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Little Change Expected in Ethiopia Despite PM Resignation

By Mohammed Yusuf February 16, 2018

Sources in Ethiopia's ruling party tell VOA they expect the country to declare a state of emergency in the wake of the prime minister's surprise resignation this week. However, it is unlikely Hailemariam Desalegn's departure will trigger substantial political change.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn addressed the nation Thursday, saying he would step aside to help the country carry out reforms that will lead to peace and stability.

The country has seen waves of anti-government protests since 2014. Human rights groups accuse security forces of abuses, including torture and as many as 400 killings in response to the unrest. Thousands of people were arrested during the ten-month state of emergency that ended last August.

Opposition leader Merera Gudina, who until recently was among those jailed over the demonstrations, told VOA "there is no need for celebration because it's a change within the ruling party. What the ruling party is up to, we are not sure."

"The prime minister has never been as powerful as the former prime minister," he said, "so very little to celebrate because of the change. In fact, the change can be backward. That's what is worrying us. There is a possibility of taking back the country to a state of emergency or whatever."

Indeed, ruling party officials say the Council of Ministers is expected to declare a three-month state of emergency, with the military in charge until parliament, currently in recess, returns and approves Hailemariam's resignation.

This month has seen fresh protests, including a strike in the Oromia region, a flashpoint since 2014. Protesters have been demanding political and economic reforms.

Analysts say the government's heavy-handed tactics have encouraged other groups and regions to join the protests, even amid conciliatory moves like the government's recent release of hundreds of people detained under the state of emergency.

Gudina said the protesters' demands remain the same.

"People are demanding fundamental change — the democratization of the Ethiopian state, free and fair election, and independence of democratic institutions," he said. "We are behind those demands, but we are worried what the ruling party is up to, we are not sure."

The challenges before Ethiopia's government are real, said Mustafa Ali, a Horn of Africa researcher based in Kenya.

"The competition for power between the ruling elite is not addressed," he said. "The marginalization and the exclusion of key ethnic communities, particularly the Oromo and Amhara, is not going to be addressed. Then it's going to be a very serious challenge in Ethiopia, and it may spill in other countries."

The outgoing prime minister has boasted how his administration has handled the economy since he took office in 2012. Ethiopia is slated to be Africa's second fastest growing economy in 2018.

According to the World Bank, Ethiopia's economy has performed at more than double the regional average over the past decade, growing by 11 percent per year.

The prime minister will remain in office until parliament confirms his resignation.

Eskinder Frew contributed to this report from Addis Ababa.



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