Embattled Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed sacks defense minister and former ally Lemma Megersa who is popular in Oromiya region

The embattled Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, who has come under fire from human rights organizations around the world for his grave rights abuses, has fired defense minister Lemma Megersa, a former ally.

Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, has come under fire for allowing grave human rights abuses in western Oromiya where Lemma Megersa is extremely popular.

Megersa was replaced by Kenea Yadeta, the former security chief of Oromiya region, the most populous of Ethiopia’s 10 regions.

Nine other top officials were also replaced, including the attorney general, his deputy and the mining minister.

The sacks and appointments were part of a reshuffle ahead of elections next year.

Lemma Megersa and Abiy Ahmed were once close and trusted allies, but relations soured in November when Megersa publicly criticized Abiy’s decision to consolidate the ethnically based-parties in the ruling coalition into one political party, the Prosperity Party.

Last week, Prosperity Party suspended Megersa’s membership.

Abiy’s father and Lemma both come from Oromiya where bloody street protests propelled Abiy to power in 2018.

But Abiy’s support there is being eroded, especially after bloody protests sparked by assassination of a popular singer left at least 178 people dead and about 9000 others in detention.

Abiy has promised to hold the first free and fair elections in Africa’s second most populous nation next year, but his democratic reforms have also unleashed ethnic divisions that frequently spill into violence, noted Reuters.

The news agency quoted political analyst Mohamed Olad, as saying that Lemma Megersa’s removal may further whittle away support for Abiy in Oromiya region.

“Lemma enjoys wider support and approval in Oromia than Abiy,” he said.

“Whether he will activate that reservoir of goodwill depends on two things. First, whether he will be free to exercise his political rights …(and) whether he is willing to play an active role in politics.”

Reuters noted that Lemma Megersa’s criticism joined a “growing swell of voices – some from Oromiya – who accuse Abiy of trying to centralize power and of rolling back his democratic reforms.”

Kjetil Tronvoll, professor of peace and conflict studies at Bjørknes University in Oslo, told Reuters that the debate whether to centralize or devolve power was at the heart of Ethiopia’s fractious politics.

“This is the key controversy in all federal arrangements – the power balance between the federal and regional states,” he said

Tronvoll said if the Oromo youth who helped Abiy to power turn against him, it could pose a problem during the elections.

Reuters noted that “unrest in Oromiya not Abiy’s only worry. The northern Tigray region, whose people dominated the last administration, has announced it will hold regional elections this month in defiance of a government decision to postpone polls across the nation due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.”

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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