Originally thought to be a reformer, Prime Minister Abiya Ahmed has not held up his promise to the people of Ethiopia. When he was elected Prime Minister in 2018, he loosened restrictions on the media, released political prisoners, and denounced former missuse of power to torture opposition memebers. His first few years in office sparked hope for political change in Africa, however that has not been the case as of late as he has drastically restricted the freedoms of the press and the freedoms of the people.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected many different countries and has led to the democratic backsliding of a lot of governments as the leaders have used the pandemic as a way to employ emergency powers and create a more firm grasp on the people to maintain their own power. In 2020 Prime Minister Abiya Ahmed used the pandemic as a way to postpone elections indefinitely. Even when the Ethiopian Parliament held a vote to hold elections, this was widely contested because Prime Minister Abiya Ahmed had many of his opposition leaders have been jailed. Not only has Ahmed jailed his political opposition, thousands of others have been unjustly jailed, and some of them killed, for supposedly supporting the Oromo Liberation Army, which is a military organization that is in opposition to Abiya Ahmed. Also, although Prime Minister Abiya Ahmed received a Nobel Peace prize in 2019 for helping to resolve the violent dispute between his country and Eritrea, and denounced past abuses by the government, he has continued to refuse the basic human rights of his own people and ignored the human rights violations committed by security forces in order to suppress opposition forces.
Since the coronavirus pandemic Prime Minister Abiya has severely limited free speech and shut down independent media outlets, as well as arrested journalists who have been in opposition to his rule. Independent media outlets are an important block in maintaining democracy in countries as they have three key roles; being a civic forum, providing information to the public and being a place where diverse opinions can be held, being a watchdog, holding political elites accountable for their actions, and being a mobilizing agent, encouraging people to participate. However, because of these extreme restrictions, the media is unable to perform these roles and act as a cornerstone of democracy.
As part of a minority ethnic group, the Oromos, Abiya Ahmed promised to help the economic struggles of the country and bring about peace for all people, while addressing and bringing to light the human rights abuses that have been happening by public officials for decades. Even though Prime Minister Abiya’s first couple of years in office were indicative of some potential change for the people of Ethiopia and Africa as a whole, the civil unrest in the region of Tigray became a full on war and the worldwide coronavirus pandemic have had disastrous consequences. This has made his previous objectives close to impossible and has pushed Abiya Ahmed more toward authoritarianism, consolidating power and using that power for his own personal gain.
As seen in Hungary and Poland, in recent years there have been many threats to liberalism and democratic principles in Ethiopia as well. In regards to liberalism, there has been the unavailability of fair elections, violations of the equality principle and the downgrading of minority rights. As mentioned already, the government has arrested many opposition leaders and postponed elections because of the coronavirus. Minority groups, such as the Oromos, are still being targeted by government forces and allowed for the violations of human rights. In regards to democratic principles, there has been a drastic erosion of freedom of speech and freedom of the press by the Ahmed government. Many journalists and civilians are being arrested and harassed by government officials in a bid to stop them from speaking out about the government.
This gradual turn from democracy to authoritarianism has significantly decreased the freedoms of the people of Ethiopia and made Abiya Ahmed’s government come into question about whether or not the government is legitimate at this point as opposition leaders have been jailed, the freedom of the independent media curtailed, and continued with the human rights violations of the minority Oromos. These conditions have worsened, and been exacerbated, by the coronavirus pandemic as Prime Minister Abiya Ahmed has used the emergency powers, given to him because of this global pandemic, to maintain his own control over the government. Overall, these past few years and the consolidation of power by the prime minister does not bode well for the future of democracy in Ethiopia as the once democratically elected leader has made himself into more of an authoritarian leader.