Cairo – Khaled Mahmoud
Ethiopia appears to be on the way to appointing its first Muslim prime minister, in a first for the African country.
Dr. Abiy Ahmed is the likely candidate to succeed Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who announced his surprise resignation last week.
Ahmed was elected on Thursday as chairman of the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO), which boosted his chances of being appointed premier.
He was unanimously elected by the 81 members of the OPDO central committee during a meeting in Addis Ababa.
The central committee called on the Ethiopians, the Oromo people in particular, to support the organization and continue development efforts in the country.
Ethiopian sources that are close to Ahmed told Asharq Al-Awsat that he was born to a Muslim father and Christian mother.
He comes from a military and intelligence background and ranked as high as colonel in the Ethiopian army. He was also a member of the peacekeeping force that was deployed in Rwanda.
Ahmed is fluent in English and three local Ethiopian languages. He completed a PhD in 2017 from Institute for Peace and Security Studies at Addis Ababa University. In 2016, he was appointed Minister of Science and Technology.
His possible appointment as premier is seen as an attempt by the ruling coalition to calm the anger of the Oromo and Amhara communities, who make up the two largest ethnic groups in the African nation. These groups have complained that they are underrepresented in Ethiopia.
Violence erupted in the Oromo and Amhara regions in 2015 and 2016 over opposition to a plan to expand the capital Addis Ababa. The demonstrations then turned into protests against political restrictions and human rights violations. Hundreds of people were killed in the unrest.
Desalegn became the first sitting Ethiopian prime minister to quit his post. He said that he wanted to smooth the way for reforms.