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Bracing for change under the new leadership

Bracing for change under the new leadership

Dagem Belayneh 03-29-18

After what seemed to be the longest month and a half, the Ethiopian ruling party, EPRDF has finally elected its Chairman and Vice Chairman. The unexpectedly long period it took to elect the chairman and announce the decision set off a speculation frenzy. Some of these speculative analyses went out of the normal and into the extreme at times. For instance, there were those who contended that the election process was going nowhere as the four parties in the coalition could not provide a candidate more than 50% of the vote. This group went on to conclude that Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn would be asked to stay in office as agreeing on a replacement has proved to be impossible.

However, we finally have the answer now and it is Dr. Abiy Ahmad who has become the chairman while Demeke Mekonnen has retained his position as the vice chairman. The past couple of years have been marred with social unrest and political instability in the country. Whether it is problems of good governance, identity, equality or just the outcome of the ethnic politics over the past quarter of a century, the ruling party has time and again failed to address them sustainably. The EPRDF’s evaluation sessions that are reputed to be gruesome have also owned up to this reality. The body they identified as accountable for the lack of leadership is the top level.

Accordingly, the election of new leaders is supposed to bridge the gap in leadership and narrow the difference between the government and the people. For that to happen, the new leadership should come up with something new and radical as the lengthy periods of EPRDF’s rehabilitation and renewal that came subsequent to self identified periods of ‘internal rot’ in leadership have led to bigger social protests.

The periods of denial and finger pointing should be over this time as the country badly needs a team of leaders who can bring Ethiopians together and revive the sense of trust between people. With the sense of social cohesion at its lowest and the danger of chaos looming over the country, Ethiopia desperately needs leaders that can unify the country and muster a good deal of acceptance.

With all the early signs they have shown, Dr Abiy and his fellow leaders of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) make up the most promising group of great young leaders in the EPRDF. With their leadership, OPDO has garnered tremendous support not only from the Oromo people but from other Ethiopians as well. They have radically changed the image and stature of OPDO since assuming its leadership. Accused by numerous Oromos of not representing their interests and not protecting their rights, OPDO enjoyed much lesser support in Oromia.

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However, major steps taken by its leadership with Lema Megersa and Dr. Abiy Ahmad at its helm have changed that reality. The new OPDO leadership seems to have finally ended the long flirtation of the idea of secession of Oromia from Ethiopia, especially as propagated by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), by effectively identifying Oromos as the stem of the tree of Ethiopia. Their assertiveness in the face of inter-party relations within the EPRDF has also earned them respect among all parties and people alike.

Their decision to erase ethnic identity from the regional I.D cards was also hailed by the people. Considering the harm that piece of information brought to the Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide and the increasingly ethnocentric outlooks we hear in Ethiopia, not dwelling on that aspect of one’s identity seems like the right step. Focusing the spotlight on our differences is only going to exacerbate the tension in our country.

This group of young leaders is also known for its fight against contrabandists and organized groups of rent seekers. They identified the interest and work of contrabandists as the root cause of the conflict along the Somali-Oromia regions. They also worked with the Federal government to control the problem and bring to close the suffering of the innocent people living along the regional border.

Lema Megersa and Dr. Abiy Ahmad also led a large group of Oromo elders on a cultural exchange visit to Bahir Dar city, the capital of Amhara region. Amidst a sequence of unrests in Oromia that claimed the lives of Oromos and Amharas, there were fears that the two biggest ethnic groups in the country were on a collision course. That created tension among Amhara nationals living in Oromia and vice-versa. However, the threat was neutralized as the two regional administrations engaged themselves in constructive dialogue and designed methods to bolster understanding. The cultural exchange visit led by the leaders of OPDO was successful as it gave relations between the two ethnic groups a positive tone with new programs of engagement designed for the future.   

Another notable action taken by the OPDO leadership was the invitation of opposition parties for dialogue. In mid February, OPDO invited opposition party members based in Ethiopia and overseas to work together with the goal of realizing a democratic system in the country and the region of Oromia. The invitation was taken positively by numerous opposition political parties as a constructive step forward in ensuring inclusiveness in Ethiopian politics. With the EPRDF working on expanding the political platform, Dr. Abiy and his comrades have taken the effort one step ahead by reaching out to both local and foreign based opposition parties.  

With progressive measures like the ones stated above, Dr. Abiy Ahmad has proved himself to be capable of bringing much needed change to Ethiopia’s political scene. The boldness, assertiveness, positivity, fraternity and unity EPRDF’s young leaders have shown has given hope to the Ethiopian people that it still holds the key to fulfill their interests. All the pragmatism they showed in promoting the interests of the people have been infectious to the rest of the leaders around them and the people in general. Given the necessary authority and the platform to perform that could prove to be a vital ingredient in Ethiopia’s transformation.

After waiting for the final outcome of EPRDF’s election, the Ethiopian people are largely happy with the results as the major changes they expect from their leaders could finally come true through Dr. Abiy Ahmad and the cabinet that he is going to nominate.   



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