Wild appreciation for Abiy is not a delusional obsession. It’s rational appreciation of his rescue of the country and supreme leadership skills.
The last three years of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s term were characterized by extremely distressing events throughout the country, as well as a tanking economy.
As a close follower of Ethiopian politics, I was hugely frustrated and even worried about state collapse. Some of my friends were selling their cars and houses in Addis Ababa and obtaining visas to ‘escape’ before we descended into civil war. We were almost too afraid to send our children to school because we felt like the country would break into pieces within days.
But, thankfully, Team Lemma and Abiy Ahmed arrived.
Initially, all the public heard was that after a fierce internal battle in EPRDF, a person named Abiy Ahmed would be appointed Prime Minister. To be honest, I started Googling him only a few days before EPRDF appointed him as chairperson in late March.
Things started to radically change on the day Abiy made his inaugural speech at parliament. I think it is that address that ignited the sparks of hope amidst our deep well of pessimism.
We did not want to work in a politically suffocating space
The speech touched almost every possible problem you can identify in Ethiopia: the economy, security, justice, education, etc. His passionate words about empowering women, striving for genuine democratization, and enhancing what it means to be an Ethiopian citizen melted hearts—mine included.
But, seriously, where did he come from? The reason I ask is because a lot of us have run away from government institutions and joined the private sector or NGOs because we did not want to work in a politically suffocating space.
Mandatory allegiance to EPRDF ideology and its ethnic politics drained our energy and killed our desire to contribute to our beloved country. You may mock me when I say I love my country but shied away from public service. But for me and millions of others, it was almost impossible to contribute anything when first you had to fulfil the right ethnic profile and political affiliation.
So, how did Abiy survive all of this and come out believing he can change the system from the inside? I think It requires ambition, vision, humility and a sound temperament to withstand it all and emerge as one of the most rational individuals within not just his party, but perhaps within Ethiopia too.
When Abiy embarked on his reform agenda—wow; it was beyond everyone’s comprehension to believe he was actually releasing political prisoners, allowing free media, opening up the economy, apologizing for his own government’s brutality, and removing corrupt, incompetent officials.
Abiymania then kicked-in for real, and some of us fell head over heels in love with his agenda, motivational speeches, and all-round charm. The international community had a new darling, and money started pouring in to help recover the ailing economy.
I never thought I would rally in favor of an EPRDF leader, but I had to go out to Meskel Square on June 23, to show my support and appreciation for Abiy. And it’s not just my generation that has been wowed by our dynamic premier. My mom went to the extent of saying “I haven’t seen a new recording of Abiy in the last two days. Is he OK?”. Sometimes when he is making a speech, she says “I think Abiy is tired. He needs to rest. Yene geta”.
This is often what you will hear in regular households in Ethiopia—many are infected by severe cases of Abiymania.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying his administration is perfect and is doing everything we want it to do. But he has proven that he has the political and personal will to democratize Ethiopia once and for all. The layers of reform launched in the country—mostly at federal level and some on an ad-hoc basis in the regions—show that real change is coming. The under-preparation education roadmap, revisions of civil society and anti-terrorism laws, the drive towards privatization, the opening of the political space—these are just a few of the commendable reforms.
I never thought I would rally in favor of an EPRDF leader
The recent appointment of ministers, state ministers and other officials indicates that Abiy is committed to building a strong government with appointments based on merit. Let’s not forget, we now have Sahle-Work Zewde as our President, Meaza Ashenafi presiding over the Supreme Court, Mohammed Ademo bossing a major public broadcaster, and Gedion Timothewos Hessebon as a justice state minister. This is not the EPRDF government we knew!
I recognize that there have been conflicts, mass displacement, and random killings after he came to power. That is the painful side of the transformation process. We need to understand that he needs time to correct the mountain of problems he inherited from his predecessors—as he has already done in double-quick time by making peace with Eritrea.
For now, my gut tells me that Abiy is the only unifying figure in Ethiopian politics. He is liked by almost all Ethiopians and is reliably that charming guy who always says what we want to hear from a political leader.
This may sound like I am joking, but I sometimes wish he can come on TV on a daily basis and brief us about his activities. The reason for this is the polarized social media environment. I view the hatred among activists as extremely dangerous, and want Abiy to shower us with his talk of love and kindness every night as an antidote to their venom. After scrolling through my Facebook feed, I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Abiy wasn’t leading this country.
Now that he is, long may it last.
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Main photo: A supporter wears an Abiy mask at the June 23 rally in Addis Ababa, Petterik Wiggers
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