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Ethiopia's new Prime Minister has had a stellar two months, can he keep it up?
Awol K. Allo, Special to CNN
Editor´s Note: Awol K. Allo is a lecturer at the Keele University School of Law. Below he writes
about Ethiopia's recent transformations and the government's announcement to mend relations
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author
(CNN)Ethiopia is undergoing remarkable political transformation never seen in the country's
Since coming to power just over two months ago, the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, has taken
a series of radical steps that are transforming the political map and restoring trust in public
On Tuesday (June 5), the government made three major and politically consequential
announcements: it lifted the state of emergency imposed shortly after former Prime Minister
Hailemariam Desalegn resigned, announced plans to liberalize the economy and declared it was
ready to fully comply with and implement the Algiers Agreement that ended Africa's most deadly
Reforms at home
Perhaps the most popular Ethiopian leader to date, the Prime Minister's performance over the
last two months has been stellar.
Since his inauguration, the Prime Minister
has toured the country, listening to the
people's grievances. He has reassured the
public that his government is ready to take
concrete steps towards democratic opening
and national reconciliation.
His government has released thousands of
political prisoners, met with the political
opposition and civil society to discuss reform,
invited previously exiled political parties to
return to their country, and
embarked on major institutional reforms, including the security and the justice sectors.
In just 66 days, the Prime Minister has turned a new page in Ethiopian history, restoring hope
and optimism in the direction the country is taking.
The concrete and symbolic steps being taken on both national and regional levels show that the
Ethiopian leadership is making impressive strides towards the party's promise to widen the
democratic public space and foster national reconciliation.
A deadly war
In 1998, Ethiopia and Eritrea fought one of Africa's senseless and deadliest war, which killed an
estimated 100,000 people, ripping the social fabric that tied these culturally and economically
interconnected peoples together.
In 2000, the two countries signed the Algiers Peace Agreement, which was designed not just
to end the military hostilities and the killings but also to repair the socio-economic fabric
ruptured by the war.
Yet, 16 years on, the countries are still at a 'no peace, no war' situation, with thousands of
soldiers still manning the border regions.
Although both countries presented territorial disputes as an official justification for the war, the
real reason behind the war is far more complex and has uniquely regional historical and cultural
Ethiopia invoked technical and bureaucratic justifications to derail the implementation of the
boundary commission's decision and ultimately frustrated the process, setting the scene for the
he Eritrean government used Ethiopia's
refusal to relinquish sovereign Eritrean
territory and the subsequent militarization of
the border to justify its own repressive rules at
The regime maintained compulsory military
service, and pursued politically and
economically that forced an estimated 3% of
its people to flee the country.
Over the last 16 years, the Eritrean
government demanded Ethiopia's full
compliance with the
Boundary Commission's decision as a condition for normalizing relations.
Now that Ethiopia has satisfied Eritrea's demands, putting the ball firmly within Eritrea's court,
the Eritrean regime cannot use these excuses to prolong the conflict and maintain the
persistent repressions at home.
Given the transformational changes taking shape in Ethiopia and the concrete steps the new
leadership have taken in the domestic arena, there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of the
After all, this announcement is a continuation of the promise Prime Minister Ahmed made
during his inaugural speech two months ago.
Ethiopia's announcement to comply fully with the Boundary Commission's decision will mark a
new chapter in the relations between the two countries and will be consequential for regional
peace and stability.
Fastest growing economy
Another major announcement by the new government center around plans to liberalize the
economy, including decisions to privatize fully or partially lucrative state enterprises such
as aviation, energy, telecommunication, and manufacturing.
Under the plan, foreign and domestic investors can buy minority stakes in sectors that were
previously deemed off limits to private enterprise.
This announcement represents a major policy shift by the government as the new leadership
seeks a new direction for the economy while maintaining the interventionist aspects of the
developmental state policy.
Since the 2005 disputed National Election, the ruling party and its leadership embraced the
'Democratic developmental state' economic model and used this phrase to describe the ruling
party's ideology and to criticize the neo-liberal economic model.
Over the last decade, Ethiopia registered impressive economic performance. Although there
are reasons to suspect the credibility of the data and the real extent of the growth, it was
among the fastest growing economies in the world, averaging double-digit economic growth
and cutting poverty by half.
However, the developmental state model as
practiced by the previous government is not
merely an economic policy.
It is a politico-economic whole underpinned by
a project of social engineering and political
control, leading to massive land grab and the
expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people
from their ancestral lands without appropriate
consultation or compensation.
While the policy shift does not constitute a
abnegation of the developmental state model, it certainly represents a significant departure
from the previous approach.
According to the press statement, the government will continue to participate in economic
activities to ensure increased spending on infrastructure investments and other socially
However, as the government seeks to widen
the political space and empower citizens, the
authoritarian economic model practiced by the
previous governments needs to undergo a
Many of Ethiopia's public enterprises have
been neither efficient nor profitable and their
privatization is long overdue. Several sectors
under public ownership such as
telecommunication and electricity can benefit
from private sector investment and dynamism
While Ethiopia's economy certainly needed a new direction, the government must be cautious
and must move with extreme care in rolling out these policies, particularly in opening up certain
sectors to foreign investment.
For example, it is not clear why the government seeks to partly privatize the Ethiopian Airlines,
the most efficient, profitable, and reliable African airline.
The carrier, which has dominated the African sky by acquiring several under performing
airlines, is considered a national treasure, which has a significance far greater than revenue
The government must undertake a thorough impact assessment sector by sector, and industry
by industry, if necessary, to minimize the devastating effects of opening up capital strapped
markets to foreign competition.
Finally, Ethiopia's new leadership is making remarkable progress on several fronts, but faces
serious risks from within which could jeopardize the progress made over the last two months.
It is important that regional powers and Western governments support the transition in this
country whose stability is critical for the entire Horn of Africa region.