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Abiy Ahmed

Abiy Ahmed

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Abiy Ahmed
አብይ አህመድ
Abiyyi Ahimad
15th Prime Minister of Ethiopia
Assumed office
2 April 2018
President Mulatu Teshome
Deputy Demeke Mekonnen
Preceded by Hailemariam Desalegn
3rd Chairman of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front
Assumed office
27 March 2018
Deputy Demeke Mekonnen
Preceded by Hailemariam Desalegn
Leader of the
Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization
Assumed office
22 February 2018
Deputy Lemma Megersa
Preceded by Lemma Megersa
Minister of Science and Technology
In office
6 October 2015 – 1 November 2016
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn
Preceded by Demitu Hambisa
Director of the Information Network Security Agency
Acting
In office
2008–2010
Preceded by Teklebirhan Woldearegay
Personal details
Born (1976-08-15) 15 August 1976 (age 42)
Beshasha, Kaffa Province, Socialist Ethiopia
Political party Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization
Other political
affiliations
Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front
Spouse(s) Zinash Tayachew
Children 3 daughters
Education Microlink Information Technology College (BA)
University of Greenwich (MA)
Ashland University (MBA)
Addis Ababa University (PhD)
Military service
Allegiance  Ethiopia
Service/branch Ethiopian Army
Years of service 1991–2010
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Unit Army Signals Corps
Commands Information Network Security Agency
Battles/wars Ethiopian Civil War
United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda
Eritrean–Ethiopian War

Abiy Ahmed Ali[pronunciation?] (Amharic: አብይ አህመድ አሊ, Oromo: Abiyyi Ahimad Alii; born 15 August 1976) is an Ethiopian politician serving as the 15th and current Prime Minister of Ethiopia since 2 April 2018.[1] He is chairman of both the ruling EPRDF (Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front)[2] and the OPDO (Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization), which is one of the four coalition parties of the EPRDF.[3] Abiy is also an elected member of the Ethiopian parliament, and a member of the OPDO and EPRDF executive committees.

A former army intelligence officer, since becoming Prime Minister, Abiy has launched a wide programme of political and economic reforms.

Early life and education

Abiy Ahmed was born in the town of Beshasha [4] in the historic Kaffa Province (in modern times Jimma Zone, Oromia Region), Ethiopia, on 15 August 1976.[5][6][7] His father, Ahmed Ali, is a Muslim Oromo[8]; while Abiy's deceased mother, Tezeta Wolde, was an Orthodox Christian Amhara[8] from Burayu[4] just outside Addis Ababa who converted to Islam[8] when she married Abiy's father as his fourth wife.[4][9] While Abiy was very interested in reading the Quran in his youth according to his father,[4] he became a Protestant later in his life.[8]

Abiy is the thirteenth child to his father and was the sixth and youngest child of his mother.[4][9] His childhood name was Abiyot, meaning Revolution, in Amharic, a name that was sometimes given to children in the aftermath of the Derg revolution of 1974.[4] The then Abiyot went to the local primary school and later continued his studies at secondary schools in Agaro town. Abiy, according to several personal reports, was always very interested in his own education and later in his life also encouraged others to learn and to improve.[4]

While serving in the Ethiopian National Defense Force, Abiy received his first degree, a Bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering[10] from the Microlink Information Technology College in Addis Ababa in 2001. In 2005, Abiy earned a post-graduate certificate in Cryptography at Machine Dynamics in Pretoria, Republic of South Africa (AES encryption based on block cipher).

Abiy holds a Master of Arts in Transformational Leadership and Change[10] with Merit, earned from the Business School at Greenwich University, London, in collaboration with the International Leadership Institute, Addis Ababa, in 2011. He also holds a Master of Business Administration[10] from the Leadstar College of Management and Leadership in Addis Ababa in partnership with Ashland University in 2013.

Abiy, who had started his Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) work several years ago as a regular student,[11] completed his PhD in 2017 at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies, Addis Ababa University. He did his PhD work on the Agaro constituency with the PhD thesis entitled “Social Capital and its Role in Traditional Conflict Resolution in Ethiopia: The Case of Inter-Religious Conflict In Jimma Zone state”. As a follow-up to his PhD thesis, he published a research article on de-escalation strategies in the Horn of Africa Bulletin in a special journal issue dedicated to countering violent extremism.[12]

Military career

As a teenager and in early 1991, he joined the armed struggle against the Marxist–Leninist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam after the death of his oldest brother. He did so as a member of OPDO (Oromo People's Democratic Organization), which at that time was a tiny organization of only around 200 fighters in the large coalition army of ~100,000 fighters that resulted in regime's fall later that year.[13][4][14] As there were only so few OPDO fighters in an army with its core of about 90,000 Tigrayans, Abiy quickly had to learn the Tigrinya language. As a speaker of Tigrinya in a security apparatus dominated by Tigrayans, he could move forward with his military career.[13]

After the fall of the Derg, he took formal military training from Assefa Brigade in West Wollega and was stationed there. His military post was in intelligence and communications. Later on he became a soldier in the now Ethiopian National Defense Force in 1993 and worked mostly in intelligence and communications department. In 1995, after the Rwandan genocide, he was deployed as a member of the United Nations Peace Keeping Force (UNAMIR), Kigali, Rwanda.[15] In the Ethio-Eritrea border war between 1998 and 2000, he led an intelligence team to discover positions of the Eritrean Defence Forces.

Later on, Abiy was posted back to his home town of Beshasha, where he – as an officer of the Defense Forces – had to address a critical situation of inter-religious clashes between Muslims and Christians with a number of deaths.[13][16] He brought calm and peace in a situation of communal tensions accompanying the clashes.[13] This was like a prelude for his role as an inter-religious mediator he became in later years.

In 2008, Abiy was one of the co-founders of the Ethiopian Information Network Security Agency (INSA), where he worked in different positions.[4] For two years, he was acting director of INSA due to a leave of absence of the director assigned to the post.[4] In this capacity, he was board member of several government agencies working on information and communications, like Ethio Telecom and Ethiopian Television. In 2010, Abiy eventually decided to leave the military and his post as deputy director of INSA to become a politician. The highest rank he had achieved during his military career was that of a Lieutenant Colonel.[12][13]

Political career

Member of Parliament

He started his political career as a member of the OPDO (Oromo People's Democratic Organization).[17] The OPDO is the ruling party in Oromia Region since 1991 and also one of four coalition parties of the ruling coalition in Ethiopia, the EPRDF (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front). He became a member of the central committee of OPDO and congress member of the Executive Committee of the EPRDF – in quick succession.[13]

Religious Forum for Peace with Abiy Ahmed (2010)

In the 2010 national election, Abiy represented the woreda of Agaro and became an elected member of the House of Peoples' Representatives, the lower chamber of the Ethiopian Federal Parliamentary Assembly. Before and during his time of parliamentary service, there were several religious clashes among Muslims and Christians in Jimma zone. Some of these confrontations turned violent and resulted in the loss of life and property. Abiy, as an elected member of parliament, took a proactive role in working with several religious institutions and elders to bring about reconciliation in the zone. He was then setting up a forum entitled “Religious Forum for Peace” an outcome of the need to devise a sustainable resolution mechanism to restore peaceful Muslim-Christian community interaction in the region.[12]

In 2014, during his time in parliament, Abiy became the Director General of a new and in 2011 founded Government Research Institute called Science and Technology Information Center (STIC).[4][18] The year after, in 2015, Abiy became an executive member of OPDO. The same year he was re-elected to the House of Peoples' Representatives for a second term, this time for his home woreda of Gomma.

Rise to power

Starting from 2015, Abiy became one of the central figures in the violent fight against illegal land-grabbing activities in Oromia Region and especially around the capital Addis Ababa. Although the 'Addis Ababa Master Plan' at the heart of the land-grabbing plans was stopped in 2016, the disputes continued for some time resulting in injuries and deaths.[19] It was this fight against land-grabbing, that finally boosted Abiy's political career, brought him into the spotlight and allowed him to climb the political ladder.[13]

Oromia Urban Development and Planning Office

In October 2015, Abiy became the Ethiopian Minister of Science and Technology (MoST), a post which he left after only 12 months. From October 2016 on, Abiy served as Deputy President of Oromia Region as part of the team of Oromia Region's president Lemma Megersa while staying a member of the Ethiopian Federal House of Peoples' Representatives.[20][21] Abiy also became the Head of the Oromia Urban Development and Planning Office. In this role, Abiy was expected to be the major driving force behind Oromia Economic Revolution, Oromia Land and Investment reform, youth employment as well as resistance to widespread land grabbing in Oromia region.[22] As one of his duties in office, he took care of the displaced one million Oromo people from Somali region during the 2017 unrest.[23]

As head of OPDO Secretariat from October 2017 on, Abiy crossed over religious and ethnic divides to facilitate the formation of a new alliance between Oromo and the Amhara groups, both making up two thirds of the 100 million Ethiopian population.[24]

In early 2018, a lot of political observers considered Abiy and Lemma as the most popular politicians within the majority of the Oromo community and other Ethiopian communities.[25][26] This came after several years of unrest in Ethiopia. But despite this favourable rating for Abiy and Lemma, young people from Oromia Region called for immediate action without delays to bring fundamental change and freedom to Oromia Region and Ethiopia – otherwise more unrest was to be expected.[19] According to Abiy himself, people are asking for a different rhetoric, with an open and respectful discussion in the political space to allow political progress and to win people for democracy instead of pushing them.[19]

Until early 2018, Abiy continued to serve as head of the OPDO secretariat and of the Oromia Housing and Urban Development Office and as Deputy President of Oromia Region. Then he left all these posts after his election as Leader of EPRDF.[27][20]

EPRDF leadership election

Following three years of protest and unrest on 15 February 2018 the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, announced his resignation which also meant that he resigned from the post of the EPRDF Chairman. As an unwritten rule in Ethiopian politics, the incoming EPRDF Chairman has to be the next Prime Minister. The EPRDF Chairman on the other hand is one of the heads of the four parties that make up the ruling coalition: OPDO, ANDM, SEPDM and TPLF.

Hailemariam's resignation triggered the first ever contested leadership election among EPRDF coalition members to replace him. A lot of political observers made Lemma Megersa (the OPDO Chairman) and Abiy Ahmed the front-runners to become the Leader of the ruling coalition and eventually Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Despite being the clear favorite in the general public, Lemma Megersa was not a member of the national parliament, a pre-condition to become Prime Minister as requested by the Ethiopian constitution. Therefore, Lemma was excluded from the leadership race.[28] On 22 February 2018, Lemma's party, OPDO, called for an emergency executive committee meeting and replaced Lemma by Abiy as Chairman of OPDO. Abiy had the advantage of being Member of Parliament in contrast to Lemma. A lot of observers saw that as a tactical move to promote Abiy to become Prime Minister.

On 1 March 2018, the 180 EPRDF executive committee members started their meeting to elect the Leader of the party. Each of the four parties sent in 45 members. The contest for the leadership was among Abiy Ahmed of OPDO, Demeke Mekonnen, the Deputy Prime Minister and ANDM leader, Shiferaw Shigute as Chairman of SEPDM and Debretsion Gebremichael as the Leader of TPLF. Despite being the overwhelming favorite by the majority of Ethiopians, Abiy faced major opposition from TPLF and SEPDM members during the leadership discussions.

On 27 March 2018, a few hours before the beginning of the leadership elections, Demeke Mekonnen, who had been seen as the major opponent to Abiy, dropped out of the race. Many observers saw this as an endorsement of Abiy Ahmed. Demeke was then approved as Deputy Prime Minister and got another term in that post. Following Demeke's exit, Abiy received a presumably unanimous vote from both the ANDM and OPDO executive members, with 18 additional votes in a secret ballot coming from elsewhere. By midnight, Abiy Ahmed was declared Chairman of the ruling coalition in Ethiopia, the EPRDF, and was considered as the Prime Minister Designate of Ethiopia by receiving 108 votes while Shiferaw Shigute received 58 and Debretsion Gebremichael received 2 votes. [2] On 2 April 2018, Abiy was elected as Prime Minister of Ethiopia by the House of Representatives and sworn in.[1]

Prime Minister of Ethiopia

On 2 April 2018, Abiy was confirmed and sworn in by the Ethiopian parliament as Prime Minister of Ethiopia. During his acceptance speech, he promised political reform; to promote the unity of Ethiopia and the unity among the peoples of Ethiopia; to reach out to the Eritrean government to resolve the ongoing Eritrean–Ethiopian border conflict after the Eritrean–Ethiopian War and to also reach out to the political opposition inside and outside of Ethiopia. His acceptance speech sparked optimism and received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the Ethiopian Public including the opposition groups inside and outside Ethiopia. Following his speech, his popularity and support across the country reached an historical high and some political observers argued that Abiy was overwhelmingly more popular than the ruling party coalition, the EPRDF.[2]

Domestic policy

Since taking office in April 2018, Abiy's government has presided over the release of thousands of political prisoners from Ethiopian jails and the rapid opening of the country's political landscape.[29][30][31] In May 2018 alone the Oromo region pardoned over 7,600 prisoners.[32] On 29 May Ginbot 7 leader Andargachew Tsege, facing the death penalty on terrorism charges, was released after being pardoned by President Mulatu Teshome, along with 575 other detainees.[33]

That same day, charges were dropped against Andargachew's colleague Berhanu Nega and Oromo dissident and public intellectual Jawar Mohammed, as well as their respectively affiliated US-based ESAT and OMN satellite television networks.[34] Shortly thereafter, Abiy took the "unprecedented and previously unimaginable" move of meeting Andargatchew, who had not twenty-four hours prior been on death row, at his office, a move even critics of the ruling party termed "bold and remarkable".[35] Abiy had previously met former Oromo Liberation Front leaders including founder Lencho Letta, who had committed to peaceful participation in the political process, upon their arrival at Bole International Airport.

On 30 May it was announced the ruling party would amend the country's "draconian" anti-terrorism law, widely perceived as a tool of political repression. On 1 June Abiy announced the government would seek to end the state of emergency two months in advance of the expiration its six-month tenure, citing an improved domestic situation. On 4 June Parliament approved the necessary legislation, ending the state of emergency.[31] In his first briefing to the House of Peoples' Representatives in June 2018, Abiy countered criticism of his government's release of convicted "terrorists" by arguing that policies that sanctioned arbitrary detention and torture themselves constituted extra-constitutional acts of terror aimed at suppressing opposition.[36] This followed the additional pardon of 304 prisoners (289 of which had been sentenced on terrorism-related charges) on June 15.[37]

The pace of reforms has revealed fissures within the ruling coalition, with hardliners in the military and the hitherto dominant TPLF said to be "seething" at the end of the state of emergency and the release of political prisoners.[38] These hardliners, centered around TPLF chief Debretsion Gebremichael, had grown to deeply resent the leadership of Abiy's predecessor Hailemariam (at times supposedly bringing him to the brink of tears), and had hoped to place a more assertive figure in the prime minister's office willing to "act with an iron fist", rather than a reformist.[39]

An editorial on the previously pro-government website Tigrai Online arguing for the maintenance of the state of emergency gave voice to this sentiment, saying that Abiy was "doing too much too fast".[40] Another article critical of the release of political prisoners suggested that Ethiopia's criminal justice system had become a "revolving door" and that Abiy's administration had "quite inexplicably been rushing to pardon and release thousands of prisoners, among them many deadly criminals and dangerous arsonists."[41] On 13 June 2018 the TPLF executive committee denounced the decisions to hand over Badme and privatize SOEs as "fundamentally flawed", saying that the ruling coalition suffered from a "fundamental leadership deficit".[42]

Constitutional reform

In his briefing to parliament of 18 June 2018, Abiy announced that he would set up a commission aimed at reviewing the divisive system of ethnic federalism, which he said was failing to adequately deal with the proliferation of localized disputes over which particular ethnicity was entitled to control certain towns and districts, potentially paving the way for sweeping constitutional reform.[43]

Economic reforms

Abiy has announced that state-owned enterprises such as Ethiopian Airlines are to be partially or wholly privatised.

In June 2018, the ruling coalition announced its intention to pursue the large-scale privatisation of state-owned enterprises and the liberalization of several key economic sectors long considered "off-limits", marking a landmark shift in the country's state-oriented development model.[44]

State monopolies in the telecommunications, aviation, electricity, and logistics sectors are to be ended and those industries opened up to private sector competition.[45] Shares in the state-owned firms in those sectors, including Ethiopian Airlines, Africa's largest and most profitable, are to be offered for purchase to both domestic and foreign investors, although the government will continue to hold a majority share in these firms, thereby retaining control of the "commanding heights of the economy".[46] State-owned enterprises in sectors deemed less critical, including railway operators, sugar, industrial parks, hotels and various manufacturing firms, may be fully privatised.

Aside from representing an ideological shift with respect to views on the degree of government control over the economy, the move was seen as a pragmatic measure aimed at improving the country's dwindling foreign-exchange reserves, which by the end of the 2017 fiscal year were equal in value to less than two months worth of imports, as well as easing its growing sovereign debt load.[46][44]

In June 2018 Abiy announced the government's intention to establish an Ethiopian stock exchange in tandem with the privatization of state-owned enterprises.[43] As of 2015 Ethiopia was the largest country in the world, in terms of both population and gross domestic product, without a stock exchange.[47]

Foreign policy

In May 2018 Abiy visited Saudi Arabia, receiving guarantees for the release of Ethiopian prisoners including billionaire entrepreneur Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi, who was detained following the 2017 Saudi Arabian purge.[29]

In June 2018 he met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo and, separately, brokered a meeting in Addis Ababa between the South Sudanese president Salva Kiir and rebel leader Rieck Machar in an attempt to encourage peace talks.[48]

Djibouti and port agreements[edit]

Since taking power Abiy has pursued a policy of expanding landlocked Ethiopia's access to ports in the Horn of Africa region. Shortly before his assumption of office it was announced that the Ethiopian government would take a 19% stake in Berbera Port in the unrecognized Republic of Somaliland as part of a joint venture with DP World.[49] In May 2018 Ethiopia signed an agreement with the government of Djibouti to take an equity stake in the Port of Djibouti, enabling Ethiopia to have a say in the port's development and the setting of port handling fees.

Two days later a similar agreement was signed with the Sudanese government granting Ethiopia an ownership stake in the Port of Port Sudan. The Ethio-Djibouti agreement grants the Djiboutian government the option of taking stakes in state-owned Ethiopian firms in return, such as the Ethiopian Airlines and Ethio Telecom.[50] This in turn was followed shortly thereafter by an announcement that Abiy and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta had reached an agreement for the construction of an Ethiopian logistics facility at Lamu Port as part of the Lamu Port and Lamu-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) project.[51]

The potential normalization of Ethiopia-Eritrea relations likewise opens the possibility for Ethiopia to resume using the Ports of Massawa and Asseb, which, prior to the Ethio-Eritrean conflict, were its main ports, which would be of particular benefit to the northern region of Tigray.[44] All these developments would reduce Ethiopian reliance on Djibouti's port, through which approximately 85% of Ethiopia's foreign trade currently transits.[50]

Eritrea[edit]

Upon taking office, Abiy stated his willingness to negotiate an end to the Ethio-Eritrean conflict. In June 2018 it was announced that the government had agreed to hand over the disputed border town of Badme to Eritrea, thereby complying with the terms of the 2000 Algiers Agreement to bring an end to the state of tension between Eritrea and Ethiopia that had persisted despite the end of hostilities during the Ethiopia-Eritrea War.[44] Ethiopia had until then rejected the international boundary commission's ruling awarding Badme to Eritrea, resulting in a frozen conflict (popularly termed a policy of "no war, but no peace") between the two states.

Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki sign the joint declaration re-establishing diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

During the national celebration on 20 June 2018, the president of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, accepted the peace initiative put forward by Abiy and suggested that he would send a delegation to Addis Ababa. On 26 June 2018, Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed visited Addis Ababa in the first Eritrean high-level delegation to Ethiopia in over two decades.[52]

In Asmara, on 8 July 2018, Abiy became the first Ethiopian leader to meet with an Eritrean counterpart in over two decades, in the 2018 Eritrea–Ethiopia summit.[53] The very next day, the two signed a "Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship" declaring an end to tensions and agreeing, amongst other matters, to re-establish diplomatic relations; reopen direct telecommunication, road, and aviation links; and facilitate Ethiopian use of the ports of Massawa and Asseb.[54][55][56]

Security sector reform

In June 2018, Abiy, speaking to senior commanders of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) declared his intention to carry out reforms of the military to strengthen its effectiveness and professionalism, with the view of limiting its role in politics. This followed renewed calls both within Ethiopia and from international human rights groups, namely Amnesty International, to dissolve highly controversial regional militias such as the Liyyu force.[57] This move is considered likely to face resistance from TPLF hardliners, who occupy much of the military high command.[58]

Notably, he has also called for the eventual reconstitution of the Ethiopian Navy, dissolved in 1996 in the aftermath of Eritrea's secession after an extraterritorial sojourn in Djibouti, saying that “we should build our naval force capacity in the future.”[59] It was reported that this move would appeal to nationalists still smarting from the country's loss of its coastline 25 years prior. Ethiopia already has a maritime training institute on Lake Tana as well as a national shipping line.

On 7 June 2018 Abiy carried out a wide-ranging reshuffle of top security officials, replacing ENDF Chief of Staff Samora Yunis with Lt. Gen Se'are Makonnen, National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) director Getachew Assefa with Lt. Gen Adem Mohammed, National Security Advisor and former army chief Abadula Gemeda, and Sebhat Nega, one of the founders of the TPLF and director-general of the Foreign Relations Strategic Research Institute[60][61] Samora and Sebhat's retirements had been previously announced that May.

Grenade attack

On 23 June 2018, a very large peaceful demonstration was organized in Addis Ababa at Meskel Square to show support for the new prime minister. Just after he had finished addressing the crowd a grenade was thrown just 17 metres from where he and other top officials were sitting. Two people were killed and over 165 were injured . Following the attack, 9 police officials were detained, including the deputy police commissioner, Girma Kassa, who was fired immediately. Questions were asked as to how a police car carrying attackers got so close to the prime minister and soon after the car was set alight destroying evidence. After the attack the prime minister addressed the nation on national TV unhurt by the blast and describing it as an "unsuccessful attempt by forces who do not want to see Ethiopia united". On the same day the prime minister made an unannounced visit to the Black Lion general hospital to meet victims of the attack.[62][63][64][65]

Personal life

Abiy is married and met his wife, Zinash Tayachew, an Amhara woman from Gondar,[4][9] while both were serving in the Ethiopian Defense Forces.[14] They have three daughters together.[14] Abiy is multilingual and speaks Afaan Oromo, Amharic, Tigrinya, and English.[13] He is a fitness aficionado and professes that physical health goes hand in hand with mental health and as such, he frequents physical and gym activities in Addis Ababa.[14]

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External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Hailemariam Desalegn
Prime Minister of Ethiopia
2018–present
Incumbent


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