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Is Abiy Ahmed the first ethnic Oromo prime minister?

Abiy Ahmed
Abiy Ahmed
Source : SM

April 1, 2018

It is now official that Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) chairman and chairman of the ruling coalition, Abiy Ahmed, will be inaugurated tomorrow as prime minister of Ethiopia for the next two years weeks months Hailemarim Desalegn resigned on February 15, 2017.

His election has attracted media attention and it has become a media frenzy to portray Abiy Ahmed as “the first ethnic Oromo prime minister in the history of Ethiopia.”

For foreigners with no understanding of the history of Ethiopia, the story may sound sensational especially in view of the narrative the so-called “Oromo Revolution” which was apparently given wide coverage in international media outlets including Aljazeera.

The fact of the matter is that Abiy Ahmed is not the first ethnic Oromo prime minister of Ethiopia. There were at least two ethnic Oromo prime ministers; one during the imperial government of Haileselassie and one during colonel Mengistu Hailemariam’s government.

Under Emperor Haileselassie’s government, the famous patriot Abebe Aregay has served as a prime minister before he was killed in a failed coup attempt against Haileselassie’s government.

During Mengistu Hailemariam’s government, Tesfaye Dinka, a notable diplomat who served also as foreign minister, has served as prime minister of Ethiopia although the government was toppled before long by Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in 1991.

Ethnic origin was not a matter of relevance at least, just to cite the recent history, during emperor Haileselassie’s government and Mengistu Hailemariam’s government. The emperor himself traces his ethnic origin from an Oromo family in Harar, according to some historians. Mengistu Hailemariam himself talked about his ethnic origin and he explicitly said that his father was an Oromo. Before Mengistu’s ascension to power, Teferi Benti, also an Oromo ethnically speaking, served as head of state and chairman of Derg, a group of military officers who carried out the 1974 Ethiopian revolution. People like Debela Dinsa, an important army lieutenant and member of Derg who reportedly read out the letter to Emperor Haileselassie when he was deposed from power was an Oromo, among others.

Experienced politicians like Dima Negawo, who is now one of the leadership of Oromo Democratic Forum – a party formed by former radical ethnic Oromo nationalists – are aware that Abiy Ahmed is not the first ethnic Oromo prime minister. He said, there were Oromo prime ministers both during Haileselassie and Mengistu’s government. He added that what is important is not his ethnic identity; what matters is what he can do to Oromo and the rest of Ethiopians.

In fact, the question should rather be whether Abiy Ahmed will be a prime minister with real power to bring about much-needed political change or not. Given the fact that TPLF is still in control of important institutions in the country, chances are that he is unlikely to carry out even reforms that are relevant to resolve the country’s deepening political crisis. More, ethnic politics is a problem in itself, not a solution for Ethiopia’s problem.

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