REUTERS — ADDIS ABABA — Internet users in Ethiopia said on Monday the government appeared to have ended a three-month online blackout, raising hopes of a relaxation of restrictions after the arrival of a new prime minister who promised reforms.
Mobile and broadband internet services shut down in December in many regions outside the capital that were hit by unrest that threatened the ruling coalition’s tight hold on country.
Rights groups accused the government of trying to stop them spreading news online and organizing rallies calling for land rights and other freedoms – charges the government denied. But internet users said they had noticed services returning following the April 2 inauguration of Abiy Ahmed.
The communications minister and the state-run telecoms monopoly did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
“We are very happy that it is back to normal,” said Hassan Bulcha, who runs an internet cafe in Shashemene, a town in the state of Oromiya which has seen some of the worst violence since protests erupted in 2015.
Groups that monitor internet usage in Ethiopia – one of the last countries on the continent with a state telecoms monopoly – gave the news a guarded welcome.
“Restoration of Ethiopia’s internet is a short-term win in a long-term struggle,” said Peter Micek of Access Now, a group that said it recorded two large-scale internet shutdowns in Ethiopia in 2017 and three in 2016.
The move was a step forward, but worries remained about the government’s wider commitment to freedoms, said CIPESA (Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa), a Uganda-based body that lists Britain among itsfunders.
“It would be too optimistic to expect that the new prime minister’s government will overnight dismantle all the layers of authoritarian control that have for decades been at the center of state power in Ethiopia,” said Juliet Nanfuka from CIPESA.
The government has denied accusations that it abuses protesters’ rights and said it has only acted to keep order.
The new prime minister, a 42-year-old former army officer from Oromiya, has travelled to several areas of the country, promising to address grievances strengthen a range of political and civil rights.
But the country remains under a state of emergency imposed a day after Abiy Ahmed’s predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn resigned in February.
Since 2015, hundreds have died in violence triggered by demonstrations over land rights in Ethiopia’s Oromiya region.
The protests broadened into rallies over freedoms that spread to other regions.
Unlike in other African countries where the majority of internet users access the web through mobile phones, internet cafes are still widely used in Ethiopia because smartphones remain expensive and mobile data costs are high.
Africa’s second-most populous nation has clocked the region’s fastest economic growth rates over the past decade but it has among the region’s lowest internet penetration rates.
People in Oromiya, which surrounds the capital, in the Amhara region, and in the eastern city of Harar and nearby Dire Dawa, told Reuters internet access and mobile 3G servicesresumed about a week ago.
Ethiopia’s Abiy strikes conciliatory tone in oath speech
DAILY NATION — Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, apologised to people harmed in recent political unrest and reached out both to the political opposition and long-time rival Eritrea at his swearing-in on Monday.
Abiy is the first ethnic Oromo to be selected by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) as prime minister in its 27 years of rule.
In a parliamentary session, Abiy formally replaced Hailemariam Desalegn, whose surprise resignation in February came after more than two years of anti-government protests led by the Oromo.
“Ethiopians living abroad and Ethiopians living here, we need to forgive each other from the bottom of our hearts,” Abiy said in a speech after he was sworn in.
Abiy, 42, a former minister of science and technology, takes the reins of one of Africa’s fastest-growing and most-populous economies amid hopes that he will change the EPRDF’s authoritarian style of governing.
More than 1,100 people are being held without trial under a state of emergency declared after Hailemariam’s resignation.
They include dissidents who had been freed just months earlier in a mass prisoner amnesty ordered by Hailemariam.
While he made no mention of the emergency decree in his speech, Abiy reached out to the country’s opposition politicians, many of whom were incarcerated during Hailemariam’s time.
“We will not be seeing you as enemies, but be seeing you as brothers,” Abiy said.
Unrest among the Oromos started in late 2015 over a government development plan they decried as unfair, and soon spread to the country’s second-largest ethnicity, the Amhara.
The protests resulted in hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of arrests and only stopped after Ethiopia was placed under emergency rule for 10 months from October 2016.
Referring to people who were hurt or jailed in the protests, Abiy said “I apologise from the bottom of my heart”.
He also extended an olive branch to Eritrea, Ethiopia’s one-time province turned arch-enemy, after a two-year war that started in 1998.
“For the common good of the two countries, not only for our benefit but for the two nations which are tied by blood, we are ready to solve our differences with discussion,” Abiy said.
“We invite the Eritrean government to show the same sentiment.”
Can Ethiopia’s new leader bridge ethnic divides?
A young reformer or an entrenched military man? Ethiopia’s prime minister-elect is the first from the Oromo ethnic group that’s been at the forefront of anti-government protests.
Community activists say the group has been marginalised and excluded from political and economic power.
Ahmed has a doctorate in peace and security, as well as long-standing military and intelligence ties.
Many hope his rise is an opportunity to turn the page on a difficult chapter in Ethiopian history.
Can he unite a country riven by ethnic tensions?
Presenter: Elizabeth Puranam
Negeri Lencho – Ethiopia’s communications minister
Tsedale Lemma – editor in chief of the Addis Standard
Mohammed Ademo – an Ethiopian journalist and founder of OPride.com, an independent news website about the Oromo and Ethiopia
Ethiopia Completes Historic Leadership Change
WALL STREET JOURNAL — Ethiopia’s ruling party chose a new prime minister, selecting a young politician from one of the country’s most marginalized ethnic groups in a bid for national reconciliation, in the world’s fastest-growing economy that has been threatened by domestic unrest.
After weeks of negotiations, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front—the power behind the country’s one-party authoritarian rule—late Tuesday picked Abiy Ahmed, a 42-year-old engineer to lead the party and the country.
Mr. Ahmed is relatively untested, having served just one year as a minister of Science and Technology under the outgoing prime minister. But he has represented in regional parliament the Oromos, an ethnic group that is Ethiopia’s largest, but most marginalized.
His selection ends a process that unnerved Ethiopia’s neighbors and investors, coming nearly two months after the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Mr. Desalegn’s departure presented the world’s fastest-growing economy with its first-ever leadership change that wasn’t precipitated by conflict or the demise of a leader.
Soon after Mr. Desalegn’s resignation, the EPRDF imposed a draconian state of emergency in an effort to stifle dissent as it decided on its own, and the country’s, future. Government security forces cracked down on freedoms of movement and free speech, and arrested opposition figures.
Now, the choice of Mr. Ahmed could reassure those worried that Ethiopia—a pivotal country that is a major Western ally in terrorism and migration and has been the target of large-scale investment from China—would succumb to ethnic conflict.
The Oromo group, which represents up to 40% of the population, and other smaller ones have protested, sometimes violently, their exclusion from Ethiopia’s growing prosperity, and have seen their leaders incarcerated. Many hope Mr. Ahmed can now heal those rifts.
This delicate transition will determine whether the country, which just 30 years ago was a byword for famine and poverty, can continue its economic miracle.
Today Ethiopia is a regional leader in East Africa, and the host of the African Union headquarters. It is Africa’s second-most populous nation after Nigeria with 100 million people, and was the world’s fastest-growing economy last year, expanding by 9.5%.
A top destination for foreign direct investment in Africa, Ethiopia has attracted keen interest from international businesses. It has posted an average 9% annual growth rate in recent years despite tight government control over its economy, drought and outbursts of violent protest.
The state controls key industries like finance and retail, but private investors have been piling in other areas including health care and construction.
The challenge facing Mr. Ahmed lies in keeping Ethiopia on its path of rapid economic growth to lift millions out of poverty and create jobs for a burgeoning young population. The country, whose state-reported unemployment rate is around 17% but has many more jobless who aren’t counted in official statistics, has a median age of just 18.
The new premier must also effect political participation reforms that will quell the social and ethnic unrest that over the past two years has left hundreds dead and led to the destruction of businesses, some owned by foreign investors.
If it fails to reform, Ethiopia risks succumbing to the kind of instability that plagues some of its neighbors, say business leaders and human rights groups.
“It has been clear for some time that unless grievances of citizens are addressed it is likely there will be more protests and unrest. Expectations will be high on the new prime minister to ensure that reforms happen quickly to stem the potential for further unrest,” said Felix Horne, an Ethiopia analyst for Human Rights Watch.
The new leader should prioritize the private sector, particularly with tax credits for industries that create jobs, said Zemedeneh Negatu, chairman of US-based investment firm Fairfax Africa Fund.
“The private sector will be the major job creator in the next 10 to 15 years,” Mr. Negatu said.
Elsewhere, Ethiopia’s one-party authoritarian government has forged strategic alliances with the U.S. in fighting al-Shabaab, the al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia and one of the oldest and most resilient Islamic terrorist groups in the world.
The Ethiopian army is a vital part of United Nations and other peacekeeping missions in Africa, including in war-ravaged South Sudan, another protracted crisis spot high up on Washington’s Africa agenda.
Ethiopia is also a critical partner in Europe’s new strategy of stemming the flow of migrants by working with countries of origin or transit, and receives hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.N. to fight drought, hunger and other recurring humanitarian disasters in the broader region.