Prominent activist Jawar Mohammed does not rule out challenging his erstwhile ally, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in next year’s election, he told Reuters on Friday, after days of demonstrations by his supporters resulted in 16 deaths.
Jawar’s ability to organize street protests helped propel Abiy to power last year, ushering in sweeping political and economic reforms. Abiy won the Nobel peace prize this month for his regional peacemaking achievements.
But this week, Jawar’s supporters demonstrated against Abiy after Jawar said police had surrounded his home and tried to withdraw his government security detail. Protests in the capital and other cities resulted in 16 deaths and dozens of wounded.
The violence underscored the dilemma facing Abiy, who must retain support in Ethiopia’s ethnically based, federal system but not be seen to favor one group.
But kingmakers like media mogul Jawar are flexing their muscles. Like Abiy, Jawar comes from the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest. His supporters have stopped believing in Abiy’s promises of reform, he said, accusing Abiy of centralizing power, silencing dissent, and jailing political prisoners – like his predecessors.
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Amnesty International says that, since Abiy took office, there have been several waves of mass arrests of people in Oromiya perceived to be opposed to the government. Detainees were not charged or taken to court, Amnesty’s Ethiopia researcher Fisseha Tekle said.
“The majority of people believe the transition is off track and we are backsliding toward an authoritarian system,” Jawar said, sitting in his heavily guarded home-office in the center of the capital, Addis Ababa. “The ruling party and its ideology will be challenged seriously not only in the election but also prior to the elections.”
The Prime Minister’s spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment. Abiy has not commented on this week’s violence.