Can Prime Minister Abiy breach Ethiopia’s ethnic divide?

(DW) – Ethnicity has shaped Ethiopians’ political choices for the past decades. In the face of upcoming elections, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is trying to find a more unifying alternative, spurring hope but also skepticism.

In less than five months, Ethiopia is set to hold a national election that will likely change the country’s outlook. With Abiy Ahmed recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, many eyes will be on Africa’s second most populous nation as its citizens cast their ballots. And the prime minister has ambitious plans. He recently created the pan-Ethiopian Prosperity Party (PP), which is poised to replace the current ruling coalition, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Abiy did this not only to shift away from a much-criticized legacy, but also to break with a political landscape of strongly ethnicized politics.

For the last three decades, Ethiopia’s political culture has been one focused on ethnicity. Parties, most of them formed along ethnic lines, pushed the agenda of their group, with little focus on cross-cutting topics such as social or economic issues. This, some say, favored populist agendas and is one of the reasons for interethnic conflict and internal displacement. “[The parties] try to justify their existence by claiming that others are going to attack you as an ethnic group. They don’t have any other reason to exist,” says Girmachew Alemu, a law professor at Addis Ababa University. “Ethnicity makes it difficult for people to come together and fight for their rights, they think they are more different than similar,” he adds. […] CONTINUE READING