Outraged by the murder of a popular Ethiopian musician, about a hundred youths descended on the British Lodge in the town of Batu in the Rift Valley, set fire to its 16 rooms and forced its guests to flee.
Almost three months later, the tourist getaway some 160 kilometers south of the capital, Addis Ababa, remains closed. All but five of the 33 employees have been made redundant, and the smell of charred furniture permeates what remains of its buildings.
“It was such a stupid act,” said Tibiyo Ilmeyu Bedaso, 31, the lodge manager. “The government did nothing to help us. People here don’t know how to plan for the future. “
Batu attack was part of wave of protests after June 29assassination of singer Hachalu Hundesa which saw an eruption of long-simmering ethnic tensions in this East African country. With a renewed outbreak of violence in western Ethiopia over the past three weeks, the upheaval is worsening a succession of setbacks for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed less than a year after winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
The pandemic threatens to reverse years of stellar economic growth, while Abiy’s decision to postpone elections scheduled for August to a date yet to be determined, apparently to curb the spread of the virus, has raised questions about his commitment to favor of democracy.
Regional leaders are also under increasing pressure to demand greater autonomy, desert locust swarms undermine regional food security, and Egypt and Sudan have taken umbrage at Ethiopia’s plans to fill a massive reservoir. on the Blue Nile which threatens their water supply.
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Abiy won the Nobel Prize for ending a protracted conflict with neighboring Eritrea, but even the peace pact is in question becauseEritrea says it has not brought the expected economic benefits and that Ethiopian troops continue to maintain a presence in its territory.
“Abiy has pushed the country’s politics much deeper into a dead end,” said Merera Gudina, president of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress.
Ethnic tensions are arguably the prime minister’s deepest challenge, which threatens to undermine the stability on which Ethiopia’s recent economic success rests.
Musician Hachalu was from Oromo, the country’s largest ethnic group, whose songs became popular during anti-government protests from 2015 to 2018. Although the motive for his assassination remains uncertain, the violence that followed took 200 dead and saw cities turn into combat zones. in the Oromia region before the arrival of the security forces.
These protests have abated, but inter-communal fighting has erupted in the western region of Benishangul-Gumuz, killing at least 140 people since the start of this month. The army says more than 25,000 people have fled their homes.
Abiy “does not have the experience and the know-how to single-handedly lead a nation of 110 million people,” Merera said.
Addis Ababa shows the challenges of maintaining stability. Dozens of new hotels, conference centers, factories and high-rise apartments have sprung up in recent years, and a light rail network connects the city center to the industrializing areas of the south. A skyscraper that will serve as the head office of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and a development in the north of the city housing restaurants, a boutique hotel and an observation deck.
But investors whose businesses thrived under Abiy are getting nervous.
“One of the main components of a successful business is peace and security,” said Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, managing director of soleRebels, which makes shoes from recycled materials by telephone. “We’re going through a change and we’re going to have to be patient to see the results. It is a very difficult time for everyone. “
Samrawit Fikru, CEO of taxi app RIDE, thanks the Abiy administration for helping to reduce data costs and improve the regulatory environment. Yet the government’s decision to shut down the internet for 22 days during the July unrest took a heavy toll on his business’ income and laid off its more than 22,000 drivers in the capital.
“Of course we need our country to be peaceful,” she said. “But at the same time, shutting down the Internet is creating problems, especially for the tech sector.”
Despite the upheavals, the International Monetary Fund forecasts economic growth of 3.2% this year. Although down from an annual average of almost 9% over the past decade, Ethiopia is one of the few countries still expanding.
Ethiopia, Africa’s oldest nation state, follows its own timeline, has its own storyline, and claims to be the indigenous coffee homeland. With over 80 ethnic groups, the country has always been a melting pot.
In 2018, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned after failing to end protests by members of the majority Oromo and Amhara communities directed against the Tigray minority, which dominated the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front in power since it ended. to the country’s dictatorship in 1991. Abiy, an Oromo ethnic group, who had emerged from the poverty of small towns, was appointed his successor in an attempt to quell the discord.
A surprise choice, Abiy’s first months in power were marked by sweeping changes, including the release of political prisoners, the non-ban on opposition and rebel groups and the peace agreement with the Eritrea. He also assigned half of his cabinet posts to women, purged allegedly corrupt officials, and began to open up the island economy and woo international investment.
Yet the pace of change was too rapid for some, and tensions that were largely contained by the previous administration “have now exploded,” said Michael Woldemariam, associate professor of international relations at Boston University. “Today the reality of nation building and solving Ethiopia’s historic challenges is laid bare. Abiy, as popular as he is, has never been able to keep all of his ambitions and promises.
In his Nobel Lecture last year, Abiy set out his vision for building a democratic and prosperous society that is nourished by tolerance and understanding.
But harmony is elusive, with tensions that have recently erupted in the Tigray region, simmering ethnic conflict in the Amhara region and attacks and kidnappings by militias in parts of Oromia showing no sign of relaxation.
There is nothing to indicate that Abiy’s hold on power is threatened. He has consolidated his base of support under his new Prosperity Party, has the backing of the security forces and exercises considerable control over the local media. Billene Seyoum, Abiy’s spokesperson, downplayed the scale of the violence and said the country remains open for business.
“We are under no illusions that it would be a smooth race,” Abiy said in a speech at the United Nations this week. “We remain committed to the goal of democratization and will continue our reform efforts with all the necessary political commitment.”
Abel’s administration still needs to do more to foster reconciliation as Ethiopia can hardly afford continued political instability given the other challenges it faces, said Abel Abate Demissie, partner at Chatham House in London.
“The current quarrels will lead to a serious political and security quagmire if they do not abate quickly,” he said by telephone from Addis Ababa.
– With the help of Jeremy Diamond and Gina Turner