Commentary

Abiy’s first Q&A raises more questions than answers

  • Abiy fails to offer convincing strategies to tackle pressing challenges
  • PM risks losing momentum as honeymoon ends with lack of clear plan
  • Reforms require an unlikely revival of discredited and divided EPRDF
Partisans will consider Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s first conference as either a glass half full or half empty. Others will be simply underwhelmed by his performance.

Given the potential importance of the event, the media coverage was scanty, as if the press did not have much to get their teeth into during the two and a half hour session.

Many of them headlined the $1 billion that will apparently be provided by the World Bank in direct budget support. But this cannot be considered as major news given the incredible political, security, and economic challenges Ethiopia is facing. Others led on his pledge that the 2020 elections will be held to schedule and competitive, or that reforms will continue “at any cost”. But both announcements are mundane from a leader who claims his raison d’être is democratization.

Regarding the vital issue of the bulging ethnic unrest, Abiy first simply repeated his previous statements: “There are organized groups who are conflict entrepreneurs…these forces incite conflict everywhere by triggering people’s emotion”. But, in his opinion, “there is big improvement” in this regard. He also condemned once more the “economic sabotage” that is allegedly occurring.

Abiy still has not presented concrete measures to urgently and energetically tackle the instability

Briefly, he addressed a wide range of other issues, from privatization to the black market, from the situation in Jijiga to the defects of the Renaissance dam, to an education roadmap. He clarified “exaggerations”, or “wrong perceptions”, and dealt at length with erroneous “attitudes” very common among Ethiopians, which “will take a long time to change”.

But the press conference did not reach the heights needed to address the vital issues Ethiopia is facing.

For the short-term, Abiy still has not presented concrete measures to urgently and energetically tackle the instability. And all the while the public worries about a flare-up that could lead to deadly danger.

Over the mid-term, it is now clear that he has a course and a timetable: free and fair elections in 2020. But he has not been explicit about the political procedures that will put in place the new mechanisms to guarantee this.

On the economic front, we still don’t know how Abiy aims to rapidly respond— for example, through an emergency plan focused on a few practical measures—to the craving for jobs from the youth. Their demonstrations significantly aided his rise to power, but they will become more and more angry without fulfillment of their basic aspirations.

Mysterious vision

Abiy’s long-term vision remains a mystery. Regarding the federal question, he stated that “the power of the federal government is to protect federal institutions found in every regional state, it is to maintain the safety of his people”. But how does he envisage reconciling the centralist ‘Ethiopianism’ he seems to cherish with the deep aspiration for truly decentralized self-government, which was one of the strongest requests of the protesters?

And what kind of economic liberalization does he have in mind? What should be the role of the state? For example, is Ethiopia now on the path to a social-market model, as in Germany or in the Nordic countries, or the full-fledged liberalism of the U.K. or the U.S.? Will there be privatization of land, or not?

Of course, the honeymoon had to end sooner or later. This was inevitable given the unrealistic expectations that regime change aroused among the population. But it appears that Abiy is not making any meaningful headway during recent weeks. His momentum wanes. More importantly, it seems he is condemned to lose the mastery of time and agenda, one of his trump cards. One-man rule, with a vacuum between Abiy and his popular base, has its limits.

Given the dramatic divisions within the coalition, can the EPRDF rise from the ashes?

It is now clear that Abiy has decided—or had no choice—to rely on a renovated EPRDF to assert his position, to reestablish a network of mid-ranking administrators able to impose law and order, and to build a democratic political system and liberal economic structure. Thus, assuming he has a clear agenda in mind, he will be obliged to at least adjust it to the point the Front could approve it. In addition, he will be dependent on the EPRDF’s schedule.

This raises essential questions. Given the dramatic divisions within the coalition, stemming from power struggles and, above all, on opposing views on the way forward, can the EPRDF rise from the ashes? This would mean reviving as an organization united around a solid reformist program and a broadly backed leadership. If so, can this rehabilitation reverse EPRDF’s sinking reputation and make it attractive enough to become the major player in the upcoming election?

Last, but not least, how long would this renewal take? At best, it could take shape during the preparation of the next EPRDF Congress and then be endorsed by members. The Congress was scheduled for the end of September, but that seems unrealistic.

All the while, the above-mentioned power vacuum will continue, and the centrifugal forces strengthen. Abiy’s initial momentum will dwindle, while the eagerness to see tangible dividends from the regime change will intensify.

Main photo: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at his first press conference, August 25, 2018, Petterik Wiggers

The opinions expressed are the author’s, although Ethiopia Insight is responsible for factual errors.

Published under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. Cite Ethiopia Insight and link to this page if republished.

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About the author

René Lefort

René has been writing about sub-saharan Africa since the 1970s and has reported on the region for major French newspapers. He is now an independent researcher focusing on the Horn of Africa and publishes in academic journals like The Journal of Modern African Studies and African Affairs.

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30 Comments

  • The writer has raised many vital concerns and questions. His attitude is honestly wonderful. The way how he organized the facts of the press statement and the raised questions by the media outlets is highly obvious.
    The other thing that I want to ask the writer is the PM seems shy to speak about the mayhem inside the country. For instance, the lynching of Shashemenne was not addressed by the PM at any setting. What would he think about that?

  • The analysis lacks credibility. It seems Daniel Berhane contributed to this article either by translation or directly by writing the article. If the writer was neutral, he could get or touch some of the improvements made since Abiy’s took office. Leave all the change made, how someone fail to understand at least one positive response from more than 150 questions answered by the PM? I can assure you that such type of analysis should raise from peoples engaged in hate politics, subsaharan Africa in particular not from liberal society. So my conclusion is the analysis is ‘Fake News’ Trump style.

  • I am intrigued, what happened to Rene’s analytical capacity? I know he was mistreated and thrown away at the airport the last time he told the truth as it was. Is he now overcompensating for that, now sprinkling untruthes here and there throughout his recent pieces, one after another, pehaps indirectly saying sorry to his former clients, whom he might have thought he had inadevdrtently offeneded?

    Above all, he can acuse PM Abiy on any other ground but certainly not on vision. Clearity with his vision is precisely what made PM Abiy popular among Ethiopiand in all walks of life, perhaps 99% of them! I have some times wondered if he is talking about some other Abiy, than the one we all know. Why does Rene think that PM Abiy has won the hearts and minds of Ethiopians as well as getting enforsent from the international community?

    Rene is effectively insulting the intelligence of the people of Ethiopia as well as those of the international diplomatic community who offer their overwhelming support to PM Abiy.

    There is simething deeply misterious in Rene’s recent writings.

    Rene could do better. Alternatively he can gracefully retire.

  • Thank you for the balanced third party view of the interview with Dr Abiy.We Ethiopians in general are not yet matured for Democracy or for that matter freedom of opinion. What we see above in the comments are quite representative for common Ethiopians. Each group, clan, Ethnicity and individual think it owns the truth. No other opinion is respected.

    Among Ethiopians it is about a zero sum change. When any one says peace and love, medemer, etc. He is addressing only his group, team and all with the same opinion. In general Ethiopians never respect those with another opinion or political view. They are always eager to retaliate. Look at what is happening among the criminals that have been pardoned, they want to retaliate and will never listen to Dr Abiy. They have done their own interpretation about the pardon they have got. They known they are good people, it is the TPLF the bad guy. They must retaliate. This country is doomed to suffer and be divided. The new power achieved will be used for own purpose, nobody cares about the poor and illiterate population. Dr Abiy is to be tested, but he sounds like populist. He seeks the base and we will see how he will address the unrest and the divided EPRDF. Time will show us,I wish him all the best.

  • thank you ! you wrote the exact observation ,from your point of view & from the beginning up to now his practice shows luck administration skill in every direction.

  • Very poor analysis from an old ghost writer. Who translated the content of his interview for you?….We definitely know that, those “Day Hyenas” are behind you.

    • There is no daytime hyena but stupid Abiy is, he’s incompetent to lead hundred million Ethiopians, so far he’s serving his Arab masters at the expense of our existence as a nation

  • I am agree with Ren’e Lofort, there was rise so many questions from the journalist but his answer was around the bush is not seem from politician person but as old religion arbitrator. then it may be face first to journalist I expect more next from PM.

  • Abiy is less than a mediocre to say the least. His agenda has never been based on the big picture – He never had any plan for the country. His agenda has been to trying to unite the vocal Diaspora, old Olf scavengers, remnants of the butcher Derg, absolute feudal jingoists and the force of Isaias against EPRDF veterans so that he becomes an undisputed leader and serve the interest of western powers and feudal Arabs unchallenged. He is a tool that is being used by groups who have consistently opposed to our countries amazing developmental changes. That is why he public has been betraying heroic efforts of millions of Ethiopians who sacrificed their own personal interests to fight poverty in our country in the last 27 years. His characterization of our people’s gallant and determined work to create a better Ethiopia as darkness and terroristic is to please those he now is serving! It is especially noteworthy to pay attention to his hidden agenda of trying to derail the complishing of the Renaissance Dam! All of the above mentioned enemies have been against the construction of the Dam – Theyused to call it as a white elephant and political ploy! Egypt has vainly tried to stop its construction before it hired Abiy Ahmed a local nech-lebash! These are what he is doing to our country! Must be stopped before it’s too late!! Those who are blindly supporting this sale out need to think hard – stop this meaningless and phony Medemer!

  • In the last four and half months, the incredible changes that have been sweeping away in Ethiopia moved the country from total basket case and anarchy to an encouraging path, “to a stable a country. “ These changes awakened most Ethiopians in a remarkable way. The changes were almost nonexistent in the last 27 years. Prime Minster Abiy is genuine in uniting Ethiopians of all backgrounds.
    Abiy as a calculated leader moves so far based on a relationship among Ethiopians and realpolitik with the world. He is an optimistic leader that has the plan for the country, unlike others . Yes, he is against a corrupt, and ethnic nationalist system that benefited a lot “very few” for the last three decades.

  • In the last four and half months, the incredible changes that have been sweeping away in Ethiopia moved the country from total basket case and anarchy to an encouraging path, “to a stable a country. “ These changes awakened most Ethiopians in a remarkable way. The changes were almost nonexistent in the last 27 years. Prime Minster Abiy is genuine in uniting Ethiopians of all backgrounds.
    Abiy as a calculated leader moves so far based on a relationship among Ethiopians and realpolitik with the world. He is an optimistic leader that has the plan for the country, unlike others . Yes, he is against a corrupt, and ethnic nationalist system that benefited a lot “very few” for the last three decades.

    • Mr. Alemu, what the new prime minister have done is organize all the Chauvinist and die hard amharas . i haven’t seen any other ethinic groups ( Afar, Somali, Benshangul, Tigrai, Gambella and the rest of Ethiopian ethinic groups) the only group that are supporting are the die hard diaspora amharas. even the orormos are not supporting the new pm or his medemer slogan. to my knowledge you do not represent the whole ethiopia… you are just one ethinc group or may be less. BTW how many alias names do you have? Nebi Alemu, Demere Alemu, Qenese Alemu or may be more.

  • Maybe a sensible and non partisan scholr like Lefort should advice this young and restless personality how to bring the country together. If he is condemning his own prtu for alledged wrong doings to gain instnt “likes” how will he campaign for his own party in 2020? Why did he allow OLF to enter public life without disarmament? Why did he make the police in every regional states (Except In Tigray) a pariah and made them loose the power and respect they had ? People seem to forget he was the head of the spy agency so if he calls the police terrorists he was infact the head of terror.
    Will anyone be safe to travel the country in all four corners? What is the role of Qerro now? They need to go back to their lives, they are acting like a paramilitary force. We need le and order.
    Need to stop the subtle innuendos and blaming TPLF (they are relengated to their home base which seems to he the safest place in the country) and these mysterious groups ( organized chaos profiteers this and that) . It is getting old.
    Salam enifeligalen

  • FIRST OF ALL HE IS, HIM SELF YELELIT-GIB, JUST 1 ? TO ASK, WHY ZINASH WENT TO DENVER (for many years???What she do? & who was her Weshema) HE MARRIED ILLEGALly ANOTHER WOMEN, SHE’S NOW UNDER HOUSE ARREST, PERIOD. he stole kero-fano’s, struggle, and stole state secretes the past 3-4 years & sold it to arebs, and others, he was contacting those remittance of derg & olf, in some point Issayas-Cheguar (mentally ill malaria/Vodka) even caught day-light before & go no prison, but warning him, never stop what he’s doing, EPRDF WAS asleep, (anbesa-siyarege yezenb-mechawecha/yetenak eeee eeee, got that, enough 2 say that). he is YEMENDER ALUBALTEGA THE WAY HE TALK, 4 GET ABOUT WHAT WORD HE SAYS, JUST WORK 4 A FEW WEEKS, NO MORE, ALL ETHIOPIANS PEACE LOVER ANY ETHNICITY & RELIGION, EDUCATED & FARMER UNDERSTOOD HIM. IS NOT zemene haileSelassie, even the farmers KNEW VERY WELL HIS RIGHT, in a few Months change WILL COME THAT FAST NO one EXPECTED. LOOK HOW HE UNDERMIND WHEN YOUNG-JOURNALIST-AFAR & OTHER PLACES QUESTION HIM, THEY CHALLENGED HIM, EVEN (ESAT), HE NEVER ANSWER, instead HE GOES AROUND & TRY 2 TELL/CHANGE SUBJET because he is the one who undermine & give a chance (himself) by using his wider mouth LArGeR than the MicrophOne. don’t think I hate him as a person, he’s not z only one (there R many others-around-him), but that he is. I’m v. scare things going absolutely Wrong directions. THIS IS A TIME ALL ETHIOPIANS STOP & THINK NOT once BUT MANY-TIMES, B4 GETTING WOREST, SO THEY’LL STOP WHAT THEY DOING IF WE ALL SHOW OUR VOICES B4 ITS 2 LATE, GIVE NO CHANCES, (everyday we C on Z news, from our African neghibours specially (Eritrean Brothers/sisters even sewaold/young)& specially the middle east, Who’s Seitan work is (we all know), now those seitanic calculation not work for so long JEALOUSY/ YEHEDASE-DAM, GIBE, SUGER Factory, Railroad, Ethiopian Airlines, Military/Serving-Under-U.N, WFO-President, U.N Seat Perm, This is a few, so What about NOW THEY use our kids, dam hodam TAXI DRIVERS, 7-11 GAS STATIONs Borcham-nebsgeday-derg-eprp-shabia-BANDAS & A NAME of NGO, But Believe me their Calculation or wish will not work, instead disasters, ( mot-sidet) if our country Ethiopia Not stable, IT’LL AFFECT MOSTLY EAST AFRICA then, MORE SEVER 4 MIDDLE EAST, EUROPE, FOR SURE. WE GOT THINK AGAIN. WE HAVE TO BRAVE & BECOME TOGETHER.
    GOD BLESS ETHIOPIA & THE WORLD.

      • leza LechegWaraw PSYCHO-getah-Essias-yemedhen GebeNa-Lig-negerew. KKKKKK
        I KNEW U R BANDA-MEDETRANIAN BAHER-YEKTERACHEW, EriBekentu, I DON’T WANT TO SAY ANYTHING, that’s enough for U. buna melak jemerachu-Endegena-edme-le Abiy (FISHKAWU) FAKE Dr.

        GOD BLESS ETHIOPIA & ITS PEOPLE.

    • Thank you for giving us some information and I was wondering how his wife and children lived in Colorado for the past 7 years as PM said it if they where married.
      Also PM said very proudly that his family was recovering a welfare for 7 years .
      It was so confusing how she became Lagan in the USA if she was married to him.
      I think he was not telling us the whole truth which mad me not to trust him .
      I think he just pretended to look good in the public eye as married man .
      In one of a public place his wife refused to hold his hands while Lema, Jawar, and they were 5 of them holding hand but she didn’t . It was in the US which tells us a lot

  • Man, don’t worry about Ethiopia. We know our leader. He stopped the country from going to the abyss.
    We will focus on the economy and other issues once we have dealt with the old communists.

  • One of my favourites as usual.
    I want another parallel article with Lefot’s insights, which focuses on idigeneous African solutions for African problems. This assists people to have a complete and reliable picture of the developments.

  • A timely rundown on the quasi-Abiymania. The basics of this super fine note would be these two: 1. How he will mannage the two extremes- flag-conservatism (centralists) and expanded ethnic bunches. 2. How he will help expediate the political process a head of the general election coming in two years drifting off the plethora of his messianic signature ever since his selection.

  • It’s a timely rundown on the Quasi-Abiymania in my birth country Ethiopia. The basics of this super fine note would be two of those: reconciling the exacerbating flag-conservatism and expanded segregation, reliable political structure that could cope with the reform and the setback at the same time. And last not least, his premiership caliber to leave a distinct socio-economic legacy as a true statesman apart from his pothetic popularity and kindness.

    • Despite of all the problems the country face, the people of Ethiopia concurred with his changes. Everyone has a gut and understanding for him that it is very hard to stabiles the country and fix the 27 years well done evil conspiracies. Eventual he will stand on his foot and crack down all issues.

      Ethiopiawinet will never be down.