Ethiopia’s prime minister reshuffles cabinet after protests

FINANCIAL TIMES

Ministers from restive Oromia appointed but move is unlikely to appease opposition

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Ethiopia’s prime minister has conducted a significant reshuffle of his cabinet three weeks after imposing a state of emergency to contain a wave of anti-government protests that have started to destabilise the authoritarian state.

Hailemariam Desalegn on Tuesday appointed five technocrats and half a dozen people from Oromia, the region where the unrest began a year ago, in an effort to give the government a more broad-based appearance.

Analysts described the reshuffle as a positive step but largely cosmetic. They stressed it was unlikely to appease the opposition, which want a new political system and open elections. The new Oromo ministers are all affiliated to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which has ruled the country for 25 years.

Siraj Fegessa, the defence minister in charge of implementing the state of emergency, is one of only nine of the 30 previous cabinet to retain his job. The foreign and finance ministers were fired, although Tedros Adhanom, the foreign minister, was expected to step down as he seeks to become the next head of the World Health Organisation.

In a sign that the changes are not that radical, Workneh Gebeyehu, the new foreign minister, is a former federal police commissioner.

Mr Desalegn has admitted that the death tollsince the protests began could be as high as 500. The government has also said that some 2,000 people in the Oromia and Amhara regions have been arrested since the state of emergency was imposed on October 9 but said they had been released after “re-education”.

Overseas-based opposition groups say the numbers of people killed and detained are much higher than this but have presented no evidence.

Under the state of emergency all protests and criticism of the government are banned, diplomats are forbidden from travelling freely around the country and access to the internet has been severely restricted.

Emma Gordon, analyst at the Verisk Maplecroft risk consultancy, said it was important for Mr Desalegn that he is seen making these changes. “But apart from the five technocrats they are all affiliated to the regime and what the opposition wants is elections or significant change. This doesn’t represent that,” she added.

One east-Africa based analyst who said the situation in Ethiopia was too tense to speak on the record said the government was in “such dire circumstances they know they need a proper solution”.

A wave of anti-government protests has caused a collapse in tourist bookings to Ethiopia © AFP

“The crisis is so serious they cannot play the same old repressive cards and some segments of the government recognise that,” he said. “We are probably seeing the first indications of an easing of the political space but it is not going to happen fast and the opposition is unlikely to be satisfied by the pace of change.”

Ethiopia has been one of sub-Saharan Africa’s best-performing economies for the past decade, averaging about 10 per cent annual growth. But some investors are becoming wary after foreign-owned businesses were attacked in recent months.

Tourism has also slumped after many western governments imposed travel advisories on either the country or the main protest regions.

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