Prize-winning Double Standards

Abiy Ahmed with ODP colleagues Workneh Gebeyehu and Shimelis Abdissa

Abiy Ahmed with ODP colleagues Workneh Gebeyehu and Shimelis Abdissa

Ethiopia- InsightHaileMichael Faris– 20/11/2019

Editors: Peter Heinlein, William Davison, Jonah Wedekind

It is fair to say that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been Ethiopia’s most popular leader of the last 50 years. But now, half-way through his second year in office, many Ethiopians are wondering if their early assessments might have been premature, given the ongoing surge in communal violence and the apparent inconsistency in the way his government treats people of different ethnicities.

Early on, Ethiopians at home and abroad were vocal in expressing support and providing encouragement. The prime minister’s Nobel Peace Prize highlighted his achievements, including his willingness to work across the aisles, both in domestic and foreign policy.

At the same time, however, worrisome developments have set off alarm bells. There are grumblings that the country under Abiy’s leadership seems to be drifting in dangerous directions.

Passive domination

It should be noted that the mantle Abiy inherited was laden with centuries of misrule. Legitimate grievances abound. But concerns are being raised by the discrepancy between the government’s passivity in the face of atrocities allegedly committed by members of favoured groups and the heavy-handed treatment meted out to others.

Abiy’s patience seems bottomless when it comes to his own Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) and Oromo opposition activists. Arguably, as Abiy’s tenure proceeds, the new Oromo political elites seem ever more emboldened in their new-found positions of power. A prime example is Abiy’s appointment of Takele Uma as Mayor of Addis Ababa, an Oromo nationalist who is not an elected member of the Addis Ababa City Council. To make his appointment legal, it was necessary to tweak the rules. This was an early move of the new administration which signalled that EPRDF’s old habits die hard under its new leadership.