Six months ago, Ethiopia appeared trapped in a cycle of unrest, repression and more unrest. Stability in East Africa’s largest country, with a population of more than 100 million, appeared to be crumbling, while the once-booming economy was facing a debt crisis. All of this was bad news for the United States, for which Ethiopia has been a key ally in combating terrorism in nearby Somalia. So it’s more than worth cheering the rush of developments in Addis Ababa during the past few weeks, which signal an astonishing turnaround under a new and dynamic young leader.
In the past week, the government of Abiy Ahmed has lifted a state of emergency, announced a major new program to partially or fully privatize state-run firms and said it would finally implement a peace agreement with neighboring Eritrea that it had been stalling for 18 years. That followed the release of political prisoners and invitations to exiled dissidents and media outlets to return home. Mr. Abiy, who took office on April 2, has been touring the country and promising even more change: He says the constitution will be amended to apply term limits to his position, which has been occupied by only two other men since 1995.
The immediate effect of this reconciliation campaign has been to stem ethnic unrest that had been threatening to tear Ethiopia apart. Mr. Abiy, who at 41 is one of the youngest leaders in Africa, is an Oromo, a group that makes up one-third of Ethiopia’s population. Oromo-populated areas around the capital were the starting point for anti-government demonstrations beginning in 2015 that eventually spread to other areas, including those populated by ethnic Amhara. The government responded harshly: By the end of last year, at least 700 people had been reported killed and thousands imprisoned. […] CONTINUE READING