Each week, The Messenger summarizes key stories from Ethiopia tracking economic and political developments.
Ethiopian Airlines buys Zambia Airways
Ethiopian Airlines has announced that it has finalized an agreement with the Government of Zambia to re-launch Zambia Airways, after purchasing a 45% share in the airline, while the Government of Zambia will be the majority shareholder with 55%.
Tewolde Gebremariam, Group CEO of Ethiopian Airlines remarked: “In line with our Vision 2025 multiple hubs strategy in Africa, we are very happy that the discussions with the Zambian government have been crowned with success.”
Zambian Airways was state-owned until 1984, but after going private it suspended operations in 2009. Ethiopian Airlines is the largest airline in Africa by revenue. It already operates hubs in Lomé, Togo, with ASKY Airlines and in Lilongwe, Malawi, where it operates and manages Malawi Airlines.
Oromo opposition leader freed
Ethiopia’s government freed senior opposition leader Merera Gudina on Wednesday. He was released alongside 114 other inmates, two weeks after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said that several dissident politicians would be freed to “foster national reconciliation”.
On his release from a detention centre in the outskirts of Addis Ababa, thousands of supporters turned up as a convoy of vehicles carrying him made its way towards his house in the town of Burayu some 15 km (nine miles) west of the capital.
Merera is leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress party. He was arrested in late 2015 shortly after a trip to Brussels where he addressed members of the European Parliament on unrest in the country.
“After 400 days in prison. I’m OK,” said the opposition leader in an interview with the BBC after his release, adding that he was “open for dialogue” with the government.
Ruling party agrees to amend anti-terrorism law
Ethiopia’s ruling party EPRDF has agreed to amend some articles of the contested anti-terrorism law, following talks with other political parties.
According to the government-run Ethiopian News Agency, the changes include making it harder for police to make an arrest without a court warrant. Police will still be able to do so but only “in the presence of immediate danger.”
Additionally, the ruling party accepted the inclusion of an article that allows compensation for suspects who are detained and later found innocent.
However, the changes do not meet the full demands of opposition parties. The state news agency says that EPRDF rejected five proposed new articles during negotiations held today with 15 other political parties.
Critics have said that the anti-terrorism law contradicts the constitution and has been abused to arrest political opponents of the regime, but EPRD maintained today that the law “neither contradicts with the Constitution nor narrows the human and democratic rights of citizens,” according to ENF.
Tensions in Cairo-Addis talks over dam construction
Talks between Ethiopia’s prime minister and Egypt’s president over the building of a the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam did not appear to have gone well following weeks of mounting tension.
At a press conference in the Egyptian captial on Thursday, Egypt’s president expressed his “extreme concern” to Ethiopia’s visiting prime minister over the lack of progress in talks on the impact of a massive upstream dam that Egypt fears could cut into its vital share of the Nile.
As reported by Voice of America, “El-Sissi was grim-faced during most of a news conference he jointly addressed with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn after the two held talks in Cairo.”
Sisi pointed to “stagnation besetting the tripartite technical track,” referring to the process that aims to study the impact of the dam on Egypt and Sudan.
Egypt is a mostly desert country that depends on the Nile for almost all of its water needs. It has challenged Ethiopia over the dam, while neighboring Sudan has sided with Ethiopia.
For his part, Ethiopia’s Prime Minsister Hailemariam Desalegn downplayed concerns over the dam. “This longest river should not be considered as a source of mistrust and conflict; you should see GERD as a development of your own as much as it is ours,” he said, as quoted by Ethiopian state media.
Mounting tensions between Sudan and Egypt, as well as between Sudan and Eritrea, have set off a diplomatic flurry and resulted in Sudanese troop movements in eastern Sudan. Read more on that here.
Ethiopian Orthodox celebrate Epiphany
Orthodox Christians are celebrating Timket (Ethiopian Epiphany) on Friday. The celebration involves ceremonial processions of Tabots, which are model representations of the Ark of the Covenant.
The liturgy generally takes place near to a a stream or pool and commemorates Christ’s baptism. It culminates with a recessional during which the priests take the Tabots back inside the church.