Ethiopia’s prime minister fires defense minister

Ethiopia's Abiy Ahmed

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) —Ethiopia’s Prime Minister has fired Defense Minister Lemma Megersa after their relations soured in the past few months.

Abiy Ahmed’s office announcement didn’t come as a surprise for many Ethiopians as Lemma had been increasingly sidelined from various government roles in recent weeks.

Ethiopia has had several violent protests in recent months, including a wave of demonstrations in the Oromia region after a popular singer was killed last month. More than 180 people were killed in the violence that followed the artist’s killing, mainly targeting ethnic and religious minorities in the region.

The violence has tarnished the prime minister’s wide-ranging reforms including releasing political prisoners and opening up the media. Rights groups are sounding alarms over the government’s increasing use of deadly force against protestors and the arrest of journalists in recent months.

The relationship between Lemma and Abiy, who both hail from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, started faltering after Lemma openly criticized some of Abiy’s policies, including the ways he plans to democratize Ethiopia and his “Synergy” philosophy. Earlier in August, regional officials in Oromia accused Lemma of not carrying out his duties and kicked him out of the regional Oromia Prosperity Party executive committee.

The sacking of Lemma from the Cabinet “didn’t come as a surprise taking his worsening relationship with the prime minister and the party he is leading,” Abel Abate Demissie, Associate Fellow at Chatham House, told The Associated Press. “The recent violence and the measures taken by the government could have exacerbated the difference he has with the prime minister and his Prosperity Party. His popularity has been waning but he remains one of the most formidable voices in Oromia.”

Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader also reshuffled various posts ahead of local elections, including the Mayor of Addis Ababa and the Attorney General.