Ethiopia’s prime minister tendered his resignation on Thursday, apparently sacrificed by his ruling party, one of Africa’s most ruthless, as it scrambled to secure its weakening hold on power in the face of growing popular protest.
Hailemariam Desalegn’s announcement that he was stepping down was, on the face of it, a highly unusual moment in Africa.
But although Mr Hailemariam’s departure closely followed the enforced resignations of South Africa’s Jacob Zumba and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, few observers saw it in the same direction.
In a televised address, he said his resignation was “vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy”.
Mr Hailemariam, who has led the country since 2012, simultaneously stepped down as chairman of the ruling coalition.
According to report several hundreds of people have lost their lives in that last three years of anti-government protests.
Demonstrations first spread across the country in 2015 amid calls for political and economic reform and an end to state corruption.
Most of the unrest has centred on Ethiopia’s two largest regions, Oromia and Amhara.
A 10-month national state of emergency that ended last year failed to stop the protests, as did the release of thousands of opposition supporters from jail last month..
“Unrest and a political crisis have led to the loss of lives and displacement of many,” Mr Hailemariam said.
“I see my resignation as vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy.”
Leaders of the governing coalition – the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) – held an emergency meeting following the announcement, the Addis Standard website reported.
Alastair Leithead of BBC says Ethiopia’s economic growth has been impressive but its steamroller approach to development has sparked years of regional, ethnic-based protest.
The old guard that runs Ethiopia is now afraid its federal, Soviet-style system could collapse, he adds, leaving two possible solutions – to crack down harder on dissent or to try political reform.
Mr Hailemariam said he will stay on as a caretaker prime minister until parliament and the EPRDF accept his resignation and choose a replacement.
Mr Hailemariam had fallen foul of both the hardline and pragmatic Tigrayan factions, analysts said. The hardliners objected to the speed with which he released prisoners, and are hoping for a more conservative successor who will slow the pace of reforms.
The pragmatists want to see him replaced with an Oromo from within the EPRDF, hoping that appointing a member of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group to the country’s most powerful position would be enough to deflate the protests.