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Ethiopia’s Ruling Coalition Paves Way for Abiy Ahmed as New PM


FILE - Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn is pictured at a news conference in Addis Ababa, Feb. 15, 2018. Desalegn stepped down last month amid civil and political unrest across the country; the ruling coalition has elected Abiy Ahmed as chairman, setting the stage for him to become prime minister.

Ethiopias ruling coalition has elected Abiy Ahmed as its chairman, according to the state-owned Fana Broadcasting Corporation. The move sets the stage for Ahmed to become the countrys third prime minister in 23 years.

The Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) announced its decision late Tuesday evening, after a series of delays and an election process that was largely hidden from public view.

Ahmed will replace Hailemariam Desalegn, who stepped down last month amid civil and political unrest across the country.

Ahmed, 41, has spent less than a decade in politics. Before joining the House of Representatives in 2010, he became a lieutenant colonel in the Ethiopian National Defense Force.

Founded Internet Security Agency

In 2007, Ahmed founded and later directed the Internet Security Agency, a group tasked with advancing Ethiopias technological capabilities, but also responsible, in part, for what human rights groups consider mass government surveillance to stifle dissent.

Ahmed studied in the U.S. and England before returning to Ethiopia to pursue a doctorate at Addis Ababa Universitys Institute for Peace and Security Studies. In 2015, he became Ethiopias minister for science and technology while a Ph.D. candidate in Peace and Security Studies.

Ahmed had been considered a front-runner since Desalegns surprise resignation on February 15. As the leader of the Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization, the EPRDF Party that represents the countrys largest ethnic group, Ahmed is considered an insider with a decades-long affiliation with the ruling coalition.

On March 1, former U.S. Ambassador Herman Cohen suggested on Twitter that the decision to elect Ahmed had already been made.

Ahmed speaks Amharic, Afan Oromo and Tigrigna, and he was born to a Christian mother and Muslim father, according to freelance journalist Mohammed Ademo.

Growing rifts

Ahmeds background as a member of Ethiopias Oromo ethnic group, a majority that has long felt marginalized, might help him bridge growing rifts across the country.

Ethiopia is currently under its second state of emergency in two years in the wake of unrelenting protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions. One of the protesters primary demands is equal representation in government.

Despite holding the most seats in the federal parliament, the OPDO, which represents the Oromo people, holds less power than the dominant Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front, according to activists and human rights groups.

More recently, however, OPDO has gained its voice and expressed solidarity with the Oromo protesters, according to René Lefort, a journalist who has covered the region since the 1970s.

The main change is that, first of all, OPDO asserted itself more than ever, Lefort told VOA by phone in November.

The protests have put pressure on the government, resulting in the EPRDFs decisions to release prisoners and jockey over reforms. But the coalition has also backtracked on promises to allow space for a plurality of voices in the country.

Just this past Sunday, bloggers, journalists and members of opposition groups were rearrested for gathering at a colleagues home to celebrate their work.

Human Rights Watchs senior researcher for the Horn of Africa, Felix Horne, criticized the governments approach on Twitter.

How Ahmed plans to lead, and what steps the EPRDF will take to address growing turmoil, will now shape the countrys future.

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