"Dr Abiy" and the Future of Ethiopia

Updated: Oct 17, 2019

Abiy Ahmed is seen as a reformer. The youngest African leader and recent laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize, his liberalization of the economy, freeing of political prisoners and historic peace deal with Eritrea have given hope to Ethiopians, Africa and the international community. Ahmed is faced with serious challenges however. Ethiopia is made up of semi-autonomous regions, and ethnic conflicts are still prevalent today. Ahmed was targeted by an assasination attempt back in 2018, and was faced with a coup attempt by an army general who he had pardoned. Regardless however, the state of the country is better than during then so-called “Deng” Marxist regime.

Today, Kaleab Alemayehu, Ethiopian himself, talks to us about how "Dr Abiy Ahmed", is viewed in Ethiopian society.




Dr. Abiy Ahmed (right) pictured with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki


Dr. Abiy Ahmed, the latest recipient of the coveted Nobel Peace Prize, has served as Ethiopia’s prime minister since 2018. Ahmed inherited a government plagued with corruption, ethnic conflict and strict authoritarian policies and in one single year has managed to push transparency and peace to the forefront of his agenda. A boiling rivalry with Eritrea, initiated when they declared independence from Ethiopia in 1993, has resulted in an estimated 100,000 casualties and years of proxy battles in disputed territories such as Badme pictured below.





After a single month in office, Abiy agreed to squash tensions with a relieved Eritrea, whose social and economic struggles under President Isaias Afwerki’s strict dictatorship will likely continue for the time being. Ahmed managed to reopen respective embassies in both countries and restore telecommunications between Ethiopians and Eritreans. Some people even found themselves calling random numbers in each countries area codes simply to speak to their newfound neighbors.



The Peace Deal between the two countries was widely celebrated


Ahmed, commonly known as “Dr. Abiy”, has accomplished much in his short tenure but Ethiopia remains plagued with ethnic conflict that rarely makes the news. On June 22nd, Ambachew Mekonnen, president of the Amhara Region contained in north-west Ethiopia, was assassinated in an attempted coup orchestrated by a discharged General by the name of Asaminew Tsige. Tsige was released from prison last year during Ahmed’s push to release political prisoners jailed during the days of authoritarian rule. Both Tsige and Mekonnen belong to the second largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, the Amharas, who have historically held power since the days of the Ethiopian Empire. Mekonnen and Tsige’s conflict becomes much more clear with some historical context.






A Soviet-backed deposition of Emperor Haile Selassie resulted in the fall of the Ethiopian Empire and the creation of a Communist state backed by the “Derg” (Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia). In 1991, the Tigray ethnic group seized massive political power despite accounting for only 6% of the population. Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, have never held significant power in Ethiopia. Three major ethnic groups all vying for control created a breeding ground for ethno-nationalistic revolutionaries. General Tsige belonged to a group of hardline ethno-nationalists who yearned for the Amhara to establish autonomy in their region. Mekonnen was an advocate for moving away from identification with ethnic groups and towards a unified Ethiopian identity. The attempted coup was simply the result of overflowing tensions and is only a symptom of the greatest challenging ahead of Ethiopia, true reunification.





The work Abiy Ahmed is doing is revolutionary and a step in the right direction, but the ethnic tensions below the surface of Ethiopia pose a threat to the lasting stability of the country. In the coming years, Dr. Abiy will have to address the ethnic unrest already materializing itself in the form of protests in the capital, which I witnessed first hand this past summer. To some, Dr. Abiy is a savior and the leader that can mend the emotional scars of Ethiopia, and to others Ahmed represents a futile attempt at reunification, but one thing remains true: Ahmed will lead Ethiopia into whichever future it decides or die trying.



This article was written by Kaleab Alemayehu.

Contact him at kmk@ucsb.edu




Sources:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ethiopia-politics-factbox/factbox-ethiopias-main-ethnic-groups-idUSKCN1G01HZ

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/10/11/why-eritrea-didnt-win-nobel-its-peace-accord-when-ethiopia-did/

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/24/world/africa/ethiopia-coup-amhara.html

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/grenade-assassination-attempt-on-ethiopias-prime-minister-abiy-ahmed-a3870241.html


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