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What's New: The New Ethiopian Prime Minister in the Palace

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What's New: The New Ethiopian Prime Minister in the Palace

three decades of existence, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has gone through only two leaders. Neither came to power through a competitive vote. So it was with a sense of novelty that Ethiopians awaited the outcome of a secret ballot held on March 27th to determine the new chairman of the coalition and, by extension, the country’s prime minister.

The result was also historic. Abiy Ahmed (pictured) won the backing of 108 party bigwigs, while 59 went for Shiferaw Shigute, his closest rival. On April 2nd Mr Abiy was sworn in as prime minister, making the 42-year-old Africa’s youngest leader. He will also be the first in modern Ethiopian history to identify as Oromo—from the largest, and lately the most rebellious, of the country’s ethnic groups.

The region of Oromia has been the scene of deadly anti-government protests for more than three years. Anger over land seizures and government repression is compounded by a belief that other ethnic groups, such as the Amharas and Tigrayans, have for centuries conspired to keep Oromos out of power. The government reimposed a state of emergency in February after the resignation of the last prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn. Mr Abiy’s rise has eased tensions, for now.

He takes office on a wave of goodwill. Taxis across Oromia are emblazoned with his photo. Activists abroad tweeted their support. Even in Addis Ababa, the capital, where locals are wary of his ethnic nationalism, there is optimism. In his inaugural speech Mr Abiy apologised for the government’s killing of protesters. He called for unity and talks with opposition groups. And he promised to make peace with Eritrea, Ethiopia’s long-standing enemy. “He sounded like Obama,” gushes Asrat Abera, a resident of the capital.

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