Being the Prime Minister of Ethiopia is an important job. It’s also a difficult job. It takes effort and luck to manage the economy of a poor country, to make the big decisions and to be responsible for the welfare of some 100 million souls. Since his candidacy, and later his election to the post of PM, Dr. Abye Ahmed (AA) has been a phenomenal figure on the national stage. Through a combination of personal charisma and the age of viral social media, his every sound-bite seems to get attention and circulation.
To be frank, there are moments I ask myself who’s behind this mysterious Abye Ahmed who mounted a swift leadership challenge within EPRDF and won? Until recently, he was basically a junior political actor. And now he is on the verge of destroying [or revitalizing]the once mighty EPRDF.
Dr. Abye Ahmed’s success lay in convincing his party to back his candidacy to the hilt for the post of prime minister – not an easy feast to achieve, but more importantly his success rests in his ability to captivate and persuade people with widely different views, that he understands problems from their point of view and shares their views – while speaking with such care as not to use words which actually commit himself one way or the other.
To his credit, many of his travels from the moment of his appointment were well received. His talent to engage with ordinary Ethiopians, and transform political meetings into engaging social gatherings through boisterous speeches, have given the new PM the highest public exposure of any Ethiopia’s past top leaders of recent years.
Now, according to comments [in Facebook]and benign conversations, folks are beginning to worry, they want something much more from a prime minister than just activism.They want to know about his next goal.
They want to know if he can change EPRDF’s landscape… is he going to continue EPRDF’s political and economic program or does he have room to maneuver? Will he be more about concentrating power than genuine consensus to further democracy? Does he really have influence within the EPRDF coalition or within his own party? Who is setting the agenda? Does he have an agenda? Does he have enough weight to impose his agenda, or is he subject to EPRDF ‘veto’ or compromise. Will he challenge EPRDF and form a new party, if need be? So many unanswered questions!
For now he seems to act within the EPRDF frame. I assume the PM’s recent appointments of senior EPRDF members to high posts reflect his responsibility toward EPRDF, but also his own party and political future. With such disparate interests inside and outside EPRDF, it’s clearly impossible for AA to satisfy every constituency nor meet all of the demands coming from the different groups.
As we struggle to find where AA stands in relation to EPRDF on the most divisive or contentious issues – federalism, democratic centralism, the state of emergency, the fight against corruption, judicial independence, his plans for the economy, I would contend that AA currently lacks, not only any real power to set an independent agenda outside the frame of EPRDF, but looks short of strategy to reconstruct the political landscape of Ethiopia. I am not for one minute arguing that AA should be ditched, but rather he should be helped – and pressed – to eliminate the conditions which led to frustration politics and Kerro-riots. He should be pressed to make his party truly responsive to the aspirations of the wider constituency. On this last point, it demands much creativity, patience, and political stamina to plan, develop, and implement programs and priorities. It is one thing to mobilize sentiment behind calls that do not disturb consensus politics, and quite another to win battles for the reconstruction of a nation state where everyone finds his or her place. It is here that we, who advocate the opening up of the political space have a massive job to do. We must see to it that AA and his supporters are prepared to adopt political reforms that are more audacious and more far-reaching than the divisive programs of the last thirty years or so.
Last week, in Z Bar – a place frequented by thirty something patrons – we overhead this younger looking man telling his friends:
“I sort of like the Dr…. He is someone to get in there and clean up. Abye doesn’t take any crap from anyone. He doesn’t have to. I don’t know what he’ll do exactly. But I know he’ll shake things up.”