Ethiopia creates 'Peace Ministry' to tackle violence in sweeping reshuffle

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia’s prime minister created a new Ministry of Peace and handed half the posts in his cabinet to women in a sweeping cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday as he sought to tackle a wave of ethnic violence.

FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed addresses his country's diaspora, the largest outside Ethiopia, calling on them to return, invest and support their native land with the theme "Break The Wall Build The Bridge", in Washington, U.S., July 28, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Theiler/File Photo

Abiy Ahmed - who has turned the region’s politics on its head with a string of reforms since being appointed in April - named new finance and defense ministers in an overhaul that left only four of the appointments unchanged.

“The main problem in this country is the lack of peace. This (peace) ministry will be working hard to ensure it prevails,” Abiy told lawmakers.

About 2.2 million people out of a population of 100 million have been displaced by violence since last year, much of it between rival ethnic groups.

The new peace ministry will be led by former parliament speaker Muferiat Kamil, with her office now presiding over Ethiopia’s Federal Police Commission, the National Intelligence and Security Service and the Information Network Security Agency, the government said.

Some analysts criticized the new body’s composition saying it was dominated by the security services and lacked civilian input. “It is highly dominated by political appointees. While it can contribute a lot, it could do with the expertise of technocrats in the bid to find peace,” said Yonas Ashine, a politics lecturer at Addis Ababa University.

Since his appointment, Abiy has made peace with neighbor Eritrea and presided over the partial privatization of economic sectors such as telecommunications.

The 42-year-old has also extended an olive branch to several rebel groups, promised to follow a policy of reconciliation and rein in the powerful security agencies. Yet the changes have not stopped ethnically-charged violence, some of which escalated since he was named premier.

Former construction minister Aisha Mohammed was named defense minister - the first woman to hold that position in the country.

Ahmed Shide, who has previously served as a deputy minister of finance and a government spokesman, replaced Abraham Tekeste as finance minister.

The economy has grown by nearly 10 percent on average for the past decade, official data shows, but the recent unrest has led to concerns over its long-term stability.

Abiy merged ministries to cut the cabinet to 20 from 28 and for the first time handed half of the top jobs to women.

He named new ministers of agriculture, culture and tourism, education, labor, mines, planning and development, revenue, science, trade, transport, urban development, and women’s affairs - a mixture of new names and reshuffled ministers.

He kept Workneh Gebeyehu as foreign minister, Amir Aman as health minister and Seleshi Bekele as water and electricity minister, as well as Berhanu Tsegaye as attorney general.

Editing by Duncan Miriri, Andrew Heavens and David Stamp