She was in Abiy Ahmed’s cabinet as war broke out. Now she wants to set the record straight.
By Max Bearak
NAIROBI —(washingtonpost)– Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took a sizable risk when he chose her as the youngest minister in his cabinet: Filsan Abdi was an outspoken activist from the country’s marginalized Somali community with no government experience. She was just 28.
Then the opposite happened.
Less than a year into her tenure, Ethiopia was spiraling into an ethnically tinged civil war that would engulf the northern part of the country — Africa’s second most populous — and as the head of the ministry overseeing women’s and children’s issues, Filsan found herself tasked with documenting some of the war’s most horrific aspects: mass rapes by uniformed men and the recruitment of child soldiers.
In September, she became the only cabinet minister to resign over Abiy’s handling of the war.
This week, Filsan, now 30, broke her public silence in a lengthy, exclusive interview with The Washington Post, in which she described cabinet discussions in the lead-up to the war, official efforts to suppress her ministry’s findings about abuses by the government and its allies, and the resurgent ethnic divisions fracturing the country.
A spokeswoman for Abiy declined to comment on Filsan’s recollections.
Disputed story lines
In the 14 months since Ethiopia’s war began, the world has largely relied on the scant access the government has granted to a handful of journalists and humanitarians for any kind of independent reporting. Tigray, Ethiopia’s northernmost region, where the war had been contained until June, has been subjected to a near-total communications blockade since fighting began in November 2020.