Ethiopia’s prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn has reshuffled his cabinet, appointing 21 new ministers including a new head of communications, Negeri Lencho, an Oromo professor at the Addis Ababa University college of humanities and journalism.
The move seems aimed at placating the country’s largest ethnic minority who have been protesting their marginalization and exclusion from major political and economic decision-making for the last year. The country declared a state of emergency last month which locked down its traditional media and social media platforms.
Negeri, who once said that an “uninformed society is better than a misinformed one,” will now be the government spokesman as well as run Ethiopia’s state news outlet. “So many challenges have been raised by the public. There has to be a change,” Negeri told the AFP after his appointment.
The professor once called out Ethiopia’s state media for being “pretty paralyzed,” serving as a mouthpiece for the government. The Ethiopian government controls the only television channel in the country, as well as the majority of local radio stations and newspapers. Under the state of emergency, Ethiopians are banned from listening to foreign media like Voice of America or Germany’s public broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
The Oromo, as well as the country’s second largest ethnic group, the Amhara, are also protesting a government dominated by the Tigray minority group, who toppled an Amhara-dominated government in 1991 and installed a mostly Tigray government. Negeri and another Oromo minister, Workneh Gebeyehu are replacing Tigrayan ministers. Workneh, former director of the police, will be the foreign minister, marking the first time a non-Tigray has held the post since 1991.
Still, protesters were not impressed. Negeri and Workneh aren’t likely to push hard for change. Negeri is a member of the ruling coalition’s Oromo party, the OPDO, and remains loyal to the regime. Workneh, former director of the police, is seen as close to the Tigray establishment, according to the risk consultancy Maplecroft.
“Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s apparently sweeping reshuffle will have a limited impact,” said Emma Gordon, senior Africa analyst for Maplecroft. “The reshuffle is unlikely to be sufficient to appease the organizers of the protests.”
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