Next Africa: Ethiopia Premier Abiy Faces Tigray Test

Next Africa: Ethiopia Premier Abiy Faces Tigray Test


Welcome to Next Africa, a weekly newsletter of where the continent stands now — and where it’s going next.

(bloomberg)–Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has won plaudits abroad. He’s less popular at home.

This week he faces the biggest challenge yet to his authority. The northern Tigray region defied the central government on Wednesday and went ahead with a parliamentary vote that was expressly forbidden.

The 44-year-old now has a choice: He could crack down on the Tigrayans and risk a backlash from an ethnic group that used to dominate Ethiopian politics. Or he could sit back and potentially draw similar dissent from a host of other regions that are arguing for more autonomy.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front has opposed Abiy, an ethnic Oromo, since he came to power in 2018 and is still entrenched in security and economic networks across the country. The premier is also faced with insecurity in the Oromia and Amhara regions and been criticized for delaying national elections because of the coronavirus. He now says they will take place within the next year.

A street vendor walks in front of an Addis Ababa billboard congratulating Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on his Nobel Peace Prize.Photographer: EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP

At stake is the success of ambitious economic plans that include the full or partial participation of foreign investors in industries ranging from sugar to telecommunications. An even bigger concern could be keeping the 80-odd ethnic groups that make up Africa’s second-most populous nation under one roof.

“If he mishandles it, it’s going to set a very dangerous precedent,” said Edward Hobey-Hamsher, a senior Africa analyst at U.K. risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. “There is no middle ground in Ethiopia. There are these entirely polarized views about its future. Could it break up? Absolutely.”

News & Opinion

South Africa’s Recession | A strict lockdown to curb the coronavirus extended South Africa’s recession to the longest in 28 years, with second-quarter gross domestic product recording the steepest decline since at least 1990. President Cyril Ramaphosa said consensus is emerging on a revival plan, and promised the government will go into overdrive to execute upcoming proposals.

Western Prejudice? | Senegal President Macky Sall has complained to creditors including the International Monetary Fund that Western prejudice is keeping African borrowing costs unfairly high. Like other governments on the continent, the former French colony has rushed to sell sovereign bonds to fuel an era of unprecedented growth, yet it pays over five times more on its 10-year notes than Greece, the epicenter of Europe’s debt crisis in 2008.

Armyworm Fight | A renewed effort is underway to battle the fall armyworm, a pest that’s devouring crops across Africa. Indian agrochemicals firm UPL has agreed to distribute Fawligen, a product that contains a virus that could keep the population in check. If left unfettered, the worms could cut corn production by 17.7 million tons a year and threaten the food security of 300 million people.

Doctor’s Death | The death of an Angolan doctor who was pulled over by police for not wearing a mask has triggered a public outcry in the country. Silvio Andrade Dala was driving home after a 24-hour shift when he was stopped and fined the equivalent of $8. Unable to pay immediately, he was jailed and later found dead. Images of his bloodied body have raised concerns about the use of violence by local authorities charged with enforcing measures to curb the coronavirus.

Nigerian Banks | Companies in Nigeria are opting to park their funds in bank accounts rather than spend on expansion, thwarting a drive to fuel lending to support the economy. The news came as a blow to a central bank that has resorted to banning imports of some goods to spur local manufacturing. President Muhammadu Buhari also ordered the bank not to provide foreign-exchange for food and fertilizer imports to boost farming.

Past & Prologue  

Data Watch

  • Yields on Angola’s Eurobonds jumped the most since May after Moody’s Investors Service cut the country’s credit rating deeper into junk, complicating debt-relief talks. The yield on 2025 securities climbed 83 basis points on Tuesday and continued to rise, reaching 11.92% two days later.
  • South Africa’s banking stocks rose for a fifth day through Thursday, their longest streak since April. The sector got a boost from a surge in the rand on Wednesday, while FirstRand said it’s keen to resume dividend payments once South African regulators give the go-ahead to draw down surplus cash.

Coming Up

  • September 14 Bidvest FY earnings
  • September 15 Nigeria August inflation, Rwanda 2Q GDP
  • September 16 Ghana 2Q GDP, August PPI, South Africa July retail sales, Discovery FY earnings
  • September 17 South Africa interest-rate decision, 3Q inflation-expectations survey, Woolworths FY earnings

Last Word 

South Africa’s biggest pharmacy chain closed shops and said a senior executive quit after the company became engulfed in an anti-racism scandal about a controversial hair-product advertisement. Clicks went into damage-control mode and apologized unreservedly for the promotion that portrayed the natural hair of a Black person as “dry, damaged, and frizzy,” and the hair of a White person as “normal.” The incident caused days of outrage on social media and was seized upon by the radical Economic Freedom Fighters party, which called on supporters to protest and barricade stores. Clicks halted sales of the offending shampoo range, Unilever’s TRESemme.