(Bloomberg) — Ethiopia’s government began talks with the exiled Oromo Democratic Front, signaling the start of a broader engagement with the opposition group.
A “high-level” government delegation met ODF officials May 11 and May 12 to discuss reforms being implemented by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the group said in a statement Sunday, without disclosing the location of the talks. An ODF delegation will travel to Ethiopia “soon for more substantive talks,” it said.
The discussions held far have been “successful,” the ruling-party funded Fana Broadcasting Corp. reported, citing a government statement. The government is also prepared to hold talks with political parties that “operate peacefully and in line with the constitution,” it said.
Abiy became prime minister last month with a pledge to open up the country’s political space, which has been tightly controlled by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front since it came to power more than a quarter of a century ago. He succeeded Hailemariam Desalegn, who quit in February after failing to end sporadic protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions that began almost three years ago amid demands for the state-planned economy to provide greater inclusiveness.
The ODF was formed in 2013 and is led by Lencho Letta, among a number of defectors from the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front, which withdrew from the EPRDF in 1992 amid a dispute over power-sharing. An ODF delegation was dispatched to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for peace talks three years ago under Hailemariam’s government, but no face-to-face talks were held, according to the ODF.
Lemma Megerssa, the president of Ethiopia’s Oromia region, said in February the central committee of Abiy’s Oromo People’s Democratic Organization is prepared to work with political parties inside the country and abroad, according to a statement on the regional government’s Facebook page.
Abiy said in his maiden speech as prime minister last month that his government will “look at political parties outside of the EPRDF as competitors rather than as enemies” and that there’s “an absolute desire on the part of the government to allow opposition parties to operate freely and create a conducive and fair and level playing field.”
Lemma and Ethiopian Information Minister Ahmed Shide didn’t immediately respond to a call and text message each seeking comment.