Long Live the Chancellor

The world’s most sardonic TV satire, Saturday Night Live (SNL), loves German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The woman charged with spoofing her, Kate McKinnon, who also impersonates Justin Bieber and Jeff Sessions, usually attempts to depict a lady that is overworked and unfailingly correct. McKinnon’s impressions of her are funny, and spot on, simply because Merkel is, or appears to be, both an expert on the economy and politics, and babyish when it comes to the small, day-to-day social pursuits.

When Merkel came to Ethiopia in 2016, she betrayed a similar disposition. She looked exceptionally reserved, less inclined to crack a joke. The kind of person that gets right to the point; hates the myriad of nonsense that usually precurse any negotiation.

Of course, her schedule was tight. She was on a three-nation tour in Africa, to be concluded in three days. The timing made it somewhat memorable, as it was an exceptionally touchy moment for Ethiopian politics. Protests had taken place all over the highlands and lowlands.

There were rumours she would cancel the visit, as it fell close to the declaration of the State of Emergency that would later last Ethiopia 10 months. Merkel did not. She spoke with the Prime Minister, and then with opposition leaders. She talked about human rights, the need for political liberalisation and a reasoned approach in dealing with protests.

Merkel is not a saint, though. She is just a liberal. In a politically stable and prosperous Ethiopia, she sees a level-headed East Africa. Consequently, hopefully, there would be less immigration, which would lend itself to less populism in her continent and more European economic integration.

If the end result justifies the means, then so be it. In my eyes, it is a win-win situation. But too many Germans sadly do not see it this way. On the general federal election that took place last Sunday, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) won only close to 35pc of the seats in the Bundestag, a significant decrease from the last election when the CDU won almost half the seats in the German legislative body. Although the CDU ended up beating its main rival, Martin Schulz’s Social Democratic Party (SDP), a party with a similar ideological mainframe, the success of the anti-immigrant far-right Alternative for Germany (AFD) soured the victory.

Merkel did not deserve the defeat. Germany has the best economy in the European Union (EU), even with the United Kingdom added. Unemployment is at its lowest since the fall of the Berlin Wall. And while most countries ache with trade deficits – take Ethiopia’s mind-numbing 14 billion dollar shortfall – Germany has a surplus.

But who cares when Merkel has allowed millions of refugees into the country, with her open-door policy. US President Donald Trump had said that the Germans would depose Merkel. They had not. And given the sheer amount of refugees (not immigrants) that have entered Germany, her victory in the time of widespread nationalist fever in Europe does seem miraculous. Still, losing so many seats to a far-right party, in the one country that has taken the far-right state of mind further than any other nation dared to, is cause for deliberation.

Now is the appropriate time to wonder if Merkel would be an inward-looking leader.

She had stretched a hand to third world countries, she has tried to serve as the de facto leader of the EU, but where has it all gotten her?

What a tragedy it would be if this is the mentality that would overtake the future Merkel, and thus, her Germany. For a third world country like Ethiopia, heavily dependent on foreign aid and loans for most of its financing and is highly indebted, a leader like Merkel is crucial.

The world is not as it used to be. Whatever popularity liberal democracy used to enjoy, has gone in a puff of smoke in 2016. All that remains is Trumps ‘America First’, Britain’s Brexit, Russia’s jingoism and China’s ‘non-interference’ (the bad way) policy.

The future has never looked bleaker, at least not while the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been in power. Foreign intervention, in the form of soft-power, though it has wreaked havoc on the country’s tradition and language, has been the check on whatever is left of free speech, fair elections and good governance. What could have fostered democracy most is the proliferation of countries who would allocate a certain proportion of their annual budget to health and educational services in third-world countries.

In Merkel, Ethiopia, or its citizens have an ally, while when it comes to countries like China or Saudi Arabia, it is the government that has a friend. The chancellorship – or the lack of it – of Merkel, the success of her government and policies, determine the future of Germany, and indirectly that of a country like Ethiopia.


By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye (christian.tesfaye@addisfortune.net) is Fortune's Op-Ed Editor whose interests run amok in both directions of print and celluloid/digital storytelling.

Published on Sep 30,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 909]



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