The shock resignation of Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn underscores the severity and relentlessness of the country's ongoing protests and the depth of its ethnic polarisation. Who takes over will be decisive for the country's future. James Jeffrey reports.
Just over a month after the Ethiopian government's surprise decision to close a notorious prison and release political prisoners, on 15 February Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his shock resignation, in another apparent bid to placate the turmoil that's plagued the country for more than two years.
The day after the announcement, another State of Emergency was declared in Ethiopia--a preceding 10-month state of emergency, the first in 25 years, having ended in August 201"--casting further uncertainly over the second-most populous country in Africa, which has one of the continent's fastest-growing economics.
"The mood in Addis Ababa is a sort of anxious indifference, as over the last two-plus years of unrest, the capital city has been relatively quiet," says local journalist Elias Gebreselassie. "Many residents feel unrepresented in the demands of the protesters, plus, it's a cosmopolitan city trying to steer clear of Ethiopia's highly ethnicised politics."
Hours before Desalegn's resignation, Jacob Zuma had to step down as President of South Africa, which was similar to the 2017 capitulation of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, suggesting a burst of much-needed political reform among African ruling elites.
But many don't see Desalegn's resignation in such a light, rather as a desperate act of self-preservation by the tiny Tigrayan ethnic elite, accused of using Hailemariam Desaleen to entrench the domination of its Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) within the ruling Ethiopia People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) four-party coalition, and thereby over Ethiopia, since the end of the country's civil war in 1991.
Others, however, say this misses the point about the scale of change forced on Ethiopia's political space.
"The resignation of the Prime Minister was not in the interest of the TPLF," says Awol Alio, an Ethiopian lecturer in law at Keele University in the UK. "While the TPLF is still trying to arrive at a resolution that will continue to preserve its undeserved influence, the resignation is an outcome of the relentless protests of the last two years."
Having succeeded Ethiopia's long-term and charismatic ruler Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012...