Commentary: Ethiopia’s PM Abiy Ahmed Ali, an inspiration for Africa and Guyana

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He is brave and bold, the Ethiopian prime minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali, an intellectual, and a former intelligence officer with a progressive agenda who is radically changing Ethiopia. At 42, he is Africa’s youngest leader. More colourful is his ethnic makeup. He is a Muslim from Amharic and Oromo clan. Dr Abiy is natural orator who holds multiple degrees in computer engineering, leadership and business administration. He is also the type of person that average Ethiopians can relate to and whose agenda is youthful, progressive and inclusive to arrest Ethiopia from the abyss of tribalism.

Guyana, like Ethiopia, suffers from tribal politics. Since its independence in 1966, Guyana has continued on a path of tribalism that has divided Indians and blacks. No leader yet has brought any sort of new and revolutionary thinking to save Guyana.

Now that Guyana will emerge as a major oil and gas producer, that tribalism can only get worse as the two racial groups compete to control this new wealth. While Guyana doesn’t have all the same characteristics as Ethiopia, the leadership of Dr Abiy is an inspiration for Guyanese who want to see radical changes at home.

The young Guyanese “golden boy,” Charles Ramson, with presidential ambitions, compares himself with many young world leaders, and he even called out a few name.

I think he has no knowledge of Dr Abiy. What was strikingly missing from Charles Ramson’s selling points, which he already put out, was the issue of tribalism and corruption in Guyana.

A leader is full of ideals, passionate about them, and cultivates them over time. And that is Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali. It’s evident from his days in the army, his education, the positions he held, and the people around him that demonstrate Abiy Ahmed’s passionate and sincerity in his mission. He has demonstrated great statesmanship and integrity symbolically and through bold action.

Dr Abiy is popular in Africa already for his Pan-African nationalism and his will to de-escalate tension in Ethiopia and among its neighbors. It is not something that he just invented; it has been part of his mindset and his wife’s also. This is evident from his PhD thesis, titled “Social Capital and its Role in Traditional Conflict Resolution in Ethiopia: The Case of Inter-Religious Conflict in Jimma Zone state”. As a follow up to that, Dr Abiy published an article on de-escalation strategies in the Horn of Africa Bulletin. Abiy is looking for African integration and, to do so, conflicts have to be resolved. All these steps he sees will raise Ethiopia’s profile in Africa.

How long Dr Abiy will last is uncertain, but he is very popular in Ethiopia and amongst the youths from all ethnic groups. It is the young people that will topple many regimes left in Africa and these are the youths that will stand up and protect Dr Abiy. It is this sort of leadership that is lacking in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, where ethnic politics and patronage are norms.

The Oromo people, the largest tribal group in Ethiopia, have complained of marginalization and Dr Abiy was head of the Oromo People Democratic Organisation (OPDO) Secretariat.

A minority group, the Tigre, dominate the armed forces and the economic sector. Major protests by Omoros challenged the government of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn who resigned and paved the way for Dr Abiy to take the helm of one of Africa’s most populous countries.

Dr Abiy and the First Lady, Zinash Tayachew, a native of the ancient city of Gondar, met when they were both serving in the EDF or Ethiopian Defence Forces. The prime minister and his wife are concerned with child malnutrition, early marriage, abduction, rape and female mutilation in Ethiopia. Zinash wants children to have access to education. The first lady has publically raised the issue of sexual abuse, mental health, and elderly care and service. They are a great team together, and they are media savvy.

Since taking office and not just making window dressings, Dr Abiy closed a notorious prison, released hundreds of dissidents, lifted a state of emergency, and loosened restrictions on the press and freedom of expression. Many had been put in jail or killed under the guise of terrorism. He is on his way of becoming a great statesman for putting Ethiopia first and taking risk to his personal self.

Dr Abiy Ahmed has called for peace with Eritrea and opened Ethiopia to investments. He welcomed the first Eritrean diplomats in Addis Ababa with flowers and promised that Ethiopian Airlines will begin flights to Asmara. The two leaders will soon meet.

“The only way to move forward from all the history is forgiveness and love. Revenge is for the weak. And because Ethiopians aren’t weak we won’t need revenge, and we will win with love,” Ahmed told a massive crowd of supporters on June 23 in Addis.

Those who attempted to kill him on June 23 could be those opposed to his reformist and peace agenda that he has boldly began implementing. Ethiopians are very diplomatic in not attacking anyone or pointing fingers, but have aired grievances against those they accuse of “dominating and controlling the armed forces and key economic sectors.”

Since taking office, PM Ahmed visited key countries in the regions like Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sudan. Abiy is aiming for a zero problem with neighbours. Under his rule, Ethiopia aspires to have close and friendly ties with neighbouring countries and less of an interventionist.

Since taking office, he has also single handedly brought home Ethiopian prisoners from UAE and Saudi Arabia jails. He is sending a message; he will stand up for Ethiopians. However, receiving a large aid package from Saudi Arabia or the UAE may drag Ethiopia in choosing sides over the Qatar siege. Dr Abiy should remain neutral on the issue. Ethiopia has always had cordial ties with the Arabs but has kept them at arm’s length.

Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali’s rule has ushered in a new era for Africa and of great inspiration for the Diaspora, and I suspect that Abiy will pave the way for democratic elections in Ethiopia and run for the office, unlike what other leaders in this neighbourhood have done. Our region, the Caribbean can do well with a visionary statesman like Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali.

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