Ethiopia – Hailemariam’s Surprise Exit

The Prime Minister has resigned unexpectedly in an effort to end years of unrest. Supporters of the long-running anti-government protests have hailed the move, while analysts stress that dialogue with the opposition is essential to true change.

Less than 24 hours after South African President Jacob Zuma was forced to resign by his own party, another African leader has thrown in the towel. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, in a surprise move on February 15th tendered his resignation as both the country’s premier and chairman of the ruling coalition.

He has said he will remain prime minister in a caretaker capacity until the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) name a new premier, Uganda’s The Observer reported.

Hundreds of people have died in the last three years of anti-government protests. Demonstrations first spread across the country in 2015 amid calls for political and economic reform and an end to state corruption. Most of the unrest has centred on Ethiopia’s two largest regions, Oromia and Amhara. A 10-month national state of emergency ended in 2017.

“Unrest and a political crisis have led to the loss of lives and displacement of many,” Hailemariam acknowledged in a televised address. “I see my resignation as vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy.”

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Some of Ethiopia’s elites have come to see the prime minister as lacking in direction. Image: The Observer

The BBC’s Emmanuel Igunza, in the capital Addis Ababa, on February 15th said protests have continued despite the government releasing thousands of opposition supporters from jail in January, including secretary general of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC),  Bekele Gerba.

The disturbances have led to deep divisions in the governing coalition, said BBC NewsSome of Ethiopia’s powerful elites have come to see the prime minister as weak and lacking in direction.

A weak and turbulent Ethiopia is risky for the entire Horn of Africa, the BBC correspondent added, as this normally stable state is seen as key to holding the region together.

Sparked initially by an urban development plan for the capital, unrest spread in 2015 and 2016 with demonstrations against political restrictions and human rights abuses.

Ethiopia is often accused of using security concerns as an excuse to stifle dissent, as well as suppressing non-governmental organisations and the media, which the government denies.

The next Prime Minister is widely expected to come from Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organisation (OPDO), the ruling party in Oromia, the country’s largest and populous state, tweeted Mohammed Ademo (@OPride), founder of, which offers Ethiopian news from an Oromo perspective.

Many Ethiopian Twitter users in the country and in the diaspora hailed the resignation as a victory for the Oromo protests. Speculation was high that Oromia president Lemma Megersa would become the next Prime Minister.

“The African Spring!? Dos Santos. Mugabe. Zuma. Desalegn….. Four bloodless removals of dictatorial leaders. democracy is finally showing its true colours,” tweeted New African reporter Tom Collins.

But the succession battle is likely to be as bitter as the very public infighting of the past few months, Ademo said. “A change of guard is not reform. Which EPRDF faction wins the power struggle will be key.

“This momentous transformation isn’t a favour from a benevolent vanguard party. It’s the cumulative outcome of years of relentless struggle by democracy activists and opposition.

“True change = inclusive transition + dialogue with opposition.”

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Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

ETHIOPIA: Prison Amnesty
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 55, Issue 1, pp. 21725B–21725C

ETHIOPIA: Ethnic Violence Out of Control
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 12, pp. 21692B–21692C

ETHIOPIA: No End to Border Troubles
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 11, pp. 21654B–21655C

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