Ethiopia's next leader faces tough challenge of reuniting the nation

Awol K. Allo is a lecturer at the Keele University School of Law. He writes on the issues behind the longstanding protests by Ethiopia's largest ethnic groups, the Oromos and Amharas.
He writes as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits the country on his Africa tour.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Ethiopia is facing an upheaval of unprecedented magnitude. On February 15, the country's Prime Minister Hailemariam stepped down in a surprise move that plunged the country into uncertainty.

A day later, his government declared a nationwide state of emergency, the second such decree in less than two years.
Confronted by relentless and large scale ethnic protests, Hailemariam's government was forced to make highly unusual concessions.
    Early in January, the government announced a plan to widen the political space and foster national consensus, including the decision to release political prisoners.
    To fulfill that pledge, thus far, the government has released about 8,000 political prisoners, including prominent opposition figures, scholars and journalists jailed over the last two decades.
    However, as Hailemariam's abrupt resignation and the subsequent imposition of a martial law highlights, the crisis in the country is explosive and requires an urgent, robust and courageous response by all stakeholders.

    US influence

    The visit by America's top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, could not have come at a better time. According to the State Department Spokesperson, Tillerson is scheduled to discuss with countries on counter terrorism, peace and security, good governance, and trade and investment, all issues particularly relevant to the crisis in Ethiopia.
    Although the United States has long lost its reputation as a shining exponent of human rights and democracy in the region, the United States still wields enormous power over Ethiopia and can leverage its diplomatic power to help steer the country out of the crisis.
    Three decades of US policy on Ethiopia has not worked. The ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which ruled the country with iron-first since it came to power in 1991, is on the verge of unraveling.
    The crisis facing the country, a very important geo-strategic partner of the US in the region, requires an urgent, robust and courageous response by all stakeholders.
    Tillerson must emphasise to Ethiopian authorities that security and human rights are not two mutually exclusive ideals but rather interdependent and mutually reinforcing. As the United States Embassy in Ethiopia stated recently stated, the response to the crisis can only be 'greater freedom, not less."
    Secretary Tillerson must meet with the opposition and the leadership of EPRDF's constituent members, particularly the the Oromo People's Democratic Organization (OPDO) and listen to their concerns.

    Political dominance

    The ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which controls seats in parliament and regional assemblies, is on the verge of unraveling, and it is woefully unprepared to meet the challenges facing the country.
    The party was created in 1989 by the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), a party that purportedly represents the Tigray ethnic group, about six percent of Ethiopia's estimated 106 million people.
    When the downfall of the military dictatorship of Mengistu Hailemariam became imminent, TPLF engineered a coalition to bolster its legitimacy.
    Like the EPRDF, the other three members of the coalition - the OPDO, the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), and the Southern