Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government had been crippled by fear of change for decades. The heavy handed policy it pursued against opposition forces in the country to the extent of legalizing repression with the pretext of “anti-terrorism” legislation evidently explains that, for many analysts. In consequence, peaceful political opposition in the country was virtually made nonexistent or meaningless, to say the least.
As it turns out now, there was an apparent opposition simmering from within the ruling party and that is what the events unfolded since, at least,December of 2017 seem to suggest. It even sounded a movement that represent change – what the ruling party was fearing for too long.
And in the last three months Ethiopians came to know that the new prime minister,who was a member of the unpopular ruling coalition that ruled the country for nearly three decades, represent change despite institutional arrangements that are created for resisting change,and are intact, caused some skepticism at first.
Abiy Ahmed is slowly taking measures that would compel Ethiopians to shake off their skepticism and make them believe that change is coming. He is doing so while resisting reactionary resistance and power struggle from privileged class within the party which still wields a considerable control over the army and intelligence apparatus. In as little as three months, he turned out to be most popular politician in the entire region, if not in the continent of Africa and it did not take a fundamental reform to get there.
Abiy Ahmed’s first report to the parliament
In what is said to be unprecedented in the recent history, Ethiopians were glued to TV , computers and smart phones to hear Abiy Ahmed report which was started around 2 pm local time on Monday. It ended around 5 pm.
In the two and half hours presentation,question and answer session, the prime minister touched up on political and economic issues including the decision to accept the Algiers peace conference, ethnic-based conflict in many parts of Ethiopia which he believes is somehow orchestrated by individuals and groups who resist the change, decision to privatize public enterprises,the release of political prisoners and his government’s achievement in the diplomatic front ,among others.
Unlike his predecessors who have been denying, and at times justifying, egregious human rights violations recorded by reputable human rights defenders, Abiy Ahmed boldly admitted that the ruling party has committed act of terrorism against citizens by way of violating constitutional rights. He spoke about it when a member of parliament from Tigray region, Honorable Mulu Gebreegziabhier, asked for an explanation as to what compelled government to violate “anti-terrorism legislation” and rule of law to release people who were convicted of “terrorism charges” and homicide crimes. Abiy highlighted that the release of political prisoners was a party decision and was implemented in line with laws and government regulations , and that no law was violated.
Response to question related to economic matters, privatization issue to be more specific, mostly run contours of political theory analysis and the prime minister shared his conception of neoliberalism, and developmental state ideology which his government claims to have adhered to for decades now. He defended the action. There seem to be a considerable number of voices, even from among his supporters, who tend to think that the economic decision is rather short sighted.
Regarding ethnic based conflict related to “boundary” and exclusive ethnic land right, he stated that there is no such thing as border within a border. Existing regional lines are not to be confused with border or boundary, he says. he added that Ethiopians have the right to live and work anywhere in the country and it is a constitutionally protected right. But he did not highlight plans of action to reverse it in a lasting manner except for mentioning that a commission to study the matter will be established.
Abiy also explained the ruling party’s decision to accept the Algiers peace agreement sharing his own personal story as a soldier who fought during the Ethio-Eritrean conflict. He explained that the decision to accept the agreement was made by his predecessors and that it is not appropriate to politicize the matter for political gains. With regard to the critic that the decision at the level of the ruling party’s Executive Committee was not discussed by the public, he trashed it by pointing out that the public was never consulted when Assab,which many Ethiopians believe to be Ethiopia’s rightful port, was given away.
Abiy also made a call for opposition forces who resorted to armed struggle to give it up as it is an archaic, in his words, and encouraged them to resume peaceful struggle.
Reaction to Abiy’s report
It seems to be reasonable to say that Abiy Ahmed’s appearance at the parliament today was a success in that many Ethiopians are feeling that he is the kind of leader that Ethiopia has been looking for a long time.
Yet, there are critical voices too. Yilkal Getnet,an opposition leader, for example does not seem to be impressed by the prime minister and thinks no clear road-map is indicated to resolve many of Ethiopia’s problem. However, the credited the prime minister for his stand on the issue of ethnic based violence and his stand on matters related to claims of exclusive ethic land and displacement of Ethiopians on the basis of their ethnicity.
There are also others who are not quiting their political ground. They reason out that what the prime minister told Ethiopians today is nothing new and that Ethiopians know it very well. These group of people rather see political naivety and gullibility at ones.
What is indisputable, however, is that Abiy represent a change and that he seem to be inspired by the idea of bringing about reconciliation and unity in the country which is what most Ethiopians care about the most.
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