, an Oromo activist and leader of the Oromo protest in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on October 24, 2019. PHOTO | REUTERS


Ethiopia is facing political anxiety amid pending elections, delayed political reforms, and forces opposed to reforms, fuelling inter-ethnic violence in the country.
Trouble started when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that elections will be held in May 2020, but the registration of political parties is a slow process.

Opposition parties have objected to new registration rules, which require a national political party to collect 10,000 signatures, up from 1,500, and regional parties to get 4,000 signatures, up from 750.

Meanwhile three of the nine states—Tigray, Somali, and Oromia—are demanding greater autonomy, as the Constitution provides for self-determination.

On Sunday, over 86 people were reported killed in violence in Oromia and Harari states, and Dire Dawa city administration.

Analysts say that Dr Abiy—who came to power in April 2018—promised more reforms than he could deliver in the short term.

“The volatile political situation is due to transition as the government tries to move away from tight political control and suppression and the security forces are reluctant to use force. At the same time they are stretched because of the many conflicts across the country,” William Davison, a senior analyst on Ethiopia at the International Crisis Group, said.


During his inauguration, Dr Abiy promised wide ranging reforms. “Democracy is unthinkable without freedom...We need to respect all human and democratic rights, especially to free expression, assembly and organisation, by upholding the Constitution that emerged from this understanding of freedom.”

But change is slow and the PM is generally seen as not acting strongly against the killings.

Ethiopian ambassador to Kenya Meles Alem Tikea told The EastAfrican that the country is in transition after the reforms that were introduced by Dr Abiy, and there are challenges in transition, especially on the issue of security.

“Ethiopian democracy is a work in progress. People do not know that they have responsibility as they exercise their newly found democratic rights,” he said, adding that the current political challenges are temporary as over 100 parties are realigning themselves for the May 2020 elections.

“We could be fighting among ourselves for now but when it comes to sovereignty, we become one. Ethiopia is a multi-cultural, multi-religious society with over 100 million people. Ethiopia is the lynchpin of stability in eastern African and we cannot afford to fail because if we do, we will flood the region,” said Mr Tikea.

Dr Abiy has however done well so far by opening up the political and democratic space, releasing political prisoners, unbanning organisations that were designated as “terrorists” and restoring relations with Eritrea. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

Halleluja Lulie, an Ethiopian Political Analyst said that the reforming the economy and the high number of unemployed youth are some of the challenges Dr Abiy is facing even if he has done well in other areas like opening up civil space.

“The biggest challenge for Dr Abiy is that he cannot meet these demands without upsetting other constituencies so he has to put on a balancing act,” said Mr Davison.