The Stream

Is Ethiopia spiralling into political crisis?

Prime minister faces pressure from opposition in wake of protests over killing of musician and postponement of election.

On Tuesday, July 7 at 19:30 GMT:
Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s work towards securing a peace deal with neighbouring Eritrea brought him to the attention of the world, and saw him awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. And he has won support at home for releasing political prisoners and trying to forge national unity. But just six months after Ethiopia’s first Oromo leader accepted the award in Oslo, the killing of a popular musician in Addis Ababa is fuelling a wave of both cross-communal and intra-ethnic unrest, amid unease over a postponed election.

Hachalu Hundessa, an Oromo protest singer, was shot dead in the Ethiopian capital on June 29. Police suspect a targeted killing. Thousands of people in the Oromia region took to the streets demanding answers, and scores of people were killed amid violence between gangs from different backgrounds. Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba, two prominent Oromo opponents of Abiy, were arrested.

Politicians in opposition to Abiy’s Prosperity Party-led government were already critical of its declaration of a state of emergency in April due to the impact of coronavirus, as well as by parliament’s recent votes to delay elections due in August and allow Abiy to remain in office beyond his term. It’s now unlikely there will be a vote until at least nine months after the threat of coronavirus has passed. His opponents contend he is trying to hold on to power.

Abiy has long said that he wants to promote pan-Ethiopianism through his ‘medemer’ (‘coming together’) philosophy, and the recently-formed Prosperity Party brings together several parties representing Oromo, Afar and Amhara communities, among others. But the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated a coalition government for years before Abiy took office, is absent. And historical differences over land and political power in Ethiopia persist. The International Crisis Group warns there is a serious risk of conflict between the northern Tigrayan region and the neighbouring Amhara region over a disputed border, “fuelled in part by rising ethnic nationalism”.

With an election now on ice, Tigrayan leaders in the north vowing to forge ahead with their own vote, and support for Abiy’s government cooling in his Oromia heartland, does a crisis loom for Ethiopia and its prime minister? Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Awol Allo, @awolallo
Senior Lecturer in Law, Keele University

Alula Solomon, @Alula_Solomon
CEO, Tigray Media House 

Zelalem Moges, @EthioHermit

Read more:
The threat of intraethnic strife in Ethiopia – Al Jazeera
How Hachalu Hundessa’s murder reveals Ethiopia’s political divide – Al Jazeera