HOW ETHIOPIA HAS CHANGED UNDER ABIY AHMED

By Issy Viviano

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A country in a state of emergency, stuck in a two decade conflict with its neighbour, with serious human rights abuses, stifling of expression and imprisonment of protesters - this is how people would have described Ethiopia back in April 2018. Then a big event happened: someone called Abiy Ahmed became prime minister after the unexpected resignation of the existing PM. He immediately got to work: he freed thousands of political prisoners, allowed dissidents to come back, and ended the war with Eritrea (known as “Africa’s North Korea”), reopening the border, and appointed women to half of the ministerial posts.

The speed of these incredible reforms is astonishing and incredible to witness - a real transition to democracy. Abiy is clearly a very smart politician - his leadership style is very inclusive and his communication style unprecedented, for example when prisoners were being released, he was asked if it was constitutional to release people who had been jailed for terrorism and corruption, and he responded “Jailing and torturing, which we did, are not constitutional either. Does the constitution say anyone who was sentenced by a court can be tortured, put in a dark room? Torturing, putting people in dark rooms, is our act of terrorism”. Under him, Ethiopia has gone from being one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists to having no journalists in prison at all.

He is hugely popular. In the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, says there is an almost religious fervor which has been dubbed "Abiymania".

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But of course, as with anyone who drives change, there will always be resistance.

Abiy survived an assassination attempt and defused a tense situation with his own soldiers by asking them (and joining them) in doing push -ups.

There are also many unresolved issues such as growing ethnic tensions (there are more than 80 nationalities and ethnic groups in Ethiopia) and many challenges that he will continue to face in a complex country with huge poverty.

 

Abiy Ahmed and his drive towards democracy will need to last for more time to become a sign of hope and of the future for a new generation in a country where at least 70% of the population is below 30.