Abiy’s government will have to tackle multiple challenges, but the situation is not in any way hopeless.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has appointed the former head of war-hit Tigray’s interim administration as defence minister, one of several shake-ups in his new government’s 22-member cabinet.
Abiy, who was sworn in for his first full five-year term on Monday after his party won a landslide victory in a June election, also tapped a new head for the peace ministry,
The cabinet was approved on Wednesday by a majority vote in the lower house of parliament, with two votes against and 12 abstentions.
Abiy’s choice for the defence ministry was Abraham Belay, who had previously served as the federally appointed head of the northern region of Tigray. He had previously served with Abiy at the cyber-espionage Information Network Security Agency and as minister of innovation and technology, a cabinet position Abiy also once held.
Binalf Andualem was selected to lead the peace ministry. The position has often served as the public face of humanitarian operations in northern Ethiopia, where the United Nations estimates 11 months of conflict have driven hundreds of thousands of people into famine-like conditions.
Abiy also nominated incumbent Ahmed Shide to return as finance minister, signalling a determination to stay with a course of reforms that includes privatising creaking state enterprises.
The heads of two small opposition parties were also nominated for government positions. Berhanu Nega, head of the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice party (Ezema), was nominated as minister of education, while Belete Mola, chairman of the National Movement of Amhara, was chosen as minister of innovation and technology.
The prime minister’s office touted the fact that three new cabinet members hail from opposition parties, saying on Twitter this reflected a “commitment to inclusivity”.
PM @AbiyAhmedAli presents his proposal for members of the Council of Ministers during the HOPR session today. From 22 Ministerial portfolios, three proposed leaders represent competing political parties. #Ethiopia's new beginnings is marked by commitment to inclusivity. pic.twitter.com/YFq6STMjRT
— Office of the Prime Minister – Ethiopia (@PMEthiopia) October 6, 2021
Abiy came to power in 2018 on the back of several years of anti-government protests.
He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 but, last year, long-running tensions with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated national politics before Abiy took office, erupted into open conflict.
After driving the TPLF from Tigray’s cities and towns last November, Abiy struggled to establish a federally-appointed interim administration in the northern region.
In a stunning about-turn, the TPLF recaptured most of Tigray, including the regional capital Mekelle, by late June and federal forces largely withdrew, but the conflict has spread to neighbouring regions.
Other key portfolios, including the foreign ministry, did not change hands – a sign Abiy is likely to continue with a foreign policy that has coincided with worsening relations with Western powers.
Last week, the foreign ministry announced the expulsion of seven senior UN officials – a decision that was set to be discussed by the UN Security Council later Wednesday.
Abiy did, however, replace Water Minister Seleshi Bekele, who had taken the lead on a contentious mega-dam on the Blue Nile River that has fuelled tensions with downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan.
That ministry will now be headed by Habtamu Itefa, formerly head of the water bureau of Abiy’s native Oromia region.