The European Business Council for Africa

 

Ethiopia’s electoral commission has announced that its scheduled August general election will be postponed, due to the effects of the Coronavirus crisis. The vote was due to test the reform agenda of prime minister Abiy Ahmed, in power since April 2018.

He has overseen rapid change in Africa’s second most-populous country, including unprecedented opening of the political sphere and ambitious plans to liberalize its state-led economy.

Free and fair polls would mark an unlikely, and rapid transition to democratic governance after decades of authoritarianism. They would also boost Ethiopia’s growth story, which has been criticized for relying on autocratic politics for impressive GDP figures - averaging 9.5% annually from 2009 - 2019.

The delay could be good news in this regard.

While Ahmed’s reforms have won him global recognition - including a Nobel peace prize - his fast and furious approach has also stirred simmering ethnic and political divisions.

Up to 2m people have been internally displaced since 2018, amid calls for more autonomy from some regional ethnic groups, while Ahmed has survived at least one assassination attempt.

This has raised doubts about the government’s ability to maintain law and order, and concerns that a free and fair election in 2020 is simply too much, too soon, for Ethiopia.

The delay - which has been backed by key opposition groups - offers much-needed time for authorities to prepare.

They must use it well.

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