Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has replaced two key ministers days after being sworn in for a new term. The country’s leadership faces growing pressure from the West to resolve the Tigray crisis.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has named a new defense minister and peace minister in a Cabinet shake-up that comes just days after he took the oath of office as prime minister for a new five-year term.
The Cabinet was approved on Wednesday by parliament, where Abiy’s Prosperity Party has an overwhelming majority after winning June’s elections.
The new defense minister, Abraham Belay, was previously the head of the federally appointed interim administration in the Tigray region, where fighting between government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has been raging for 11 months.
Abraham is said to be very close to Abiy, with both having done stints at Ethiopia’s cyberespionage agency. In addition, Abraham was previously minister of innovation and technology, a position Abiy has also held.
Abraham is Tigrayan, one of dozens of ethnic groups in Ethiopia.
It is “symbolically interesting” to see a Tigrayan appointed as defense minister, Kjetil Tronvoll, a professor of peace and conflict studies at Norway’s Bjorknes University College who closely follows Ethiopia’s politics, told DW over the phone from Oslo.
“But I don’t think it will be looked upon from the Tigrayan constituency as a kind of an olive branch,” Tronvoll said.
Tronvoll said many Tigrayans saw Abraham as having “sold out” when he assumed the position as interim administrator of Tigray earlier this year after Ethiopia’s Parliament declared the regional leadership illegal.
New peace minster
The Peace Ministry, which oversees civilian security agencies such as the police, also has a new chief. Benalf Andualem, the head of the Prosperity Party’s secretariat, is viewed as one of Ethiopia’s most powerful figures after Abiy.
In Benalf’s appointment, Ethiopia analyst Tronvoll sees Abiy bringing in a “much stronger, possibly more hard-line, more loyalist figure close to his orbit.”
“It might appear in the sense that Abiy is bunkering down and circling the wagons, putting even more loyalists into these very prominent ministries [Defense and Peace],” Tronvoll said.
Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mokonnen, as expected, has held on to both his posts.
Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry stoked outrage last week after announcing the expulsion of seven UN officials — a decision set to be discussed by the UN Security Council on Wednesday.
Abiy’s office touted the fact that three new Cabinet members hail from opposition parties, saying on Twitter that this reflected a “commitment to inclusivity”.