ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Ethiopia’s ruling coalition named a chairman set to become the country’s new prime minister late Tuesday amid the latest state of emergency in Africa’s second most populous nation.
Abiy Ahmed is poised to take power, as the ruling coalition and its regional affiliates hold all parliament seats. A vote by lawmakers is expected on Wednesday.
The announcement followed months of the most severe anti-government protests in a quarter-century and the surprise decision by then-Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn early this year to release prominent politicians, journalists and others from prison to free up political space.
But Hailemariam later announced his intention to resign and a new state of emergency was imposed in one of Africa’s fastest growing economies.
Abiy is the first person from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, to hold the post of prime minister since the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front came to power in 1991.
Ethiopians had eagerly awaited news of their new leader for days. This will be the third prime minister since the current ruling coalition came to power close to 30 years ago after overthrowing the Derg military regime by force.
Many hoped the development would bring calm after the months of protests demanding wider freedoms.
“I believe that the Oromia region president, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, is the answer to Ethiopia’s youths’ questions,” Yonas Alemayehu, an activist in the restive Oromia region, told The Associated Press. The Oromo people, the largest ethnic group among Ethiopia’s population of 100 million, have long felt marginalized.
The outgoing prime minister at times had been labeled as weak and under the shadow of former strongman Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012. Others argued that Hailemariam successfully continued the late leader’s core policies, of both economic transformation and repression.
In a 2016 interview with the AP, the outgoing prime minister acknowledged that good governance was in decline in Ethiopia and people were asking the government to correct it.
“That is the main reason why people are protesting,” he said at the time. “This is really a positive sign.
I have recently apologized in front of the parliament for our mismanagement and lack of responsibility that have generated these dissents. We are now taking measures to address those grievances.”
However, the protests continue to this day.