Ethio-Eritrean Rapprochement Adds to Optimism

The feeling of optimism and hope evident in the public continue with the arrival of the Eritrean President Issayas Afeworki in Addis Abeba last weekend. It is another development that heralded reconciliation between adversaries, writes AMBESSAW ASSEGUED(

If anyone is watching the World Cup Finals on Sunday night a week ago, it is not evident around Arada in Addis Abeba. The huge public television screen at Menelik Square is tuned to the broadcast from the Millennium Hall where thousands of people have gathered to attend a concert where Prime Minister Abiy of Ethiopia and the Eritrean President Issayas Afeworki are expected to appear.

From early evening, the crowd watching the Tv screen has been swelling and spilling into the streets as more and more people stop to watch. Up the street in Dejazmatch Wube Sefer, along Gulele Menged, the bar at the aptly named Habesh Hotel is full to standing room only. Animated regulars and new customers have mixed, glued to the broadcast from the Millennium Hall.

As mugs and bottles of beer flow and the waitresses deflect their playful patrons, few in the bar are paying any attention to what is being shown and said on the Tv screens.

It has been a mind-bending weekend even by the most conservative standards.  The Eritrean flag is seen flapping in the wind hung from light-poles in front of Menelik’s Palace; and flying in the air from posts down the emperor’s namesake avenue and around Jubilee Palace.

On the Saturday before the concert, hordes of cheering crowd have gathered on these same streets and along the road from Bole International Airport.  The city dwellers and men on horsebacks from the outskirts of the capital have come to offer an ecstatic welcome the Eritrean president, and to support their new leader.  By the afternoon, Hawassa, some 280km south of Addis Abeba, have ruptured in an extraordinary display of joy and emotional outpouring to greet Abiy and Issays.

These are astonishing times in Ethiopia with very few, if any, precedence in the annuls of our history. Freed from the fear and anxiety that gripped them, the people have finally taken to the streets to claim their.

The mood inside Habesha Hotel on Sunday July 14 is festive and jovial, a reflection of the mood that has overwhelmed the city.

One of the waitresses, carrying several beer bottles on a metal tray, squeezes in between chairs and tables to serve her customers and declares in a loud voice, “we had glared our teeth and picked up our zenezena,” she is referring to an elongated metal pestle used to grind coffee.

“No, no. There is no need for that now.  I fought in Eritrea myself,” says her customer, while she opens his bottle and slides away to the next table. “I was one of the last to leave Asmara with the Dergue’s army.  We left everything behind, our weapons, our clothes and even our women.”

He ponders out loud, more addressing the heavens than the waitress and with a tinge of regret and remorse.

She returns laughing and engages him in a heated conversation. Without making any attempt to understand each other amidst the cacophony of shouts, yells, claps and the blaring sounds of the Tv sets they continue a mime conversation.

“Look, look.  Does he not resemble me?  He is as tall as I,” says the man excitedly and the waitress laughs as Issays stands to receive an invocation from someone.

The man stands, too, with everybody else and applauds the screen when Abiy puts an embroidered mantle over Issays’ shoulders.

When Teddy Afro appears, the bar falls silent momentarily with everyone straining to hear what he says. The quiet only lasts for a fraction of a moment though, because no one is there to listen to Teddy, Mohamoud Ahmed, Ali Bira or Hachalu Hundessa. The people have come together driven by a gushing and irrepressible desire to talk, express, opinionate and to simply exalt in being able to freely say something, even when there is no one listening.

The giddy excitement and palatable pleasure of the two leaders have spread and infected everyone at the bar. It seems that the same joy and hope have also diffused across the city streets tainting every nook and cranny with renewed optimisms. Isssays, thunderstruck by the outpouring of the emotional welcome; Abiy, thankful to a city that has returned his love; and a grateful nation that has been rescued from a withering abyss have come together to welcome a new dawn in the dusk of a pleasant evening in Ethiopia’s rainy season, Kiremt.

Tonight, no one is talking about retribution, pointing fingers at the oppressors of the past, seeking revenge for wrongs so blatantly inflicted against a battered country, nor is there any call for restitution of the odious plunders of the nation’s treasures. Such calls are differed for another day, preferring to keep the peace and assured in an unwavering belief that Abiy will see to it that justice is carried out according to the law.

A fairly typical day on April 2 has unleashed a revolution of hope that has electrified the city, and indeed the nation.  Little did any body suspect that a seemingly innocuous and internal rearrangements of political seats within the ruling party of Ethiopia will trigger such momentous events as we have been witnessing in the last three or four months.

Ethiopians have been flooding the streets of their cities by the hundreds of thousands in exhilaration of their new-found freedom, and celebrating the “chutzpah” of an enlightened, smiling and charismatic Prime Minister who dares to challenge his own abusive and haughty political party.

The city is overwhelmed by all that has taken place in a span of just a few weeks, least of all the rapprochement with Eritrea. If we are dazed by these events, the rest of the world is dazzled, too, where BBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian, some among the leading global media outlets, have given high prominence to the Abiy story.

It is not just the world media and the regular patrons of Habesha Hotel in Arada that are caught up in the excitement of the Abiy phenomena. It is the tale of an entire people and country.  Even the young boys in tatter-clothed that roam the streets are seen swept up in the revolution of hope. A few of these boys briefly set aside their solvent-packed plastic bags to appear and consort with the crowd to cheer Prime Minister Abiy on June 23, and then again to welcome President Issayas at Jubilee Palace.


Published on Jul 21,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 951]



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