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Will Abiy Ahmed’s Bet on Ethiopia’s Political Future Pay Off?

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister has disbanded Africa’s largest political party in an effort to reinvent the country’s politics—but some powerful players stand to lose, and they won’t go quietly.

The Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was once Africa’s largest, and arguably most powerful, political party. It was also, thanks to its business interests, its richest. Since coming to power in 1991, the coalition party controlled each tier of government in Africa’s second most-populous nation. In the last national election, held in 2015, it won every seat in the federal parliament.

Until as recently as 2016, it seemed indomitable, its leadership boasting that the vision set out by former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi would guide the country for decades into the future. Yet, on Dec. 1, 2019, the EPRDF quietly disappeared“demolished,” according to one of its former leaders, “with betrayal.”

In its place a new party was formed, led by Ethiopia’s new prime minister and the EPRDF’s last chairman, Abiy Ahmed—heralding, according to its supporters, an entirely new mode of politics. The Prosperity Party (PP) has done away with the four-part ethnic coalition structure which made up the EPRDF: the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front, the Amhara National Democratic Movement (later Amhara Democratic Party), the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (later Oromo Democratic Party), and the Southern Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement. It will instead be a single organization spanning the entire country.

To its supporters, the PP offers an escape from the divisive and, increasingly deadly, ethnic politics which characterized three decades of EPRDF rule. To its critics, it is the thin end of the wedge towards abandonment of the 1995 constitution and the principle of ethnic self-rule—ethnic federalism—which it enshrines. It is perhaps the single most significant—some say boldest—move yet from the Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister. But it could also tear an already desperately polarized country even further apart. Read more


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