Ethiopia has been a country long forgotten by the rest of the world. After successfully fending off colonization, the country went through some glorious years before the Marxist revolution couple with a civil war with Eritrea sent the once revered kingdom into a perpetual regression filled with division and economic disparity. Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, seems to have brought a new attitude and revival to propel the country forward into a new era of hope and has achieved more in his first 100 days than most leaders could ever imagine. Time will tell if the good will of the last several months will set a tone for the coming years, but the region has not been this hopeful about the future in decades and the Prime Minister deserves significant credit.
The Derg was the ruling party during the communist era of Ethiopia and the idea of state-run firms never left the country. Business was difficult to succeed in because of the level of control that government entities had on any profit generating enterprise. Although it was not impossible, the challenges were so great that the economy of Ethiopia was stunted. After Marxism ended, the amount of control that remained with the state also allowed for leaders to falsify the economic growth to create a façade of successful policies and trade partnerships. Prime Minister Ahmed introduced a plan to privatize that may seem aggressive on its face, but it speaks to the desire of the people to grow. His plan gives those who have been fighting for economic growth and changes in wage levels and unemployment the tools that they need to generate the kind of wealth that they have been capable of creating all along. The timing could not be better, because Ethiopia’s economy has been turning around in recent years with the increase of investment and Ahmed has just put gasoline on the country’s fiery growth. In this drastic policy change, one of the fastest-growing markets on the African continent now has the chance to soar.
Even in Ethiopia’s highest points of economic growth, the Derg set the stage for generations of political oppression. Journalists and opposition party leaders were often killed under the Marxist regime of the 70’s and 80’s but remained subject to imprisonment under the autocratic democracy that followed it. Several prisons were known as being those directed at political prisoners and previous leadership had actually released a group of journalists to appease Western human rights directives only to re-arrest them shortly after the West stopped paying attention. To be fair, previous Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn had agreed to close one of the country’s infamous prisons and ordered the first wave of released prisoners. However, the hope remained bleak under his leadership due to the country’s history of these commitments being made under false pretenses.
Prime Minister Ahmed decided to tackle the issue of prisons head-on and fired several officials who oversaw the prisons and were suspected of human rights abuses. Ahmed ordered the release of hundreds of dissenters being held in prison and sent out warm welcomes for the return of many other dissidents and media outlets who had been exiled previously. The final nod to genuine democracy was Ahmed’s decision to set term limits on himself. Ethiopia has only had two leaders in his position since 1995, so setting limitations on himself is not only a sign of humility but a sign that he understands the desire of the Ethiopian people to have their voices heard. It is a sign that the country is moving in the direction of real change for the first time in decades and that seeing Ethiopia break free of her dark currents of the past is more important to him than his own political career.
The pièce de résistance, the final nail in the coffin of Ethiopia’s encumbrances, the joy of the region that is being sung in the streets occurred in July of 2018 and will no doubt be eligible for Nobel Peace Prize nominations. Ethiopia and Eritrea have final signed a peace treaty after decades of division between two nations that together once made up the late, great Abyssinian kingdom. The leaders of these two proud and prideful nations humbled themselves in order to embrace and sit together for the first time in twenty years. With the amount of arid land in Eritrea and Ethiopia being a landlocked country, a partnership has always been in the best economic interest of both nations. To see families, friends and religious entities ripped apart by both Marxism and civil war was painful for previous generations but to see the first steps in the region’s healing process finally begin is nothing short of miraculous. I cannot say that there are too many politicians for whom I have deep respect, but Prime Minister Ahmed is doing everything he can to earn that from all of us and hopefully history will look upon his first hundred days with the respect that is deserved.