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In Ethiopia, change is in the air

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New government pushes for reform, inclusion and rule of law

By Tajudeen Hamzat

 

In Ethiopia today, change is in the air. The Horn of Africa nation which endured severe political challenges in the past few months seems to have presently put its house in order, with things looking set to move in the right directions.

Since coming into power as the head of the Government of Ethiopia in April. Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, the first person from the hitherto marginalised majority Oromo ethnic nationality to lead the nation has moved to take step after step to boost a climate of reform, inclusiveness and the promotion of the rule of law.

The latest in these efforts is the government’s coming out frontally to declare that the era of state sanctioned torture which had largely been the norm in the years when the minority Tigray Peoples Liberation Front component of the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front, EPRDF, had held sway over the politics of the nation, was now over.

The prime minister, Abiy Ahmed made the assertion in parliament which has since been re-echoed as a startling admission that the government that he had been a part of through the years had indeed sanctioned the torture of its political prisoners, a point which the new helmsman also described as patently unconstitutional.

Abiy was at the parliamentary session, responding to questions from members of parliament, in the course of briefing them on the state of the nation, and in particular to one of the legislators who had challenged him on the constitutionality of releasing prisoners, especially those jailed for corruption and terrorism.

In his crisp response, Abiy replied that ‘jailing and torturing, which we did, are not constitutional either,’ adding for good measure that in its broader sense, terrorism includes the use of force to unconstitutionally stay in power.

“Does the constitution say anyone who was sentenced by a court can be tortured, put in a dark room? It doesn’t. Torturing, putting people in dark rooms, is our act of terrorism,” Abiy riposted.

The prime minister went on to express his commitment to the principle of “presumption of innocence until proven guilty” and the need to resist the temptation to displace the ideal of “rule of law” by practice of “rule by law”.

Since taking office in April this year, Abiy has undertaken radical reforms including reaching out to the opposition groups in exile, extending an olive branch to Erirea by indicating that his government would leave a disputed town and initating a process to liberalise the economy.

These include recent decisions to privatise the state telecommunications company and the national airline. There are also ambitious plans to build a national navy for the landlocked nation as a further buffer for the advancement of its security and commercial interests.

Earlier this month, Abiy sacked the country’s intelligence and military chiefs. Abiy also appointed a new central bank governor to likely oversee the implementation of economic reforms.

Defending the decision to end a border dispute with Eritrea, Abiy told parliament it was in the interest of both countries to end the standoff and focus on developing the affected areas.

A border commision empowered by the December 2000 Algiers Agreement which was signed at the end of the war between the two countries ruled that the town of Badme and other disputed territory belonged to Eritrea.

The ruling coalition’s announcement that it would abide by that ruling sparked protests in Badme and several parts of the Tigray region, where residents said they were not consulted and vowed not to voluntarily leave the town.

Responding to MP Meseret Jemaneh, who opposed the decision to accept the #AlgiersAgreement & the #EEBC‘s decision, the PM affirmed the decision by the #EPRDF exc. He also lamented what he said were “illogical reasoning”; asked if Ethiopians were consulted when Assab was given.

 

Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia

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