Birtukan Mideksa, a former judge and leading opposition figure has been sworn in as the head of Ethiopia’s National Election Board. Mideksa becomes the latest woman appointed to head a key public institution in the country.

The Prime Minister’s Office, confirmed the development. Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed nominated Mideksa for the post, which is one of the most powerful positions in the country. She is a respected legal and political figure, and has been a strong advocate for respect of the rule rule of law and constitution.

“PM Abiy Ahmed’s nomination of Birtukan Mideksa as Chair of the National Election Board of Ethiopia realizes his promise in facilitating electoral reforms & bears testimony to the political will for strengthening an independent election board ahead of the 2020 elections,” the Prime Minister’s Office wrote on Twitter.

Mideksa was among dozens of opposition leaders jailed after the disputed elections of 2005 that led to the deaths of hundreds of people reports say. In the election of 2005, her party won over a third of the seats. Party members reportedly believed they would have won even more seats if not for voting and counting irregularities.

Mideksa was the founder and leader of the opposition party, the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party from 2008 – 2010. She previously worked with opposition parties like Rainbow Ethiopia: Movement for Democracy and Social Justice and Coalition for Unity and Democracy.

Mideksa spent seven years in exile in the US, and recently returned to her native country. The news of Mideksa’s appointment is being celebrated by many across the continent on social media.

Ethiopia goes to the polls in 2020, and the country has experienced electoral disputes in the recent polls. Abiy has however promised to deliver a credible election in 2020, and the appointment is a welcome move, which could give the institution the much needed credibility.

Prime Minister Ahmed’s unprecedented reforms

Since April 2018, when he came to power, Prime Minister Ahmed has implemented a number of radical reforms, which have been widely applauded. Amongst these changes is the lifting of the state of emergency. PM Ahmed also ordered the release of thousands of prisoners, allowed dissidents to return home, unblocked hundreds of websites and TV channels and relinquished a long disputed border territory that ended the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

His government also announced an unprecedented gender balanced cabinet recently, appointing 10 women to ministerial positions. The move was hailed across the world, welcomed as a progressive step.

Read: Ethiopia’s gender progressive cabinet which comprises 50% women

The prime minister told parliament on the occasion: “Our women ministers will disprove the adage that women can’t lead. This decision is the first in the history of Ethiopia and probably in Africa,”

“The main problem in this country is the lack of peace. This [peace] ministry will be working hard to ensure it prevails,” he added.

The new Cabinet  continues to be celebrated not only because of it gender equity but  because it is also more representative of the marginalised ethnic groups of the country – which is home to more than 80 ethnicities.

Ethiopia’s parliament in November unanimously endorsed prominent women rights defender, Meaza Ashenafi as the first woman Federal Supreme Court President. Ashenafi’s appointment followed that of Sahle-Work Zewde, who became the first woman to become president in Ethiopia. Zewde previously worked as United Nations representative in African Union. President Zewde (68), also worked in Ethiopia’s Foreign Service for decades. She also served as Ambassador to Senegal, with accreditation to Mali, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Guinea, from 1989 to 1993.