Abiy Ahmed
ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s prime minister said at the weekend an election due for 2020 would be free and should not be delayed by his sweeping reforms to the African nation’s politics, economy and diplomacy.

Abiy Ahmed, who took office in April, has pledged to open up the state-dominated economy and has taken steps to end decades of hostility with neighbouring Eritrea - moves that could reshape the country and the broader Horn of Africa region.

He said on Saturday at his first news conference that the World Bank would provide $1billion (R14.3bn) in budget support in the next few months, explaining that “this is due to the reforms taking place in the country”.

Since winning office, Abiy has loosened the grip of a state that had ruled with an iron fist. He has ordered the release of political prisoners and decried abuses by security forces as state terrorism.

“My dream and ambition is for democratic elections to be held,” the 42-year-old prime minister said.

“Otherwise, what legitimacy can any official have without the mandate earned through elections?”

Abiy said the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition’s focus next year would be on “preparations for free elections to be held”.

He has promised to give more room to opponents in a nation of 100 million where no opposition lawmakers sit in parliament.

He has lifted a state of emergency put in place after his predecessor resigned in February following three years of protests in which hundreds were killed by security forces.

The World Bank and other donors suspended budgetary help following a vote in 2005 that was disputed by the opposition and accompanied by violence that killed 200 people.

The ruling coalition, in power since ousting dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991, has long been accused by the opposition of crushing dissent, a charge it had denied, though Abiy has spoken frankly since taking office about past abuses.

Some political dissidents have voiced scepticism about change as long as Abiy’s EPRDF remains in power.

Protests that led to the resignation of his predecessor were partly driven by Ethiopia’s disillusioned youth, suffering high levels of unemployment. - Reuters/African News Agency (ANA)