ADDIS ABABA — Ethnic violence and mounting rancour among political elites could force Ethiopia to postpone landmark elections set for May, according to a report released Monday by conflict analysis and prevention group ICG.
If tensions continue to rise, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed "may have to seek an election delay," the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned.
"A divisive and bloody campaign, with candidates making openly ethnic-based appeals for votes, could tip the country over the edge," it said.
Following several years of anti-government protests, Abiy was appointed a prime minister in April 2018 by the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, which came to power in the early 1990s.
Though his ambitious reform agenda earned him the Nobel Peace Prize, his tenure has been marred by ethnic clashes that displaced nearly three million people last year.
The latest flare-up occurred in October, when a prominent activist from the Oromo ethnic group accused security forces of trying to orchestrate an attack against him, spurring protests and violence that left more than 80 people dead.
Despite security concerns, Abiy is keen to move ahead with elections in May to stave off challenges to his legitimacy and secure a mandate for his agenda, which includes dramatically reshaping one of Africa's fastest-growing economies.
But there are multiple flashpoints that could derail that timeline, ICG said in its report.
These include discord in Abiy's home region of Oromia highlighted by the October violence; hostility between Abiy's administration and the once-dominant Tigray People's Liberation Front; and disputes over land between the Amhara and Tigray regions.
Abiy also faces rising demands for more autonomy from ethnic groups in Ethiopia's diverse southern region.
The Sidama ethnic group voted to form their own regional state in a referendum last month, and other groups in the south would like to follow suit. — AFP