Year in Review
Since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in April 2018, Ethiopia has undergone major political and economic changes. Broad-ranging measures were introduced, including the establishment of a committee to solve border issues between regions, increasing the number of women cabinet members and recognition of all political parties (both internal and those who were previously designated as terrorists). The Government then developed plans that would lift Ethiopia out of crisis and usher in true democracy and sustainable economic growth.
This year, major political developments included a referendum, held on 20th November, when 2.3 million people in the Sidama region voted on whether to become a new regional state, or to remain within the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples state – 98% voted overwhelmingly for an independent regional state of Sidama.
The referendum was applauded for being peaceful and democratic, despite speculation to the contrary in the run-up to the referendum. On the day of the vote, people exercised their democratic right to become a separate regional state as per the electoral procedure laid out in the Constitution. The referendum was largely viewed as a test case for the upcoming general election (May 2020).
Also in November, came the decision by the Executive Council of the ruling coalition Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to merge the coalition into a single party to be known as the “Prosperity Party,” – a clear demonstration of the Prime Minister’s synergistic “medemer” philosophy in action.
Ethiopia’s adoption of free market economics and the impending liberalisation of state-owned companies in sectors, including telecoms and sugar, made news around the world. The government is to issue two licences for private telecom companies to operate in Ethiopia and 49% of the state-owned Ethio telecom company will also be made available. Regarding sugar, the first phase of the privatization process will start before the end of the fiscal year (June 2020).
The Government also architected the “home-grown economic reform agenda”, driven by the desire to create a path to prosperity through greater job creation, inclusive growth and poverty reduction.
The adoption of the “Green Legacy”, a landmark reforestation campaign spearheaded by Prime Minister Abiy, saw the planting of over 350 million indigenous trees on 29th July this year, a new world record.
In recognition of his many achievements, in December PM Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2019. The Nobel Committee praised him for bringing peace with Eritrea and for efforts made in Sudan’s peaceful transition. In addition, President Sahle-Work was also selected as one of Forbes Magazine’s “22 Most Powerful Women in Politics and Policy.”
Here in the UK, the month of March saw the successful conclusion of a long-running campaign for the return of the hair of Emperor Tewodros, which had been on display at the UK’s National Army Museum for many years; it was taken at Maqdala. There was great joy at the handing over ceremony which gained world-wide press coverage. The return revitalised the wider restitution issue both in the UK and abroad.
But there were also challenges this year, including an attempted coup in the Amhara state in June which saw the heinous assassinations of the President of the Regional State, the army Chief of Staff, a retired General and two other regional officials.
Across Ethiopia, large numbers of people were displaced from their homes as a result of ethnic conflict; when the new government opened up the political space, some, silent for decades, began to declare their autonomy and longstanding border and land issues came to the fore. Since, the Government, with the help of community elders and many other stakeholders, has resettled many of the previously displaced.
Though challenges to the transition remain, the Prime Minister’s progressive vision for Ethiopia and commitment to real reform remain a guiding light illuminating the hope on the horizon.
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