Love, forgiveness and addiction
Had he been born a Zimbabwean, the 12th Prime Minister of Africa’s fastest-growing economy could easily have been named “Uprising”. But Ahmed Ali and his wife, Tezeta Wolde, named their son Abiy – Amharic for “revolution”
Abiyot Ahmed was born on 15 August 1976, four weeks shy of the second anniversary of the end of the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie and the advent of the era of the Derg. This was the military junta that ran Ethiopia until June 1991.
True to his name, since coming to power on 2 April this year, he’s wasted no time ringing revolutionary changes. However, they won’t culminate in bloodshed like the Red Terror of 1977, during which Mengistu Haile Mariam’s government is believed to have butchered up to two million people.
On the contrary. Ahmed’s doing everything by the book, literally and figuratively. With a PhD which he acquired last year, he’s ended Haile Mariam’s repressive measures, lifted the emergency law, stopped the torture of political prisoners and loosened the noose on the media – especially social media and the Internet. State TV channel ETV is now popular, as my contact in Ethiopia – a young businesswoman – told me.
“People used to watch pretty inane content on Kana TV,” she said, “ranging from Turkish love stories with Amharic subtitles to action movies. It drove me nuts!”
The country’s new Prime Minister maintains charisma and dignity in all circumstances, even
keeping his cool when someone hurled a grenade at him while addressing a rally in Addis Ababa. “He continually preaches the message of love and peace, urging all of us to medemer [unite],” says my contact.
Ethiopia has never been fully colonised, even though – like every African country that dared to resist domination – it paid a heavy price. The aftermath of Selassie’s repulsion of colonialism left the country in tatters. Italy had frivolously conjured up a colony out of what was an integral part of Ethiopia back in the
The ultimate independence of Eritrea in May
1990 left the two countries in ongoing conflict over the border town of Badme, among others. This cut Ethiopia’s trade access to the Gulf of Aden.
Ahmed, however, suddenly agreed to hand Badme back to Eritrea, in compliance with the internationally brokered Algiers Peace Accord of 2000, prioritising regional stability over minor and costly victories.
Ahmed and his Eritrean counterpart, President Isaias Afwerki, agreed to open embassies in each other’s capitals, resume flight services to these cities and, most importantly allow Ethiopia to use Eritrea’s port facilities.
“The people of our region are joined in common purpose,” declared Ahmed. He was referring not only to Ethiopian-Eritrean relations, but to those between Ethiopia and Somalia as well. In June, Ahmed became the first Ethiopian leader to visit that country in over four decades – and he succeeded in brokering a commitment to dissolve bilateral trade barriers towards a single market in the Horn of Africa.
He and Somalian President Mohammed Abdullahi Farmajo consequently invested in four Somalian ports to further open trade channels to sea for Ethiopia. These ports, along with others in Eritrea and Djibouti, could yield manifold improvements in Ethiopia’s cost of imports and exports over the next decade.
These measures have resulted in the latest World Economic Outlook of the International Monetary
The arrival of a young, UK- and USAeducated former intelligence officer like Abiy Ahmed as Prime Minister of Ethiopia is bringing welcome reforms to his country.
Fund recording Ethiopian growth of 8,5% in 2018.
To his credit, Ahmed has sustained the initiatives of his predecessors, Haile Mariam and Meles Zenawi, but employed greater finesse in international relations and humility on the home front. For example, Zenawi’s $4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is nearing completion, which will make the country a major exporter of hydro-electric power. However, Ahmet’s managing relations with Sudan and Egypt far better than Zenawi did.
He’s also talking about privatisation of, among others, Africa’s most successful state-owned airline, Ethiopian Airlines. And he’s urging his people to work seven days a week, “instead of spending so much time drinking coffee and chatting”.
Ahmed’s work has already produced increased foreign direct investment inflows, even before completing his first 100 days in office. Notably, the United Arab Emirates pumped in $3 billion in aid and investment, which is likely to trigger a deluge of further commitments.
Teams, not individuals, win championships. However, Africa’s suffered gravely at the hands of poor, mainly older and corrupt leaders. The arrival of a younger, UK- and USA-educated former intelligence officer in the person of Abiy Ahmed can’t be downplayed.
And while he turns Ethiopia into a source of envy for the rest of the developing world, at the age of just 41, the ultimate Derg dictator – 81-year-old Haile Mariam – remains in exile in Harare, Zimbabwe, amid continuing calls for his extradition.
May the winds of change Ahmed’s brought to the country continue blowing strongly.
Victor Kgomoeswana is the author of the book Africa is Open for Business (Pan Macmillan).