02 Dec Ethiopia’s PM shifts focus from Tigray war to 2021 vote
02 Dec 2020
ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s prime minister met political parties on Wednesday to plan next year’s election and shift attention away from a month-long war in the north that was sliding into a messy guerrilla conflict.
Abiy Ahmed’s government postponed a parliamentary vote this year due to COVID-19, but Tigray region went ahead anyway and overwhelmingly re-elected a former guerrilla movement-turned-political party the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
That defiance was one reason for the federal government’s military offensive against TPLF leaders from Nov. 4.
The conflict is believed to have killed thousands of people, sent 45,000 refugees into Sudan, and jeopardised political reforms and opening since Abiy took office in 2018.
Africa’s youngest leader at 44 and the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner for a pact with Eritrea, Abiy was talking with political parties, civil society groups and election officials about the mid-2021 vote on Wednesday, his office said.
He took Ethiopia’s top job after nearly three decades of a TPLF-led national government, which had become increasingly repressive, jailing opponents and banning opposition parties.
Abiy removed Tigrayans from government and security posts, saying they were over-represented for an ethnic group accounting for just 6% of Ethiopia’s population. The military went in when a federal army base was ambushed in Tigray.
The TPLF casts their former military comrade and partner in government as bent on dominating them to increase his personal grip over the vast nation of 115 million people, which is split into 10 federations run by different ethnic groups.
BLAST IN ADDIS ABABA
It accuses Abiy of “invading” Tigray, where federal troops captured the regional capital Mekelle at the weekend, sending TPLF leaders fleeing for the hills.
Abiy, who hails from the larger Oromo and Amharic ethic groups, calls the Tigrayan leaders criminals opposing national unity and plotting attacks in Addis Ababa and elsewhere.
Last month, an explosion under an Addis Ababa bridge injured one man, and another small blast shook the capital’s Bole district on Wednesday. A policeman was lightly injured during an attempted detonation, police and witnesses said, after a metal detector found the device in a pair of shoes.
A federal police spokesman blamed the TPLF but gave no proof. There was no immediate comment from TPLF leaders.
The government was flying state media to Mekelle on Wednesday, witnesses said. With communications largely down, there has been little verifiable information from the highland city of 500,000 people since it fell on Saturday.
TPLF leaders say they are continuing to fight from surrounding mountainous areas.
“Wars are not like taps that you turn on and then turn off. This is going to be a very long, drawn-out process,” Horn of Africa expert Rashid Abdi told an online forum.
“The onus is on Abiy. If they want to stabilise Tigray they need to take political action now. I cannot see how this can be done without some sort of negotiation.”
It was not clear which political parties were at the talks with Abiy, according to his spokeswoman.
He has promised a fair vote next year, after previous polls were condemned as a sham by opponents and rights groups. But analysts say the arrest in June on terrorism charges of a prominent opposition figure – media mogul and former Abiy ally Jawar Mohammed – shows he too is clamping down.
“Given the imprisonment of key opposition figures from Oromia and elsewhere, and the arrest warrants for the leadership of the sole opposition bloc in the federal parliament, the TPLF, from now the federal authorities will need to strive for maximum inclusivity to try and create the conditions for an election that is considered fair,” said Will Davison, senior Ethiopia analyst at the International Crisis Group.