Ethiopia gets new prime minister

New Ethiopian prime minister from the Oromia region.

Abiy Ahmed was sworn is as Ethiopia’s new prime minister by the country’s legislature on 1 April only a few days after he had been voted in as chair of the four-party governing coalition, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). He is the first prime minister from Oromia, the country's largest and most populous region.

Ethiopia’s Oromo and Amhara people make up about 61 per cent of the country’s population but the Tigray have long dominated Ethiopian politics. The Tigray from the northern region bordering Eritrea present a small percentage of the population but have controlled politics, as well as the military and the secret services for decades.

Protests against the government, mainly in the central and large Oromia region, have been growing since 2015. Emergency measures, brought in by the former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, led to thousands of arrests, hundreds of dead and more demonstrations. The emergency was lifted in August last year but protests continued and Desalegn finally resigned in mid-February.

The new prime minister is popular among the young in Oromia, where protests first started in 2015 before spreading to the Amhara region in 2016. But he still has to prove that he can win support from the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, a vital part of the EPRDF four-party governing coalition. He also has to show protestors that he will continue the reforms he set in motion while he was vice-president of the Oromia region in 2016. He was then instrumental in allowing greater freedom for the media and introducing reforms to policing in the region.

The release of thousands of prisoners just before Desalegn resigned in February did nothing to placate the growing protests and the government was forced to reinstate a new state of emergency soon after Desalegn’s resignation in mid-February.