Lack of Results Wears Off Optimism In Abiy Ahmed

I have a friend whose views often contradict that of mine. It does not matter whether he is right or wrong, or that I am, but I often feel our differences frame the discourse taking place at the national scale.

Today’s politics, of course, mostly revolves around Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed (PhD). This is not surprising given that he has taken it upon himself to reform the government and bring about good governance. His rhetoric has had an unexpected quality to it that parts of the public admire.

Soft-spoken, he seems to be gifted at reading the issues that are currently affecting the public. He, or his speechwriters, are excellent at spelling out what it is the public is asking for, even if there is a consistent lack of detail, in his political messages.

In the many speeches and town hall meetings the Prime Minister has held, what has been evident is that much of the challenging work that should be done to bring about political reforms would be within the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

Within every political party or nation, there is a group that is too comfortable with the status quo to resist change. Ethiopia is no different. If the changes that are to occur within the ruling coalition were to be natural, there would not have been unrest that rocked the nation for the past three years. As the need for reform has risen from outside the EPRDF camp, Ethiopia’s political evolution is bound to be time-consuming and a significant burden on those that have chosen to carry it.

Indeed, we have heard it before. This is not the first time that the populace has been promised reform, with the consequence often trailing expectations. But Abiy’s case seems to be different. He commands excellent support from parts of the public and sounds like he dares to walk the talk.

Thus, from the perspective of the public, and from Abiy’s speeches too, his main task has been seen to, as United States President Donald Trump says, drain the swamp. Although there has been resistance against laws such as the terrorism law, a great deal of the focus has been on officials, higher up the ladder as well as lower, who have been unable to exercise good governance.

The task at hand requires a concerted effort on the side of the EPRDFites to widen the playing field for other political parties. When it comes to this, the current high-level discussion between the ruling party and a diaspora opposition party, Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) is laudable.

Much lies on Abiy’s ability to bring change. More lies on the shoulders of political parties to determine the right way forward, and come up with means to address the challenge that the populace would find satisfactory. With EPRDF as the ruling party, most of the responsibility belongs to it.

Here, two factors must be carefully considered. Despite parts of the public’s feeling about Abiy currently, it would surely dissipate if tangible results are not evident along the way. I believe many are optimistic enough to remain patient, but I doubt that patience alone will last beyond the coming general election in 2020.

The other is that citizens appear to be much more informed than ever. This could be a result of the dissemination of information over social media sites which at times have been misleading, but have also made the populace, especially the youth, active.

Abiy’s ability to walk in step with the public, even if mostly in rhetoric, has been done rather humbly, and that is extraordinary. For the time being, it is enough for the public, including me, to believe that he would be able to address the main issues, such as the independence and fairness of democratic institutions. Even his detractors, those that may find his political philosophy gearing disproportionally in the direction of nationalism, can agree the current calm the nation is enjoying has much to do with Abiy and that is laudable.

But it would be too big a gamble for the EPRDF to not go through with the reforms it has been promising for such a long time. In two years’ time, for the EPRDF or any other political party to come out of an election as a winner in the eyes of the public, transparency and the necessary checks-and-balances must be in place.

By Hintsa Andebrhan
Hintsa Andebrhan is interested in politics and history. He can be reached at

Published on May 26,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 943]



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