Addis Ababa, July 11, 2018 (GMN) - Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s new prime minister, has made sweeping changes in his first 100 days in office.
So when Abiy Ahmed took office in Ethiopia in April this year, following the surprise resignation of his predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn, observers could be forgiven a degree of cynicism when he promised to initiate a wide range of much-needed reforms. For once, that cynicism may have been misplaced.
In his first 100 days in office, Abiy has freed thousands of political prisoners; ended the state of emergency; announced plans to partially privatize key industries, including telecommunications and aviation; admitted and denounced the use of torture by state security services; and fired prison officials implicated in human rights abuses in the wake of a damning Human Rights Watch report.
He also ended a war. The hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea date back decades, but it took Abiy just a few weeks to conclude a peace deal with Isaias Afwerki, his counterpart in Asmara. Crucially, Abiy was prepared to make concessions, including withdrawing troops from disputed border regions. Now there are scheduled flights between the two countries and, for the first time, it is possible to make international phone calls between them, allowing some long-separated families to speak to each other for the first time this century.
Just last year, any one of these reforms would have been unthinkable. Together, they are a revolution a wholesale re-imagining of the Ethiopian state.
Such has been the speed and scale of Abiy’s changes that Ethiopians are beginning to think that he might be the real thing. Hundreds are returning from exile abroad, eager to believe that this time, things really have changed.
“The things that are happening in this country are beyond our dreams and imagination,” said Hallelujah Lulie, program director at Amani Africa and a seasoned political analyst not prone to hyperbole. “We can’t say the changes are irreversible. But at this point, it looks genuine.”
The biggest threat to Abiy’s reform program, argues Lulie, is unlikely to come from a lack of political will on the part of the prime minister, but from those set to lose out in the new dispensation. Change this dramatic never goes unchallenged, as evidenced by the grenade attack last month on the crowd at an Abiy speech in Addis Ababa, which killed two people and injured 150. There are powerful elements within the country’s ruling elite and its security sector with strong motivations to maintain the status quo.
“I believe the biggest challenges could be other structural challenges, like the economy, and cohesion among the ruling coalition. Ethiopia has had a very repressed authoritarian state. We are in a transition at the moment and transitional societies have specific challenges,” said Lulie.
There is still plenty of work for Abiy to do. To truly dismantle the authoritarian state, he needs to completely overhaul the security sector, and enshrine basic rights and freedoms into Ethiopian law.
But at this point, who would bet against him following through with this promises? In his first 100 days in office, Abiy has already achieved more than many leaders can ever dream of fundamentally altering the political landscape of Ethiopia, and the broader Horn of Africa region, in the process. (Mail & Guardian Online)