On June 21, Ethiopia held its first multi-party election since 2005. Despite the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region, unrest in areas of West Oromia, and a myriad of logistical problems, the election was largely a success. While the election could not take place in several areas of the country due to ongoing violence, in most areas, including the capital Addis Ababa, the vote went smoothly and peacefully. Ethiopians went to the polls in great numbers and sometimes waited in line until after midnight to cast their vote, demonstrating their trust and respect for the democratic process.
According to the partial results of the elections released on July 10, the ruling Prosperity Party (PP) won the overwhelming majority of seats in parliament, securing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed a new five-year term. While a small number of opposition figures also won seats in last month’s elections, the landslide victory of the PP gave Abiy a clear mandate to continue leading the country during these turbulent times.
So what will be the priorities for Abiy and his government in the next five years?
Abiy has yet to release a detailed roadmap for his next term in power, but many suspect that he will continue with his economic liberalization schemes and the Green Legacy initiative. He is also expected to continue working to increase regional economic integration and address Ethiopia’s many economic struggles. Overcoming the challenges surrounding the filling and operation of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will also be a priority for the Abiy administration.
Beyond all this, resolve the conflict in Tigray and help suffering civilians on the war front in the Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions, put an end to the unrest in the West Oromia and Benishangul Gumuz regions, resettle displaced Amhara Ethiopians and addressing their growing grievances, as well as Strengthening the federal system to prevent future conflicts will undoubtedly be high on the prime minister’s agenda. Abiy will also need to improve interpersonal relations among Ethiopia’s many ethnic groups, especially the relations between the Tigrayans and the rest of Ethiopians, in order to deliver the peaceful, prosperous and united future that millions of people who voted for his party clearly yearn for.
The Tigray problem
If Abiy does not take swift action, the situation in Tigray will remain the Achilles heel of the Ethiopian state and will hamper his administration’s ability to carry out its plans for the future of the country.
Much has changed since Ethiopian forces embarked on a counterattack against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in November last year and declared victory after recapturing Tigray’s regional capital, Mekelle, some three weeks later. The TPLF continued its rebellion against the Ethiopian armed forces with the support of the local population and made it impossible for the interim regional government, which is also made up of ethnic Tigrayans, to bring stability to the region.
The recent Ethiopian government declaration of a unilateral ceasefire and the rapid withdrawal of federal forces from Tigray further complicated the situation in the region. After the Ethiopian army’s departure from Tigray, the TPLF quickly regained the territories it lost without facing any significant resistance. The war has spread to the Afar region that borders Tigray to the east. As the TPLF continued to capture territory, the international media has published photos showing children young enough to be primary or secondary school students carrying weapons.
It is not yet clear what military and political considerations were behind the government’s decision to stop defending these territories against TPLF offensives. But the Abiy government’s move raised fears that what began as a conflict between the TPLF and the federal government will soon morph into an all-out civil war between the Amhara and Tigrayans, the two ethnic groups that played a leading role in the creation. of modern Ethiopia.
Ethnic Amharas, who overwhelmingly supported Abiy and his reform program from the beginning, felt betrayed by their government’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire. They feared that, with federal forces out of the picture, they could be targeted by TPLF forces and become the new victims of this violent conflict. There are already reports that Amhara civilians in Tigray have been subjected to violence and abuse at the hands of TPLF soldiers.
In recent days, however, Prime Minister Abiy retracted his previous position in a series of social media posts, announcing that he has allowed the Ethiopian military, as well as special forces from Amhara, Oromia, Somali and Sidama march north and help push. TPLF forces back to Tigray. The war has now spread on multiple fronts, and Abiy insists he is doing everything he can to safeguard the nation from TPLF aggression. But it remains to be seen whether this U-turn will result in Abiy regaining the trust of the Amhara people and many other Ethiopian ethnic groups who expected continued and consistent protection and support from the prime minister during this conflict.
Therefore, during his next term in power, Abiy will not only have to find a way to neutralize the threat from the TPLF and bring Tigray back into the Ethiopian fold, but also regain the trust of most of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups. and convince them that under your leadership, they can feel safe and secure in their homeland.
The July 2018 peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which ended the decades-long cold war between the two neighboring nations, was undoubtedly one of Abiy’s greatest achievements as prime minister. Since then, the two nations have taken several important steps to build a mutually beneficial relationship. They opened embassies in each other’s capitals and formed strong diplomatic ties. The roads linking Eritrea with Ethiopia have also been repaired, creating new economic opportunities for both nations. Furthermore, Eritrea supported the Abi government’s operation against the TPLF in Tigray, showing that it is now not only a friendly neighbor, but a trustworthy ally.
But several promises that have been made as part of the 2018 approach have yet to be fulfilled. It is not yet clear when the free movement of people, goods and services between the two countries will begin. As Asmara and Addis Ababa focused all their attention on the ongoing conflict in Tigray, the ministerial working groups and dialogues there were supposed to determine the path of future relations between the two countries have been left in the background. There are also some questions as to whether the two nations were in agreement regarding the withdrawal of the Ethiopian army from Tigray.
Both Eritrea and Ethiopia have much to gain from further strengthening their relations. Therefore, it is likely that in his next term in power, Abiy will work even harder to consolidate his country’s economic and diplomatic ties with its neighbor. Beyond its undeniable economic benefits, greater collaboration between the two countries could also help bring stability to Tigray and the region as a whole. Once the violence ends, Eritrea can help rebuild the region. Furthermore, the beneficial association between the two former enemies could incite the Tigrayans to reconcile their differences with the Abiy administration.
Foreign relations of Ethiopia
In addition to achieving a historic peace agreement with Eritrea, an achievement that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, during his first term in power, Abiy also managed to improve Ethiopia’s relations with most of its neighbors and gain the support from regional leaders and global powers on the issue of GERD. Furthermore, he acted as a mediator between Eritrea and Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia, Somalia and Kenya, and lobbied the various factions in South Sudan to give peace a chance and as a result made a name for himself as a respected peacemaker and capable in the international arena. . Under his leadership, Ethiopia achieved many of its long-term foreign policy goals and emerged as a leading regional power.
The Ethiopians gave Abiy another mandate so that he can continue on this successful path, but he will face many new challenges in the field of foreign policy during his second term. He will have to work on Ethiopia’s ties with Sudan and take steps to resolve tensions on the border between the two countries. He will also be forced to reconsider the Ethiopian military’s involvement in Somalia and work on his country’s ties with the restless nation. But, perhaps most importantly, during his second term in power, Abiy will have to repair the damage the conflict in Tigray inflicted on Ethiopia’s reputation.
Indeed, Ethiopia’s diplomatic institutions have been unable to explain to the international community the motivations of the Abiy administration to respond to the TPLF attacks and provocations in full force. Now, with a renewed mandate from the Ethiopian people, Abiy will have to work to convince the international community that it is not his administration but the TPLF that is responsible for the devastation in Tigray.
In short, Abiy and his government will face multiple challenges in the coming months and years. However, the situation is not hopeless. If the new administration continues its reform efforts, rebuilds the economy, ends the TPLF’s reign of terror in Tigray, and in the meantime pursues a principled foreign policy, Ethiopia can still emerge from this current mess strong and united.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.