This is the new Ethiopia where Abiy Ahmed, the 42-year-old former intelligence official who has introduced sweeping reforms – turning things upside down – since he was elected to office six months ago.
Abiy is the first-ever prime minister from the majority Oromo ethnic group in the nation of more than 80 ethnic groups. He succeeded Hailemariam Desalegn after several years of unrest, in which thousands of people were killed which forced Desalegn's resignation.
Upon assuming power, Abiy pledged to reform the security forces and promote multi-party democracy. He has also reconciled with Ethiopia's former arch-enemy Eritrea.Opinion: Too much, too soon — Ethiopia's reformer has to slow down
Calming the fears
A little while later, the prime minister appeared on local media seeking to calm any fears. "We do not need to resort to name-calling and childish games. We have one state and one government. All citizens are allowed to help strengthening it. And all doors are open to all citizens apart from illegal ones."
Welcome to the new Ethiopia, where several hundred disgruntled elite soldiers are allowed to march, in full regalia and armed, to the prime minister's office to demand a meeting over payment, working conditions and reforms. Wednesday's incident could be seen as a remarkable sign of just how far the young democracy has come in the space of only six months. At the same time it sends a rather disturbing message about the loyalty of the Ethiopian army. According to reports, the marching soldiers had official clearance from their superiors.
Reactions on social media
Ethiopians, never slow to take to social media platforms to discuss politics, were left divided in their assessment. While some applauded the new democratic spirit allowing for freedom of speech, others on Thursday pointed to the security vacuum and the general breakdown of law and order.
Adding to the woes, the return from exile of some radical political parties, long banned by the government as "terrorist organizations", has seriously upset the power balance in the country. Much of the recent trouble has centered on the question whether the armed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) is ready to lay down its arms and engage in a non-violent struggle for a democratic Ethiopia. According to Kassahun Gofe, spokesperson in Ethiopia's Information Ministry, the issue of disarmament of the OLF is non-negotiable and in fact a red line.
Analyst Hallelujah Lulie insists that it is too early to project which way Ethiopia is headed. "The problems the country is facing are typical to any society undergoing transformation. Ethiopia used to be a very repressive state," Lulie said. "Now the government is trying to open up the political space and democratize the state, this in the face of economic challenges, strong ethnic divisions and political polarization."