Ethiopia will vote in twice-delayed elections on Monday, despite growing concern over the credibility of the vote.
International attention is much more focused on an ongoing war in the country’s Tigray region, where famine is affecting 350,000 people.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promised the vote will be the most democratic in the country’s history. Campaigning officially wrapped on Thursday.
“Our issue isn’t protecting Ethiopia’s unity, rather it is making Ethiopia the strength of the Horn of Africa,” Abiy said at a rally in Addis Ababa.
37 million people will be able to vote, with Abiy’s ruling Prosperity Party favorites to win.
But under Abiy, Africa’s second most populous nation has been dogged by instability that’s killed thousands and displaced over a million people.
In power since 2018, Abiy’s reforms and a peace deal with neighboring Eritrea spurred optimism.
But as a new election approaches, that surge of hope has diminished.
Tensions over the dam Addis Ababa is building on the Nile have also surged in recent months but it is the domestic crises that worry observers the most.
Chief among the challenges is the grueling conflict in Tigray in the north, where the vote will not take place.
Fighting is still ongoing, 7 months after federal troops were sent to confront an armed rebellion by the region’s ruling party – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
The humanitarian situation here is dire. The UN says 91% of residents are in urgent need of food aid.
Elsewhere in the north, Amhara state also suffers from food insecurity. And like much of the country, it has also seen an increase in ethnic violence.
Ethiopia’s two largest ethnic groups, the Oromo and the Amhara, frequently clash.
Here too there won’t be any voting.
Some say these conflicts are the unfortunate off-spin of the premier’s break with an authoritarian past.
“There has been a looseness after Abiy came to office, in the name of widening the democracy,” said Agagenew Mekete, the mayor of Ataye, a small town in the country’s central region.
Several international players have voiced concerns.
The United States has condemned the imprisonment of opposition leaders.
Most notably Eskinder Nega, a long-term government critic who was jailed in September last year on terrorism charges.