Addis Ababa — As Ethiopia gears up to a much anticipated national election, the horn of African nation grapples to crack multiple challenges standing along the way.
Simmering ethnic tensions, rising violence in many parts of the country as well as the electoral board's lack of preparation are creating serious concerns ahead of the forthcoming August 29 elections.
In recent months, there have been growing clashes in a number of regions. Some universities have also become epicentres of inter-group conflicts.
Recently, there was a shocking incident when dozens of female university students were kidnapped in the country's South west by an undisclosed group.
The fate of some of the kidnapped students is still unknown. And as a result, the government of Abiy Ahmed remains under fire, accused of doing little to rescue them and failing to contain violence in large parts of the country.
Furthermore, there is fierce fighting in the Oromia region.
As these potential setbacks remain far from being resolved, questions are being raised on whether the country is ready to conduct the upcoming General Election.
"Given the simmering turmoil, I doubt whether Ethiopia can hold the election as planned and in a credible and democratic way," Metta-Alem Sinishaw, a political specialist on Ethiopia and Horn of Africa, told The East African.
"The ongoing instability and lack of security undercuts the magnitude of participation in certain areas and potential cancellation, particularly in Oromo region," he added.
Since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed assumed office in April 2018, Ethiopia has seen major developments including a series of political and economic reforms.
However, his reforms have also attracted conflict of interests among different groups triggering rivalries that have spilled into violence in parts of the country.
There are unresolved ethnic conflicts that could exacerbate the already difficult environment for holding a fair and free election.
During the past two years, continued clashes and extended violence have led to more than thousands of people being displaced.
Last year, security concerns forced the Ethiopian government to postpone the national census, a move seen then as an early sign that the upcoming election could also be rescheduled.
The electoral board's ability to conduct a fair election has also been questioned.
Argawi Berhe, the leader of the opposition Tigray Democratic Party (TDP) who returned home after over two decades in exile, says the electoral board and the government need to set the stage for a free and fair election.
The Ethiopian government has pledged put in place an automated system and conduct a fair, free and democratic election.