Ethiopia: Hailemariam Deselegn resigns as Oromo and Amhara demand greater voice

Source: Financial Times

Hailemariam DeselegnEthiopia’s prime minister resigned on Thursday in a sign of growing division in the country’s leadership after almost three years of anti-government protests.

Hailemariam Deselegn, who took office in 2012, tendered his resignation as premier and head of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which has ruled the Horn of Africa nation with an autocratic grip for almost three decades.

The front, which has Marxist roots, has presided over one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies since taking power in 1991.

But it has faced a wave of social unrest as the benefits of growth have failed to trickle down to ordinary people in the continent’s second-most populous country.

Mr Hailemariam’s resignation, reported by the official Ethiopian news agency, comes as the anti-government protests have exposed divisions in the front, which is a coalition of parties, over how to respond to the crisis.

He will continue in his role until the “power transition is completed”, the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate said.

“The prime minister said he tried his utmost effort to solve the crisis in his country and he is resigning now to be part of a solution to it,” it added.

The government has in recent weeks released more than 5,000 political prisoners in a gesture that suggested it was considering opening up the political process.

In the past, it has dealt with opponents harshly.

Hundreds of demonstrators in the restive Oromia and Amhara regions of Ethiopia have been killed and tens of thousands detained.

Pressure has mounted on the government this week after a stay-at-home strike called by political activists in Oromia brought vast swaths of the country’s most populous state to a halt for two days.

It was called off after some of the country’s most prominent political prisoners, including opposition leader Bekele Gerba, were freed on Wednesday.

Mr Hailemariam’s resignation comes after leaders of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation and the Amhara National Democratic Movement, junior parties in the front, began to push for greater democracy in a system they say is dominated by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front.

The Tigrayans, who make up only 6 per cent of the population, are widely perceived as holding the levers of power, particularly in the security services.

The Oromo and the Amhara make up about 60 per cent of the estimated 105m population.

The Tigrayans have always denied dominating the political system.

Mr Hailemariam comes from a southern minority ethnic group.

He was a compromise candidate to take over as prime minister following the death of Meles Zenawi and his position has become increasingly weak as divisions in the ruling coalition have become more open.

The upheaval in Ethiopia, often championed by bodies such as the World Bank as a paragon of development, follows sudden changes in leadership in a number of African countries, including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Angola.

The front, which has always objected to being described as authoritarian, and its allies control 100 per cent of the seats in parliament.

“Things are changing fast, it is a crucial time,” said Befeqadu Hailu, a prominent Ethiopian blogger who has been detained several times. “

This development is very important — whoever is coming next will determine the political direction of Ethiopia, he said. “It’s an obvious manifestation of the political crisis for the ruling party.”

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