From 1991 to 2018, Ethiopia was run by a rebel group from northern Ethiopia called TPLF which later became EPRDF. The EPRDF initially stabilized the country and eventually ratified an ethnic based constitution in 1995. It did some impressive public works including building a light rail in the capital, connected Addis Ababa and Djibouti via electric train, enhanced Ethiopia’s public infrastructure and led remarkable initiatives in rural Ethiopia from boosting public education and ensuring a modicum of health care to marginalized communities throughout Ethiopia.
The EPRDF also started construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile River. When it is completed, it will be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa. During this time, the Ethiopian army did a good job as a peace-keeping force throughout Africa where civil war and strife were prevalent. In fact, the current, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, was in Rwanda as a young soldier keeping the peace between Tutsi and Hutus in 1995. Ethiopia sacrificed her soldiers to stabilize and stop a terrorist group called Al Shebab, an affiliate of ISIS, which expanded its tentacles in Somalia and in large swaths of East Africa.
Sadly, the EPRDF government became more of a dictatorship after the 2005 election. Instead of governing through consent, they decided to rig several elections and deployed brute force against anyone who dared to question their legitimacy.. By 2015, the party was rife with corruption and nepotism; despotism based on ethnicity, theft of rental income by government officials from publicly owned residences, embezzlement of public funds from the revenue agency and litany of infraction against the population became the norm.
In May of 2018, the EPRDF elected Dr. Abiy Ahmed to replace the previous Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desaglen, who resigned from his Premiership one month before. Dr. Abiy Ahmed was 41 years old, a retired Colonel in Ethiopia Armed Forces and a previous minister of Technology, in a short time frame, he made tremendous progress in moving Ethiopia towards civil society and away from totalitarian rule, saved Ethiopia from implosion and possible renewed civil war. His words and promises were quickly followed by tangible actions.
Abiy Ahmed removed the State of Emergency that his predecessors imposed, pardoned political parties and invited individuals back to the country who were previously labeled terrorists. He allowed opposition parties to participate peacefully in shaping the future of the country. He released most political prisoners, fired and arrested some of the more reckless military and civil leaders who participated in the rampant corruption and appointed new cabinet members in his government who did not have a record of misdeeds to their names. Abiy also appointed an unprecedented number of women to cabinet positions. Dr Abiy Ahmed , found a way to go to neighboring Eritrea and solve the border dispute. He was able to make peace with Eritrea that had problematic relations with Ethiopia. Eritrea and Ethiopia were engaged in a very destructive war since 1961.
Abiy quickly started running a routine class to talk about civil society. In his lectures, he challenged every Ethiopia to look at him or herself and ask if we could have done better. He challenged the population to look at our recent brutal history and ask ourselves what we have done to cause ourselves such disruption, human suffering, economic ruin and famine.
Prime Minister Abiy’s positive message was not unanimously accepted and did not resonate among all Ethiopians. In the summer of 2018, he escaped an assassination attempt on his life during a huge public rally in Addis Ababa. His own army walked into the palace and tried to displace him shortly thereafter.
Some of tribal and ethnic competition for water right and land has intensified causing many to be internally displaced. The fragile economy shrank and the country was challenged for foreign currency reserves. Most of 2018 Abiy and his administration were undermined by former officials who felt that they were giving up privileges and benefits. They were constantly sabotaging the peace initiative. Since the former officials have embezzled large sums of public money, they were able to use some of those funds to hire mercenaries to start skirmishes all over the country.
Some from his own tribe, called Oromos, also started putting pressure on Abiyand demanded new privileges as compensation for being oppressed in the past. A segment of the population inside and outside Ethiopia wants Abiy Ahmed to cancel future elections and become Prime Minister for life. Some felt that they were the founders of Ethiopia and felt they were not getting a fair shake. Some started putting pressure on Abiy to fix the lawlessness, settle the flag issue, rewrite the constitution, change the national anthem and redraw the internal boundaries. No one can fix these complex and ancient problems in 18 months and without public buy-in.
In all the challenges, Abiy found time to make several trips to Eritrea and made peace with that country more sustainable. The President of Eritrea, President Isaias Afeworki also took political chance and embraced the peace.
Many radio, TV stations and Magazines have flourished in the last 18 months. The country foreign reserve has also improved adequately to reduce the fear of economic implosion. Abiy also found time to encourage the warring faction in South Sudan to accept a peace conference. After many efforts, Abiy Ahmed was successful in mediating a power sharing agreement between the powerful military and civilian leaders in Sudan this past June. Ethiopia is a large and diverse country with a population of 110 million, most of whom are young. It is an ancient Empire with majestic mountains, breathtaking desserts, fantastic wheat fields and beautiful children.
Ethiopian people are kind considerate. Most people in the country are spiritual and righteous. Like all past great Empires, Ethiopia gave limited freedom to the citizenry, Ethiopia has accumulated many bottled up grievances that are causing a lot of conflict at this moment. One has to be careful and meticulously address the issues. The pressure cooker called Ethiopia needs wise, benevolent, caring public servants and leader like Abiy Ahmed who can release some of this excess pressure without causing larger problems through introducing a radical change.
By awarding the Nobel Prize to Dr.Abiy Ahmed, the Noble committee, in its infinite wisdom, honored Ethiopia and many other countries that are often overlooked but offer a profound value to the world. We see a bright future and see hope for a more equitable, more just and fruitful life in our region. The award will give Abiy Ahmed the prestige he needs to fix the problems so that we can build peaceful Ethiopia from the ground up. East Africa and the entire continent of Africa is having a sense of confidence and renewed optimism. Ethiopia’s stability will create great opportunity for the developed world to invest and prosper Ethiopia and itself. The county has vast arable land and a large labor pool.
Currently Ethiopia has no capital market and no stock exchange. Compounding these issues are limited access to technology and access to public utilities like cell phones. Electricity is intermittent in the cities with only 60% of the country being serviced at the moment. There is a shortage of potable water and the underdeveloped sewer system has been the cause for water borne disease.
If we invest in Ethiopia and encourage leaders like Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia will become stable and a middle income country in short order. As Ethiopia becomes peaceful and more educated, productivity and prosperity will in time follow. That in turn will give Europeans a break from all the young people who are fleeing the region to travel dangerous routes to reach Europe. Ethiopia and the entire East Africa will cease to be an incubator for future refugees and instead be a womb that gives birth to a generation of entrepreneurs and innovators who can transform Ethiopia and the entire continent of Africa. More educated and assertive population means that China will not be able to dominate the region with its soft loans and predatory practice. A stable Ethiopia means a stable Red Sea, Gulf of Eden and Suez Canal.
When Ethiopia is stable, Somalia will be at peace as will the Horn of Africa as a whole. There is tremendous work ahead for Abiy Ahmed and Ethiopia to uplift a neglected country. We were persecuted by a brutal communist government and harassed by various warlords and liberation movements for close to half a century. My personal observation is that Abiy is up to the task. I am a proud American of Ethiopian origin and grateful for the generosity USA showed my people. When we were fleeing Ethiopia in the 1970s, the USA, Canada, Europe and Australia absorbed many of us as refugees and gave us new hope and stability..
After 40 years of exile, many of our children are succeeding in academia and business in America. Ethiopia is a beautiful and resilient country, I have fond memories of a peaceful and provincial country. Though the challenges are many, I would choose to be born there a thousand times out of a thousand. I have no doubt in my mind that Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan will have social and economic renewal in my lifetime
God bless the United States of America and Ethiopia.
Mel is a successful wealth investment advisor who has spent advising his clients on ways to enhance their portfolios during periods of booms and protecting their investments during approaching economic downturns. He has also been a great friend and an advocate of Ethiopia having traveled multiple times to Ethiopia to deliver much needed medical and health necessities to under-served communities. Mel believes that the best way to lift Ethiopia is through empowering the people and investing directly into communities so that they can feed themselves and drive Ethiopia’s economy internally in the process.