On 01 April 2018 Ethiopia's parliament confirmed Abiy Ahmed as the country's new prime minister. Ahmed replaced Hailemariam Desalegn, who stepped down in February amid ongoing civil and political unrest across the country. The U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia said in a statement that it commended "the peaceful transfer of power in accordance with Ethiopia's constitution . . . " Ahmed, 41, had spent less than a decade in politics. The new premiership is not a full term authority, but rather serves the remainder of his predcessor's five year term.
Since taking office he has pushed for reforms, the importance of which are impossible to overestimate. He unlocked the torture chambers and took the muzzle away from the media. All of this deserves unqualified respect, even if, in the meantime, the initial euphoria has waned a little. Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2019 because of his "important reforms" in the domestic domain but explicitly because of his efforts regarding a lasting peace with Ethiopia's archrival Eritrea — the two countries were involved in a border war from 1998 to 2000, which led to heavy losses on both sides.
Newspapers and magazines that carry opinions are now widely available on the streets of Addis Ababa. The electronic media is mushrooming as a forum for dialogue and politicians openly and freely organize themselves. For more than two decades, that had not been the case. Abiy deserves top marks for amending repressive legislation covering anti-terrorism, civil society and the media. However, a roadmap for elections in 2020 and other political issues has not been established.
Ahmed had been considered a front-runner since Hailemariam's surprise resignation on 15 February 2018. As the leader of the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization, the EPRDF Party that represents the country’s largest ethnic group, Ahmed is considered an insider with a decades-long affiliation with the ruling coalition. In 2007 he established the Internet Security Agency, a group tasked with advancing Ethiopia’s technological capabilities, was also responsible, in part, for what human rights groups consider mass government surveillance to stifle dissent. By 2010, Abiy achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Ahmed speaks Amharic, Afan Oromo and Tigringna, and he was born to a Christian mother and Muslim father, according to freelance journalist Mohammed Ademo. As a member of Ethiopia’s Oromo ethnic group, a majority that has long felt marginalized, Ahmed’s background might help him bridge growing rifts across the country.
Abiy Ahmed Ali was born on August 15, 1976 in Agaro, Jimma Zone of Oromia State. He grew up in multilingual and multireligious family household where his father, Ahmed Ali, is an Oromo Muslim and his mother a Christian. He is a multilingual and speaks Afan Oromo, Amharic, Tigrinya and English. He studied his elementary, middle school and High school in Jimma.
At the age of 15 he joined the armed struggle against the Derg Socialist Regimes during early 1991, just a few months before the downfall of the military regime. In 1993, after the fall of Derg, he became a soldier in the now Ethiopian National Defense Force. 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. In 1995, after the Rwandan genocide, he was deployed as a member of the United Nations Peace Keeping Force (UNAMIR), Kigali, Rwanda. 1998-2000, during the Ethio-Eritrea border war, he led an intelligence team to discover positions of the Eritrean Defence Forces.
In 2001, he received his first degree in Computer Engineering from Microlink Information Technology College found in Addis Ababa. In 2005, he completed his post-graduate advanced diploma in Cryptology, Machine Dynamics Cipher-ED Pretoria, RSA (Republic of South Africa) with (AES encryption based on block cipher “the system which encrypts and decrypt a data communication between two parties”). In 2007, he established the Ethiopian Information Network Security Agency (INSA) and until 2010, he was the founding director of INSA. During this time, he was also board member of several government agencies working on information and communications, like Ethio Telecom and Ethiopian Television.
Ahmed studied in the U.S. and England before returning to Ethiopia to pursue a doctorate at Addis Ababa University’s Institute for Peace and Security Studies. In 2011, Abiy also holds an MA, Transformational Leadership and Change with Merit, Greenwich University, London in collaboration with International Leadership Institute, Addis Ababa. In 2013, he holds an MBA from Leadstar College of Management and Leadership in Partnership with Ashland. In 2017 he completed his Ph.D from Institute for Peace and Security Studies at Addis Ababa University.
In 2010, Abiy left INSA to become a politician. He started his political career as a member of OPDO (Oromo People's Democratic Organization). In the 2010 national election, Abiy represented his home woreda of Agaro and became an elected member of the House of Peoples' Representatives, the lower chamber of the Ethiopian Federal Parliamentary Assembly.
From 2010 – 2012, he served as a member of the central committee of OPDO and congress member of the Executive Committee of the EPRDF. In 2014, Abiy established a new GRI (Government Research Institute) called Science and Technology Information Center (STIC) with the intention of creating a science, technology and innovation excellence center. He became Director General of STIC. In 2015 he became an executive member of OPDO.
In 2015, he became Ethiopia’s minister for science and technology while a Ph.D. candidate in Peace and Security Studies. Abiy moved and became the Ethiopian Minister of Science and Technology (MoST), a post which he left after only a few months to go back into his home region of Oromia to take over more responsibilities and duties. From late 2016 on, Abiy served his home region of Oromia with the rank of Deputy President of Oromia Region while staying a member of the Ethiopian Federal House of Peoples' Representatives.
By 2018 he served as the head of OPDO Secretariat and Oromia Housing and Urban Development Office with the title of Deputy President of Oromia Region, one of the nine regions of Ethiopia. By 2018 he was Chairman of OPDO (Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization) and an elected member of parliament of the FDRE (Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia), and a member of the executive committee of Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
OPDO gained its voice and expressed solidarity with the Oromo protesters. Lema Megersa, Dr. Abiy Ahmad and fellow leaders of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization garnered tremendous support not only from the Oromo people but from other Ethiopians as well. They have radically changed the image and stature of OPDO since assuming its leadership. In mid February 2018, OPDO invited opposition party members based in Ethiopia and overseas to work together with the goal of realizing a democratic system in the country and the region of Oromia. The invitation was taken positively by numerous opposition political parties.
The ruling coalition voted him as its chairman in a move that set the stage for Ahmed to become the country's third prime minister in 23 years. The ruling party Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) elected Abiya as it reviewed the detailed reports of its Executive Committee of the Front, performances of each national party towards the implementation of the in-depth renewal program since March 20, 2018. Abiy was elected as the chairman of the ruling party following the resignation of Chairperson Hailemariam Dessalegn.
The unexpectedly long period it took to elect the chairperson and announce the decision set off a speculation frenzy. Shiferaw Shegute, EPRDF office head, told a press conference that the Council's meeting was successful where heated debates were entertained and agreements reached to widening internal democracy within the party, tackling unprincipled networks and antidemocratic attitudes. Shiferaw underscored that the election of the new Chairperson was democratic and transparent where all members cast their votes confidently. The meeting was conducted on avoiding the mistrust and skepticism which were described as main challenges faced the party previously.
According to the Secretary, contrary to any claims, there had been no backroom dealings and negotiation what so ever over the appointment. Everything went according to the party's discipline and norm. In fact, he said the meeting has seen serious arguments in a number of issues with the sessions being concluded in agreements. The withdrawal of Demeke Mekonnen during the election process has no relation with the result of election, Shiferaw Shigute noted. There might be a reshuffle based on the evaluation to be held by EPRDF cabinet in the future but the reshuffling is not mandatory, he added.
Following the handing over ceremony Prime Minister Abiye delivered a nationwide televised address to the peoples of Ethiopia. In his address the Prime Minister pledged to build peaceful diplomatic relation with Eretria, to work for inclusive development, compact against corruption and widen the democratic environment in the country. He also vowed to work with women and the youth as they are the main power for the development of the country. His appointment marked a significant step towards resolving the recent unrest and violence that led to the decree of state of emergency since February 16, 2018.
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