Ethiopia’s Parliament announced an early end to a state of emergency and then the ruling party decided to unilaterally, and without any conditions, accept a peace deal with its neighbor Eritrea.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Ethiopia has made some surprising moves. The ancient nation in the Horn of Africa ended a state of emergency. The country’s parliament did that sooner than planned, and then the ruling party decided to unilaterally, without any conditions, accept a peace deal with neighboring Eritrea. NPR’s Eyder Peralta joins us from his base in Nairobi to talk this through. Hey there, Eyder.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: Wow. What does this mean for Ethiopia?
PERALTA: Well, I mean, it’s a huge deal, and it’s potentially historic. And, as you said, this is – it’s also really surprising. It’s worth looking back at where Ethiopia was just this March when the state of emergency was declared. The country had just been going through three years of bloody protests. People were complaining about corruption and lack of basic rights. And there was also ethnic overtones to all of this. The Oromos and the Amharas were protesting against the Tigrayans, who controlled a lot of the government. And, you know, it was so bad that when I was there, people were worried that this could devolve into a war. And then suddenly – and again, this was just in March – the Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigns, and the ruling party, which has been in power since 1991, when it overthrew the communist Derg regime, they get together and they do something even more dramatic. They pick a young Oromo Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who had basically come to represent the opposition. And in just two months, the prime minister starts to shake things up in one of the most repressive regimes in Africa.
INSKEEP: So wait a minute. So they chose a prime minister from the outgroup – if we can try to simplify this a little bit – and are making moves to try to bring the country together.
PERALTA: Well, what’s interesting is, they picked somebody from inside of the ruling party, but that had sort of come to represent the outgroup.
INSKEEP: OK. I see. And so they made this move to lift the state of emergency. They’re also accepting this peace deal with Eritrea. That was a war that at one time resembled World War I trench warfare. I guess it hadn’t been so intense recently, but they’re settling it there. What is the broader thing that’s driving this right now?
PERALTA: Well, I mean, I think the cynical view is that this is about survival, that, you know, this was a regime on the ropes, that it had a never-ending protest movement in its hands, you know? And it also had this huge – has this huge lack of foreign currency. So in some ways, you know, this was a regime that either had to make changes to basically stay in power. I mean, a more generous explanation is that this is about ambition. The Ethiopian government has made no secret that it wants its country to quickly industrialize and become a regional powerhouse. A lot of these…
INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about that, Eyder, because I’ve been reading that China has made big investments in Ethiopia and had been pressuring the Ethiopian government to settle some of these long-running ethnic and other disputes. Is that part of what’s happening here?
PERALTA: It might be. China sort of gave a warning that said that they’re going to be more careful in its investment in Ethiopia. But a lot of the problems here are domestic. I think this government is really trying to stay in power. Again, the ruling party has been in power since the ’90s, and they have a lot of issues with their own people and they’re trying to satisfy those issues. You know, they’ve released political prisoners and, you know, they say they’re going to make some more democratic changes that people have been calling for on the streets.
INSKEEP: Eyder, thanks very much. Always a pleasure talking with you.
PERALTA: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: That’s NPR’s Eyder Peralta reporting on developments in Ethiopia.
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