Ethiopia Appoints 21 New Ministers Amid State of Emergency

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Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has announced a Cabinet reshuffle, following months of often-violent protests which led the government to declare a state of emergency.

Ethiopia’s parliament has unanimously approved 21 new appointees, the prime minister said Tuesday. He said the new ministers were picked for competence and commitment rather than “party loyalty.”

The appointees include a new minister of foreign affairs, Workneh Gebeyehu, who replaces Tedros Adhanom, a former health minister who has been one of Ethiopia’s most recognizable public figures in recent years. Adhanom is currently a candidate vying to be the next World Health Organization’s chief.

Communications Minister and government spokesman Getachew Reda was ousted and replaced by Negeri Lencho, the head of the journalism and communications college at Addis Ababa University.

Both Gebeyehu and Lencho are members of the Oromo, the main ethnic group behind the protests of the past year, and replace members of the Tigrayan ethnic group.

FILE - Security forces work to contain demonstrators at an anti-government rally in Bishoftu town, Oromia region, Ethiopia, Oct. 2, 2016. Initially triggered by land issues, the protests have shifted to include human rights and political power.

FILE – Security forces work to contain demonstrators at an anti-government rally in Bishoftu town, Oromia region, Ethiopia, Oct. 2, 2016. Initially triggered by land issues, the protests have shifted to include human rights and political power.

“There has to be change,” new government spokesperson Lencho told the AFP news agency. “This new Cabinet is ready to respond and provide better service.”

Former spokesman Reda has been the government’s most visible official during the course of the year, and was regarded as the main voice for the ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

However, his rhetoric has been seen as downplaying the plight of the protestors in public forums. Reda spoke to VOA’s Daybreak Africa last week saying that the state of emergency has turned things around and that “obviously, the country is back to normalcy.”

Nine officials kept their previous posts in the Cabinet reshuffle, including Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa and the prime minister’s deputy, Demeke Mekonnen.

The anti-government protests, initially triggered by land issues, have spread from the Oromia region to the Amhara region. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 500 people have died in clashes with police and security forces.

The protesters have now shifted their calls to issues of human rights and political power. The ruling party is widely seen as dominated by leaders from the Tigrayan ethnic group. In 2015, the EPRDF won every seat in the country’s parliament.

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    Salem Solomon

    Salem Solomon is a journalist and web producer at Voice of America’s Africa Division, where she reports in English, Amharic and Tigrigna. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Poynter.org, Reuters and The Tampa Bay Times. Salem researches trends in analytics and digital journalism, and her data-driven work has been featured in VOA’s special projectscollection.

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