Kenya (AP) — Declaring “a true measure of leadership is not indispensability,” Ethiopia’s prime minister on Wednesday urged the next steps in the country’s sweeping reforms as the ruling coalition that has led for decades opened its first congress since he took power in April.
A true leader produces qualified successors and makes “herself/himself redundant,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told the gathering, according to Twitter posts by his chief of staff, Fitsum Arega.
The 42-year-old prime minister has pledged free and fair elections in Africa’s second most populous nation in 2020 and dramatically widened the political space by welcoming once-banned opposition groups home from exile. Ethiopia since 1991 has been led by the coalition and allied parties that hold every seat in Parliament.
The political and economic reforms, which have made surprising peace with longtime rival Eritrea and would open state-run enterprises to investment, have been welcomed with enthusiasm by many, but already Abiy has been the target of an assassination attempt. Last week Ethiopia’s attorney general filed terrorism charges against five people and accused them of wanting to pave the way for the once-banned Oromo Liberation Front.
Some have expressed concern that enthusiasm over the returning groups has played a role in the resurgence of deadly ethnic tensions that pose a major challenge to reforms.
In the latest unrest, the Oromia region reported more than 70,000 people displaced by fresh violence in late September. The number of Ethiopia’s internally displaced people has reached 2.8 million, up from 1.6 million at the beginning of the year, the United Nations recently reported.
Ethiopians have long expressed grievances over the country’s federal structure that is largely based on ethnic lines and has been held together by the ruling coalition and its security forces. The nation of 100 million people has more than 80 ethnic groups.
On Wednesday, Abiy told the congress that “a federal form of government is a preferred option in Ethiopia as long as we don’t confuse regional arrangements with ethnic identity,” according to his chief of staff. “Each regional administrative unit should serve all citizens with respect and without discrimination.”
The ruling coalition is undergoing a significant transformation, Awol Kassim Allo, a lecturer in law at Keele University in Britain, said in a Facebook post. This week it is expected to change its name and core leadership and elect a leader.
It is inconceivable that the coalition will unseat Abiy, who brought the country back from the brink after months of widespread anti-government protests demanding more freedoms, Awol said.
“He is the only figure within and outside the ruling coalition with the political capital and cultural appeal to steer Ethiopia through this difficult and complex period of transition.”