Congratulations to Dr. Abiye Amhed on his election as the third prime minister of Ethiopia.For my generation who grew up amid violent political upheavals, the election of the third prime minister through a democratic process is yet another cause for celebration. This outcome also strengthens our conviction that Ethiopian political culture is maturing and democracy deepening its roots within EPRDF and in society at large.
Prime Minister Abiye represents the face of a new generation of EPRDF leaders with potential to provide renewed leadership for the party and government that will ready Ethiopia for the next decade of development. We hope he follows the footsteps of his predecessors to do more in safeguarding the constitution and vigorously pursuing the state-led development strategy. Many who watched the inaugural televised address might have already observed his potential to connect with the Ethiopian youth population and mobilize support around government policies.
Many had predicted that the next prime minister wouldbe an Oromo, by the very necessity to appease continuing political discords in the Oromo region. There is no question that this situation and the unexpected resignation of Haile Mariam Dessalegn created apolitical windfall for the OPDO,but there would have been other far more important issuesfor consideration by EPRDF. One is growing public fatigue by EPRDF’s more than half-century of rule. The party must show a new face at the top of its leadership so as to rejuvenate its image and secures its political fortunes going forward. Second is the whole issue of metekakat (encouraging the younger generation to take leadership roles) that was initiated by the party years ago, and further reinforced by the reform blueprint adopted by the partyrecently. We can say more about such facts/speculations for the sake of analysis here (or to be semantics), but it is highly unlikely that a progressive party like EPRDF would have considered “ethnic rotation” at face value to appoint an Oromo prime minister.
A noble mother feeds the hungry children of her neighbours first and her own children after, according to Ethiopian folklore. Maybe there is no such thing as nobility in the real world of politics, which is to say that Prime Minister Abiye cannot be expected to completely turn away from Oromo issues. But he is expected to give the highest regard for the interest of the national community, including ensuring that current formulas for the allocation of financial resources and bureaucratic positions remain regionally balanced.
Any apprehension of Oromo separatism gaining grounds under Oromo prime minister is baseless. This idea is fading away as the current federal system continues to demonstrate benefits including self-rule, economic growth and social changes. Above all, those separatist groups were the product of Ethiopia’s dark past; they became politically and culturally alienated when the reactionary feudal class and church clergy continued to ostracize their ancient Oromo ancestors (who migrated north-ward in the 16th century) as destructive barbarian invaders. Societies around the world were built upon human migrations, and as such, the Oromo historywould be narrated in this light in future society that Ethiopians are building together. The Oromos have been part of the Ethiopian polity for centuries and fiercely fought at different times to defend the country’s sovereignty.
How the new Prime Minister will compare with his predecessors can be irrelevant in a world characterized by rapid changes.He enters office in a completely different epoch. Today’s Ethiopian society is composed of assertive citizens that will not be easily swayed by rhetoric of patriotism, nationalism or other populist appeals to delay legitimate demands for decent jobs, social protection and respect for legal and political rights. One blogger wrote some time ago that most leaders in the world would fail to deliver promises that they made during elections. Popular leaders like Barrack Obama, Nelson Mandela and the now discredited Burmese’s Aung San Suu kyi (who was not able to stop ethnic cleansing of minorities under her rule) and others who took power with much fanfare did not find governing a country an easy task, and their expectations had hit a low point by the time they left office. Yet the fact is that many leaders would have demonstrated at least an average level of performed before the end of their terms. All to say that we hope the new Ethiopian Prime Ministerwill do his best in governinga complex society.
There is no silver bullet for dealing with current challenges that Ethiopian society faces, some of which are the result of poor governance and others emerging issues ensuing from changing society, economy and environment. The piece by Aiga here and other media commentators have pointed to important areas of priority for the government including restoring public peace and order, national reconciliation, public engagement with different levels of government and public education. The issue of growing youth poverty needs urgent attention. The country’s industrial strategy needs further decentralization to promote labour intensive small industries in rapidly sprawling rural town across the country to create jobs. The concentration of industrial and infrastructure investment in “growth corridors” (mostly in the vicinity of Addis Ababa and central Oromia) could have been a sound growth strategy, but so far the benefits of jobs, skills and other multiplier effects have not reached other regions. The growing youth poverty in overcrowded northern regions of Amhara and Tigray has potential to produce a political time bomb. The sentiments coming from BeteAmhara and other emerging Amhara interest groups suggest that the usual rhetoric of “national unity” wouldn’t be enough to appease growing political and economic frustrations, especially if they are being fed by the rising Amhara nationalism.
As I write this piece, I surveyed some of the literature in the Diaspora and found an overall positive outlook, with some of the writers in support of the new Prime minister, others expressing cautious optimism and still others even sounding triumphant that TPLF is finally defeated (too much innocence of course!). All is well. Wise people change with time and we hope this is not the usual Diaspora political opportunism that we have witnessed from time to time. Nearly three decades of Diaspora politicking, including lobbying against donors’ aid; leading boycotts of Ethiopian government-led Diaspora initiatives; harassing and labelling groups and individuals who work for Ethiopia as EPRDF agents; intimidation and harassment of Ethiopian government dignitaries, the list can go on and on, did not achieve anything.It only resulted in forgone opportunities for development that would have made a difference in the lives of our poor relatives who also paid taxes to educate the mass of elites that roamthe Diaspora. An historical occasion like this democratic power transferback home can create an opportunity for change.
A final note is to salute the Revolutionary Democrats. They set Ethiopia in the development path and created a federation that have giventhe once exploited and oppressed nations and nationalities self-rule and dignity. As they slowly fade away from the political and public arena, they should know that the generations of Somalis, Sidama, Amharas, Tigreans, Oromos, Gumuz, Anwaks, Nuers, Wolitas, Afars, and many other nations and nationalitieswill live totell their legacy. Emperor Haile Sellasie had ensured the development of personal cults and myths about himself, including as a son of God! Today there is nothing on Ethiopian soil that bears his name. The feudal Emperor is rather remembered for his brutal oppression and exploitation of the peasant masses, including denying religiousrights for Ethiopian Muslims. The lesson here for the current generation of Ethiopian – especially those in power -is that only good deeds for society create and sustain legacy.