Ethiopia swears in its third prime minister since Junta Overthrow

Ethiopia’s parliament on Monday swore in Abiye Ahmed as its third prime minister since the former military junta, the Derg, was overthrown in 1991.

“Today is a historic day. We bear witness to a peaceful transfer of power. Today our situation presents us with opportunities and threats. Today we are in the midst of uncertain times,” Abiye said in a speech to parliament at the House of People’s Representatives in Addis Ababa.

Forty-two year old Abiye is the first politician from Oromo ethnicity to become Ethiopia’s prime minister, and it is hoped that he will bring an end to the protests raging since late 2015 to press for wider political freedoms and the release of opposition figures. 

He is also charged with a mandate to implement democratic reforms that will diffuse ethnic tensions in the Oromiya province from which the former army lieutenant general hails.

Since 2015, Oromiya province has been rocked by violence, largely caused by young members of the Oromo ethnic group. The Oromo ethnic group makes up roughly a third of Ethiopia’s 100 million population, that they are politically and economically marginalized.

Abiye was chosen last week by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to replace  Hailemariam Desalegn who stepped down as prime minister.

It would be recalled that amid the ongoing protests, Ethiopia in February declared its second state of emergency in two years which crippled transportation networks and forced the closure of businesses.

While speaking on  state television after the ceremony, the new prime minister also appealed to the Eritrean government to solve “years of misunderstanding.” Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia in 1992, and between 1998-2000 the two countries clashed and they have had poor relations since then.

According to the World Bank, Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous country. Despite political turmoil,  the East African nation has the fastest growing economy in the region.