For a long time, the mention of Ethiopia conjured images of conflict, famine and poverty. However, over time, this African country has made strides to change and one of the main significant changes is the election of the countries and perhaps the continents youngest Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed: A man whose Charisma, energy and inclusive approach to politics has so far earned him comparison to some of the greatest leaders the world has and will ever have.
Prime Minister Abiy has been compared to notable leaders like Barack Obama, the first black American president, the late Nelson Mandela of South Africa who is also credited with having led the African people in South Africa in a successful fight against apartheid and Former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev who is credited for his openness and reorientation of the Soviet strategic aims which led to the end of the cold war, among others.
Abiy who was born in western Ethiopia, joined the resistance movement against the regime of the former leader Mengistu Haile Mariam as a teenager before enlisting in the army where he quickly rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He later served at the cyber-intelligence service before getting into politics and rising through the ranks of the Oromo faction of the EPRDF.
His achievements in only five months are not only unprecedented at least in the region in Africa where peace and stability has been elusive for many decades but also commendable for a young Democracy like that of Ethiopia. His pacifistic leadership style that has been hailed both at home and abroad has given optimism and a renewed hope to a region once ravaged by war.
The 41 year Old Abiy took over a country that was in the brink of a major economic catastrophe on April 2 2018 from Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe who resigned surprisingly after a series of protests by various interest groups mainly led by the youth who represent about 70% of the population and who have been desperate for a paradigm shift from the repressive leadership that has seen the country degenerate to become one of the poorest and least economically capable of giving jobs to its mainly young population some of whom have graduated but are without jobs.
He quickly embarked on one of the most ambitious reform agendas ever with a remarkable speed and scale starting with the release of thousands of political prisoners including a British national by the name Andargachew Tsege who was on death row for four years for alleged terrorism charges and apologising for heavy handedness and torture by the government officials and promising change for the better. He proceeded to fire the head of prison services after allegations of torture on the prisoners. He also removed the names of three opposition parties from the list of terrorist organisations. Abiy further lifted the unpopular state of emergency which earned him favour and eased discontentment especially among the youth and other political opponents who were feeling disenfranchised by the limitations to freedom. He has also liberalised the media which had been stifled by the previous regimes for fear of criticism.
On the economic front, he has begun the privatisation of major government owned cooperations including state owned Ethiopian Airlines and state run telecoms which will be open to private domestic and foreign investment. Many other sectors such are meant to follow suit except for the finance sector which may be privatised only after the country stabilises and comes out of its current volatile situation partly caused by a severe foreign currency shortage which almost brought the country to its knees.
The situation has however been improved by an intervention by Abiy after he secured a 3 billion Dollar aid package from the AUE, part of which (1 billion) has already been injected into the economy to ease the shortage. He has also made a remarkable and bold move of extending a hand of peace to the neighbouring countries, notably Eritrea with whom Ethiopia has had a 20 year diplomatic stand off after a two-year war between the two countries that killed at least two thousand people and injured a score of others.
All these reforms have not been popular with the entire nation, especially the peace deal with Eritrea which has caused a lot of the minority groups such as the Irob people who are unhappy about the decision to normalise relationships with people they see only as enemies. Infact the botched terrorist attack on the 23rd of June 2018 at a pro Abiy rally at the vast Meske Square in Addis Ababa at which 2 people died and many others were injured was allegedly carried out by hardliner minority who are discontent with some of the reforms he has put in place.
The recent incident which took place in Shashemene , in which a person was hung upside down from a tree by a local mob after rumour circulated that he had carried a bomb at a rally to mark the return to Ethiopia of activist Jawar Mohammed and the killing of 23 people following ethnic violence targeting minorities in Oromo heartland on the outskirts of Addis Ababa are clear signs of rising ethnic tensions which have drawn criticism from many quarters who see Abiy’s failure to address security challenges and sectarian violence as something that might hinder his efforts for reconciliation, inclusion, national unity and healing.”
Even the large aid package from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been seen by some critics as a wrong move that would amount to Abiy not only siding with Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf crisis, but also subscribing to some form of participation in the power game in the region which may taint the image of the country and compromise his role as one of the most Democratic and independent leaders in Africa. With only five months in power, one can only hope that he will finish what he has started and become the true face of a new Democratic Africa lead by young visionary leaders that will steer Africa to achieve its full potential and reclaim its titled that has long been denied, “the richest continent on planet earth.” This dream however may be dead on arrival if Ethiopians of good will from all ethnic groups do not rally behind him to form a unified and all-inclusive Ethiopia.