Three years back nobody thought that a massive reform program was in store for Ethiopia. A wave of public unrest in various parts of the country triggered by socio-economic problems and stalled development programs along with political demands regarding the recognition of ethnic identity and disputes on internal border demarcations added more fuel to the urgent need for reforms.
Several factors forced the EPRDF to resolve to make reforms on a wide spectrum of sectors culminating in the resignation of the former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegen.
Hailemariam submitted his resignation from office on 15 February 2018 in reaction to the fallout from the pervasive mass protest and unrest that led to the transfer of leadership to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Thus, Abiy Ahmed Ali sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia in parliament on 2 April 2018, which has paved the way for the reform. This piece of article will look at the achievements, opportunities and challenges of the reform in Ethiopia under the Premiership of Abiy Ahmed.
Addressing the parliament and the people of Ethiopia, Abiy has expressed his commitment to undertake comprehensive reforms including despotic laws. His first year in office showed many encouraging wide-ranging reforms and a new sagacity of buoyancy after years of dissent and flux. Right after his inauguration, and as part of the reform, thousands of political prisoners have been released in a bid to broaden the political landscape in the country. He has taken away opposition groups from the list of terrorist organizations, and expressed his wish for political plurality in the country.
The reform program incorporated various measures ranging from political reforms, introduction of changes in government structures that led to the reduction of the number of ministries and formation of new ones like the Ministry of Peace.
After few months into his leadership, as part of his promise to the HPR on his inaugural speech, the Premier traveled to Asmera to cement peace with Eretria after 20 years of a state of lull and tension.
Abiy traveled to the neighboring countries and even managed to resolve the conflict that flared up in Sudan and masterminded the formation of an interim government that incorporated civilians and the military brass.
Among other things, sector reform programs were designed to speed up the pace of the economic development of the country. A reform program in the army, police and security forces envisaged a sort of apolitical and formation of non-ideological defense and security forces.
A national economic reform program was led by a macro team, chaired by the Prime Minister. The macro team has four sub-teams leading the reform in relevant sectors. The background study of Ethiopia's long term perspective plan suggested to revisit exemptions and tax incentives provided to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Mega projects and State Owned Enterprises (SOE) that failed due to weak project execution capacity to be privatized in order to improved competitiveness.
As part of the national monetary and financial reform program, the government issued new bank notes which enabled millions of citizens to open bank accounts and they were able to save billions of birr. In the service sector, the Government has started to globalize services in aviation, logistics and financial sectors. Opening the logistics and financial sector to foreign companies is envisaged to improve competitiveness.
The 10-Year Homegrown Economic Development Plan also prioritizes infrastructure development in growth potential areas and development corridors based on their comparative advantage. Energy, ICT, road will be given due attention to boost productivity. In addition, the Government intends to avail land and finance for small and medium enterprises to enhance efficiency and competition.
The government introduced citizens focused foreign policy and diplomacy to ascertain the livelihood of citizens in foreign lands. In his subsequent visits to African countries and the Middle East, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed facilitated the immediate release of thousands of citizens who were arrested in these countries.
Finally, On 11th October 2019, the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019 to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea.
For almost three decades, Ethiopia has been administered by the Ethiopian People's Democratic Front (EPRDF), which was an alliance of four ethnic parties. Hypothetically, the coalition that formed EPRDF appeared to give equal representation to all four of its members, but in veracity it was totally subjugated by its architect, TPLF. This serious inequity brought the legitimacy of the ruling coalition into question and made reforms within the EPRDF as a pressing inevitability.
In November 2019, Prime Minister Abiy introduced a new political party that merged together three of the four allied parties that made up the ruling EPRDF coalition. Most Ethiopians appear to be contented with the merger and introduction the Prosperity Party (PP), considering it as a prospect to fuse the nation and help to end ethnic strife. However, the move was strongly disparaged by the then dominant TPLF and caused much storm across the nation.
Over the couple of years that followed the inclusive reform, mounting strains and conflicts, mainly along ethnic lines, have resulted in considerable displacement and a breakdown in law and order across much of the country, threatening progress on critical reforms that once initiated by the Prime Minister Abiy. Right at the start of the reform program, a battle raged between the reformists led by the Prime Minister and his cabinet and those who were out to deform or destroy the reform process.
On the 4th of November 2020 TPLF and its loyal forces attacked Ethiopian National Defense Forces Base in Tigray. TPLF instigated ethnic conflicts led to the death and displacement of citizens in MaiKadra, Humera, Metekel, Gulisso and several other parts of the country putting national peace and tranquility at stake.
The TPLF Special Forces attached the Northern Command of the Ethiopian army with an attempt to make the country defenseless and weak in the eyes of the enemies of the reform. Various attempts made earlier by the government to settle the dispute with TPLF in a more peaceful and amicable manner failed.
These were not the only challenges faced the reform initiated by the Prime Minister Abiy. The COVID-19 pandemic also posed another dare on the socio-economic and political reforms of the nation coupled with desert locust infestations.
The onset of COVID-19 pandemic in Ethiopia further complicated the path to the national reform program as billions of birr were re-budgeted for austerity measures to be taken to minimize the effects of the virus. Moreover, war mongering and campaign of misinformation on GERD has continued unabated. It was under such murky condition that the reform was able to register remarkable achievements in various aspects including the 6.1 percent economic growth in this fiscal year.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has embarked on a series of reforms aimed at righting past off beams and deal with the fault-lines of national politics. He managed to maintain the growth impetus and resilient peace.
With the 6th National Elections in sight, the reform programs have continued but certainly not without huge challenges. But there are still opportunities to overcome the existing challenges and much work remains to be done to create a situation contributing to take the reform program a step forward. The general elections should be concluded well in a manner that could promote peace and building democracy. The government should focus on restoring law and order across the country.
As we all know difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations, so too were Prime Minister Abiy's reform devoid of setbacks. Despite the up and downs, the reform programs will continue as eventually, they reveal the wish of most Ethiopians. Since the reform is still unfolding, there is still more to be desired.