Africa

Abiy Ahmed: Ethiopia's prime minister

Abiy Ahmed Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Abiy Ahmed is described as an astute politician

Abiy Ahmed - who took over from Hailemariam Desalegn as Ethiopia's new prime minister after his unexpected resignation in February - has not rested on his laurels.

He inherited a country that has seen some of the fastest economic growth in the world in recent years, but has also been riven by years of protests by people who feel marginalised.

The previous government was accused by many of human rights violations - including torture and extrajudicial killing of political dissidents.

But in a few short months, Mr Abiy has ended the border war with Eritrea by agreeing to give up disputed territory, in the process normalising relations with the long-time foe.

He has also lifted the state of emergency, ordered the release of thousands of prisoners, condemned brutal treatment of prisoners, calling it "terrorism" and unblocked hundreds of websites and TV channels.

But he has also come under attack, with two people killed in an explosion in June at a rally held to show support for him.

The question still remains: Is Mr Abiy - praised as an astute politician with impressive academic and military credentials - the man to lead Ethiopia into a peaceful, prosperous and free future?

Who is Abiy Ahmed?

Mr Abiy's background is crucial to the way people view him.

He is the country's first Oromo leader - the ethnic group at the centre of nearly three years of anti-government protests, which have left hundreds of people dead.

One of their main complaints is that they have been politically, economically and culturally marginalised for years - despite being the country's largest group.

The election of Mr Abiy - who is believed to have huge support among the Oromo youth as well as other ethnic groups - may change that.

He is leader of the Oromo People's Democratic Organisation (OPDO), one of the four ethnic parties which make up the ruling the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption There have been massive protests in Oromia in recent years

The 42-year-old, who was born in the city of Agaro in Oromia and comes from a mixed Christian-Muslim family, joined the OPDO in the late 1980s.

He has served in the military and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, before becoming the founder and director of the country's Information Network and Security Agency, which is responsible for cyber-security in a country where the government exercises tight control over the internet.

After that he became the minister for science and technology.

The speed at which he has been changing Ethiopia has been unprecedented but should not be a surprise.

He laid out his political vision in comments made to the Southern Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement's (SEPDM), a constituent party in the ruling coalition, in October 2017:

"We have only one option and that is to be united, not only cooperating and helping each other but uniting in order to live together. The other option is to kill each other," Mr Abiy is quoted as saying.

"However, no sane person will opt for this. So, our option should be to trust one another, heal our wounds together and work together to develop our country."


Key facts: Abiy Ahmed

Image copyright Getty Images
  • Born in Agaro in southern Ethiopia's Jima Zone on 15 August 1976 to an Oromo Muslim father and an Amhara Christian mother
  • As a teenager in 1990, he joined the armed struggle against the Marxist Derg regime
  • He has a doctorate degree in peace and security issues from Addis Ababa University and a master's degree in transformational leadership from the University of Greenwich, London
  • Speaks fluent Afan Oromo, Amharic and Tigrinya, as well as English
  • 1995: Served as a UN peacekeeper in Rwanda
  • 2007: Founded the Ethiopian Information Network Security Agency (INSA) and served as a board member of Ethio Telecom, Ethiopian TV
  • 2010: Entered politics as an ordinary OPDO member before joining the party's Executive Committee in 2015
  • 2016: Briefly served as minister of science and technology

What does the opposition think?

When Mr Abiy came into power in February, he was seen by many as outspoken and competent, with a participatory leadership style. It left opposition figures cautiously optimistic about the future - as long as he tackled the issues behind the unrest and unhappiness in Ethiopia.

Jawar Mohammed, the US-based director of the Oromia Media Network, who has been accused of stoking anti-government protests, wrote on Facebook: "This appointment carries a unique opportunity, in the real sense of the term, if he is determined enough to capture it, that can translate into the great and historical responsibility of leading Ethiopia and its peoples into the peaceful transition to democracy."

Mr Jawar is one of the political activists who are planning to end their exile and return to Ethiopia following reforms initiated by Prime Minister Abiy.

Yeshiwas Assefa, who leads the Blue Party, told the BBC: "The main point is he has to be someone who understands the demands of the public and the public's desire for change... He has to reform institutions in dire need of reform.

"We hope Mr Abiy understands well the public's demand for change.... [and] guessing from various speeches he personally made, Mr Abiy seems to be someone who has a sympathetic view of those demands."

But Bekele Gerba, deputy head of the Oromo Federalist Congress, who was released from prison earlier this year, pointed out that the power to make changes may not lie with Mr Abiy.

"What I think will determine the country's fate is how much the military and intelligence community work with and obey the new prime minister, how much they'll become faithful to the constitution. So things must be seen from this perspective," he said.

What do people think?

Mohamed Ali, who lives in Weldia, in Amhara region, welcomed Mr Abiy's decision to lift the state of emergency.

"Every one of us was happy for Abiy Ahmed," he said. "We believe that he will restore peace and stability in the country. I was extremely happy. I hope that he will manage to make a difference, especially among the youth."

Mebratu Dubale, who lives in Hawassa in the south, added: "I know he is qualified given his level of education as well as his experiences and his determination in that regard.

"He will be able to finish what was started and lead the country towards a better direction than the one we are currently in."

Several mass rallies have been held across the country to support Mr Abiy's reforms.

However, he has met some resistance. The Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which used to dominate the ruling coalition, has criticised some of the reforms he has introduced and said there had not been enough consultation.

More about Ethiopia:

Key facts, figures and dates

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Can Ethiopia be Africa's leading manufacturing hub?

You can now get the latest BBC news in Afaan Oromo, Amharic and Tigrinya.

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