HERE’S WHY ETHIOPIA’S ABIY AHMED IS AFRICA’S LEADER OF THE YEAR
Abiy Ahmed is our miracle”- These were the words of opposition party of Ginbot 7 in Ethiopia in September while welcoming their exiled leader Berhanu Nega back to the capital in Addis Ababa. They were not the only ones with that opinion. It was a reflection of that of many Ethiopians who have witnessed many reforms from the ruling coalition of Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Abiy Ahmed is a former Ethiopian soldier who was born in the Oromo region of the country to a Muslim father and an Amhara Christian mother; like a man from two worlds, he seemed perfect for the job. Perhaps, his closeness, to the Oromo people, his people, an ethnic group in Ethiopia facing some form of persecution from the country’s ruling party, was considered before his appointment.
His appointment earlier in March this year was the EPRDF’s response to enduring anti-government protests that led to the resignation of former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. In just 8 months, Ahmed has entirely shifted the narrative from authoritarianism in Ethiopia, to one of democracy, inclusivity and diversity, through what many have described as populist policies.
Many of his policies haven’t been populist in nature, since he isn’t seemingly rallying Ethiopians against some “others”; on the contrary he’s been trying to unite the country after decades of division, and most especially protests from his home region of Oromia for the past three years.
Here is a list of political and economic reforms that have set him apart from other African leaders in 2018:
Release of prisoners, activists return from exile
Ethiopia’s authoritarian ruling party has quite the reputation for jailing journalists, human rights activists and members of the opposition. Protests from the Oromia and Amhara regions of the country were ongoing for 3 years and also resulted in the arbitrary killings and imprisonment of demonstrators and protesters by security officials in Ethiopia. The crackdown on any form of anti-government protests and media criticism in the country have usually come in the form of security operatives in the country shutting down newspapers and internet services, instituting anti-terrorism laws to target bloggers and journalists, spying on social media for anti-government platforms.
Many young Ethiopians have been the victims of this, with many activists and journalists living in exile due to government persecution. Many nationalist movements, like the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and other opposition parties were branded as terrorist organizations by previous administrations and their leaders forced into exile.
Abiy Ahmed has overseen the release of thousands of political prisoners in eight months, a process that began with his predecessor in January. For the first time since 2004, there are no Ethiopian journalist in jail, a welcome development from the oppressive EPRDF.
The country has also welcomed back activists and human rights campaigners who were once branded dissidents by the ruling coalition.
More representation for women in government
In his first major cabinet appointments since he became Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed appointed women into half the positions, a first for the country. Ethiopian Parliament members amicably agreed to his appointments, as the country became the second African country with equal gender representation in its ministerial cabinet, after Rwanda. Ahmed appointed Aisha Mohammed, Ethiopia’s former Construction Minister, as Defense Minister, the first time a woman has held that post in the country. He also cut the number of ministerial posts in the country from 28 to 20. There have been studies on how more gender inclusivity can be correlated with economic development. Hopefully, this will be the same case in Ethiopia.
The country’s Parliament elected Sahle-Work Zehde as Ethiopia’s new president, in October, about a week after it had also confirmed the Prime Minister’s gender-equal cabinet members.
President Sahle-Work has quite a detailed diplomatic background. She was first Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Senegal, and then Djibouti. She also worked for the United Nations in Africa, heading the organization’s peace-building team in the Central African Republic. Before her appointment, she was the United Nations representative at the African Union.
The Prime Minister, through his Chief of Staff Fitsum Arega, tweeted “In a patriarchal society such as ours, the appointment of a female head of state not only sets the standard for the future but also normalizes women as decision-makers in public life.”
Abiy Ahmed also appointed Birtukan Mideksa, an opposition leader who just returned from exile, as the head of Ethiopia’s electoral body in November.
Ethiopia secured stakes in ports in Djibouti, Somalia, and Sudan within 5 months. Maritime trade seem to be one of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s key economic reforms for Ethiopia, a land-locked country, and securing access to these ports were a key part of these reforms.
Ethiopia’s claims to Djibouti’s port, a key base in the Horn of Africa, include a joint development of the port with Djibouti, though the size of Ethiopia’s stake in the port is still unclear. In exchange, Djibouti will receive shares in some of Ethiopia’s state owned firms.
The Djibouti deal was also on the back of Ethiopia’s decision to acquire 19 percent of the stake of the port Berbera in neighboring breakaway state Somaliland, suggesting that there is a bigger plan for Ethiopia to leverage on seaports that are close to its borders.
Ethiopia signs peace agreement with Eritrea
After decades of tension between both neighbouring countries, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki signed a peace agreement in Saudi Arabia in Juky . The agreement effectively ended a “no peace no war” standoff between both countries that had been in place since a war ended between both countries in 2000. Abiy Ahmed’s visit to Asmara, Eritrea’s capital in July was the first visit from any Ethiopian leader to Eritrea in 20 years.
Analysts called the agreement “phenomenal” and that it would chart a new path for the much-troubled Horn of Africa rregion. Commercial flights between both countries resumed after the signing of the agreement, and Eritrea would also lend Ethiopia the use of its ports.