‘The road ahead might be daunting, but we shall not be weary’: Ethiopia’s Abiy sworn in for new term

  • Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was sworn in for a new five-year term
  • Tens of thousands have been killed in the conflict in the northern Tigray region and hundreds of thousands faced famine-like conditions, according to the UN, muddying the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner’s once-glowing reputation.
  • This year, some opposition parties, notably in Abiy’s native Oromia region, opted to boycott the polls, complaining that their candidates had been arrested and their offices vandalised.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was sworn in for a new five-year term Monday, but the milestone risked being undermined by growing alarm over the war in the north.

“I, Abiy Ahmed Ali, today in the House of People’s Representatives, accept the appointment as prime minister, as I pledge to undertake responsibly and with faith to the constitution the responsibility placed upon me by the people,” he said while being sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice Meaza Ashenafi.

Abiy’s Prosperity Party scored a landslide win in June elections that federal officials touted as the high-water mark of democratic reforms he initiated upon taking office in 2018.

Yet by the time voters cast their ballots, tens of thousands had been killed in the conflict in the northern Tigray region and hundreds of thousands faced famine-like conditions, according to the UN, muddying the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner’s once-glowing reputation.

Since then, fighting has spread to neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions while Tigray has fallen under what the UN describes as a de facto humanitarian blockade, spurring fears of the mass starvation that turned Ethiopia into a byword for famine in the 1980s.

It is unclear whether Abiy’s swearing-in will alter the course of the war pitting government forces against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group, which dominated national politics before he took power.

Abiy’s office, which blames the rebels for starting the war last November with attacks on federal army camps, has said certain conciliatory measures like declassifying the TPLF as a terrorist group can only happen after a new government is formed.

“The position has been that any change in approach to the conflict with the forces from Tigray can only occur after the formation of a new government,” said William Davison, senior Ethiopia analyst for the International Crisis Group.

International partners like the US, which has threatened to impose targeted sanctions related to the conflict, “will be looking at this closely to see if there is any shift in position”, Davison told AFP.

Ahead of Monday’s ceremony, signs bearing a flower and the words “New Beginnings” were posted across the capital.

A mass rally in Addis Ababa’s Meskel Square, to be attended by dignitaries including the presidents of Nigeria, Somalia and Senegal, was planned for the afternoon.

“The road ahead might be daunting, but we shall not be weary,” Abiy’s senior adviser Mamo Mihretu said on Twitter.

‘Let down’

Relations between Ethiopia and the international community soured further last week when the foreign ministry announced the expulsion of seven senior UN staff, including the local heads of the UN children’s agency UNICEF and its humanitarian coordination office.

The officials left the country Sunday, UN sources told AFP.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed “shock” over the decision and the UN has lodged a formal protest with Addis Ababa.

Western powers feel “let down” by Abiy, a dynamic that will shape foreign relations during his second term, said Cameron Hudson, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.

“The West will likely now revert to a playbook it knows… apply pressure where it can, engage where it must, and keep on the lookout for better alternatives,” Hudson told AFP.

Abiy was appointed after several years of anti-government protests against the ruling TPLF-led coalition and promised to break with Ethiopia’s authoritarian past, in part by holding the most democratic polls the country had ever seen.

The coalition, of which Abiy was a member, had claimed staggering majorities in the two previous elections, which observers said fell far short of international standards for fairness.

This year, some opposition parties, notably in Abiy’s native Oromia region, opted to boycott the polls, complaining that their candidates had been arrested and their offices vandalised.

No voting occurred in Tigray, and races for 83 other federal parliamentary seats had to be delayed because of security or logistical issues.

Last week, authorities held elections for 47 of those seats, in the Somali, Harari and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ (SNNP) regions.

Those results, which will not have significant bearing on the balance of power in parliament, are expected later this month.

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Publish date : 2021-10-04 11:08:44

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