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Prime minister Abiy Ahmed talking military reform, intends building navy

Abiy Ahmed discussion with military generals seems to suggest that change within the army is in the air

June 1,2018

It has been nearly two months since Abiy Ahmed took over power following the resignation of Hailemariam Desalegne in February 2018. Apart from visiting five countries, the prime minister traveled extensively across the country holding consultative meetings with residents apparently to identify policy and action priority areas for his government in different parts of the country. And he seem to have succeed in terms of gaining a noticeable public confidence although it is equally noticeable the trust is not absolute in that it is informed by cautious optimism.

Among the many factors that made Ethiopians doubt as to whether Abiy Ahmed will walk the talk is the belief that he has no real power. The view is informed by the reality that Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) still maintains control over the military and intelligence apparatus which could be a disruptive force when the interests of TPLF,which essentially caused relentless protest across the country for the last three years.

The actions that the prime minister took along the lines of building “national consensus” and creating political space in the country, including the release of political prisoners, undoubtedly brought about pro-Abiy sentiment to some extent even in the opposition quarter. Yet,the public was left in the dark in terms of knowing policy reform areas of the new prime minister and the public was demanding to know about it.

Abiy seem to be responding to it. And he is starting his reform where people want to see change first; in the defense force. His office announced today on social media that he held discussion with high ranking military officers on matters related to national and current affairs.

Government affiliated media outlets like Fana Broadcasting reported a little later that the discussion between the prime minister and military generals focused on possible reform measures within the defense force.

What are the reform agenda?

Details are not spelled out. But it is known that enhancing professionalism in the defense force seem to be one of the key reform agenda.

And the prime minister seem to be primarily interested in creating the awareness that institutional neutrality of the defense force and defense officers from politics and governance issues is the linchpin of professionalism in the army.

The notion that loyalty of the defense force should be to the country and the constitution, not to the ruling party is among the message that stands out from Abiy Ahmed’s discussion with the military officers.

While emphasizing that the defense force should reflect Ethiopia in terms of diversity, he pointed out that it has to be free from political affiliation and be loyal to the constitution and civil administration. In addition, capability and educational achievements are to be among the yardsticks for appointments for leadership position in the various divisions within the army.

In the last two weeks, Abiy decided unpopular TPLF officials who are also believed to be highly corrupted be retire. And that coupled with ,analysts speculate,his move to reform the military, which is dominated by TPLF affiliated military generals, is likely to cause undesirable reaction.

There was already a rumor well before today’s meeting with the military generals, most of whom were combatants in the guerrilla army of TPLF before the collapse of colonel Mengistu Hailemariam’s government, that TPLF generals are plotting to topple Abiy’s administration but no concrete information emerged so far.

Another major major plan that Abiy Ahmed unveiled during the discussion today is the need to work on navy division in the defense force. Ethiopia has become landlocked country when TPLF took power but Abiy Ahmed’s administration has signed port deals with Sudan,Djibouti and Kenya.

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