Ethiopia’s prime minister on Tuesday reshuffled his cabinet to create a more ethnically diverse team after an unprecedented wave of protests. Hailemariam Desalegn had promised the reshuffle after imposing a six-month state of emergency in October.
In the reshuffle, Hailemariam gave senior roles to two politicians from the Oromo people who have spearheaded sometimes deadly anti-government protests over the last year, reducing the dominance of the minority Tigrayans.
The new ministers of foreign affairs and of communications – Workneh Gebeyehu, a former transport minister, and Negeri Lencho, a journalism professor – are Oromos, replacing the Tigrayans who previously held the posts.
“So many challenges have been raised by the public. There has to be a change,” he said.
“This new cabinet is ready to respond and provide a better service with professionals from many directions.”
Nine of the previous 30-strong cabinet retained their posts, among them long-standing party loyalists Siraj Fegessa, in charge of defence, and Debretsion Gebremichael who runs telecommunication and information technology, as well as Hailemariam’s deputy, Demeke Mekonnen.
The new government, which includes just three women, was immediately approved by parliament in which every seat is held by Hailemariam’s ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
Until his dismissal, former government spokesman Getachew Reda had been considered a “rising star” within the EPRDF but was unpopular among the public.
Hailemariam had promised the reshuffle would be based on skills rather than “party loyalty”.
Protesters in the central and western Oromo region and the northern Amhara region had denounced minority Tigrayan ethnic domination of the EPRDF, which has ruled Ethiopia for 25 years.