Why did Abiy Ahmed get rid of Hailemariam Desalegn?

Now that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has relieved his longstanding nemesis, strongman Hailemariam Desalegn, of his post, the opposition is wondering what is next.

Mr. Abiy’s rise has been followed with general enthusiasm in the African press, which often treats Ethiopia as a quasi-Biblical nation fighting a centuries-old war against the diaspora, which so far has proved remarkably resilient. Nevertheless, the state-run Ethiopian Herald newspaper ran an article over the weekend that seemed suspiciously odd, saying Mr. Abiy’s sacking of Mr. Desalegn might be a move to “establish peace and order.” Ethiopia had suffered 20 terrorist attacks since 2017, it noted, and Ethiopia had lost more lives in terror attacks than to the terror, which the country often describes as “a shadow” gripping the region.

“Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other non-governmental organizations said such killings went unpunished,” the article states. “The very concept of judicial trials to prosecute those involved in human rights violations has been evaded for too long in Ethiopia.”

In fact, the government of Ethiopia has been following a pattern of violence and insecurity for many years.

This week, however, Abiy responded to the violence in different ways than the previous regime’s would have. First, he placed some men wanted by the government and accused of violence and terrorism under house arrest. He also opened up free speech on the television station of the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, the state-owned network. He accused of rebels of attacking civilians without provocation, and sympathizing with them — by such actions, the president said, the insurgent’s spirit would soon depart from their disciples.

While there has been an ideological debate about whether Somalis should join the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, or indeed if Ethiopia should at all be independent, there is no debate that many Ethiopian Ethiopians do not want to see their country destroyed by unending conflict. They hate terrorism, and they deeply do not want another Eritrean war, because Eritrea is not Ethiopia.

That said, Abiy has not made a single speech explicitly mentioning Ethiopia’s former enemy, Eritrea, or any Ethiopian politicians’ previous hopes for peace with the people of Eritrea. The view from the opposition could be a little different from the formal government’s — some opponents think the new prime minister is too close to the former regime. But Ethiopian President Donald Trump — that’s him, not Prime Minister Ahmed — criticized the “unstable and non-democratic regime” in Eritrea and called for withdrawal of a U.N. force in a 2017 speech. The prime minister was indirectly criticized for praising the United States in a 2018 televised address for having shown “the world” kindness and “confidence.”

Now, a Foreign Policy contributor writes:

Since his political introduction to the country in 2014, Abiy Ahmed has steadily moved the balance of power toward an end to fighting between the Ethiopian military and the popular resistance armed forces — in stark contrast to the previous regime’s position, which had urged his predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn, to “completely crush them.” In the process, the United States has endorsed his “bold leadership,” and even the Israel government has been impressed by his moral courage and example to the rest of the world of making peace and resolving disputes peacefully, defying autocrats and radical dictators. At the forefront of the effort, according to respected journalist and commentator Mona Eltahawy, has been Abiy Ahmed.

On Monday, the government’s spokeswoman dismissed any worry about Abiy’s rhetoric regarding the future of Eritrea, which many Ethiopians hope he will visit someday to renew the peace that was reached 20 years ago. She suggested that Abiy’s stance was appropriate: the Ethiopian leader’s much-touted desire to establish peace, she said, only applies to Ethiopia and Eritrea, while “violence, dictatorship, corruption and other maladies” in other countries are seen as personal disagreements.

Read the full story here.

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