MOMENTOUS CHANGE

Photos: How Africa’s youngest leader transformed troubled Ethiopia in just 100 days

Ethiopia’s “savior”
Ethiopia’s “savior”
Image: EPA-EFE/STR
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The changes are nothing short of seismic, proof that nothing remains the same forever.

In just over 100 days, Ethiopia’s new prime minister Abiy Ahmed has taken radical steps aimed at dismantling the country’s troubled past and paving the way for a new future. After years of protests, state killings, ethnic violence, internet shutdowns, and emergency rules, the Horn of Africa nation has made an astonishing and promising turnaround for the better.

Abiy Ahmed, the newly elected chair of the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is sworn in as the country's Prime Minister, Monday, April 2, 2018. Ethiopia's legislature has elected young and outspoken Abiy Amhed as prime minister, amid hopes that he will be able to quell sustained anti-government protests in Africa's second most populous nation.
New dawn.
Image: AP photo/Mulugeta Ayene

Abiy, Africa’s youngest leader at 41, has overseen all this, taking a sledgehammer’s approach in order to establish quick and lasting change on both the local and foreign levels. Domestically, Abiy’s administration announced it would loosen its monopoly on several key economic sectors, including aviation and telecoms. This has reportedly prompted Kenya’s Safaricom to negotiate the entry of its dominant mobile money service M-Pesa in the country. Politically, in a nation where all parliament seats are held by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, Abiy has urged the nation to pursue multiparty democracy.

Abiy’s administration also freed prominent opposition leaders and journalists, including Andargachew Tsege, a British citizen who was seized during a stopover in Yemen in 2014.

But it’s Abiy’s work across the east and Horn of Africa region that have brought a sharp focus to his reformist politics. In June, Abiy went to Egypt to assure president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi—in Arabic nonetheless—that Egypt won’t cut its share of the Nile waters. The hugs and smiles that followed the meeting showcased a significant step to breaking the deadlock over who controls the world’s longest river. On his flight home, Abiy brought with him 32 Ethiopian inmates freed from Egyptian prisons.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) shakes hands with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, June 10, 2018. in this handout picture courtesy of the Egyptian Presidency.
We all share the Nile.
Image: The Egyptian Presidency/Handout via Reuters

After decades of political and military impasse, Abiy also announced Ethiopia would accept a 2000 peace deal with Eritrea. That announcement cascaded in a series of events that ended the hostility between the two nations and captured the world and storytellers’ attention. These include the reopening of embassies, the resumption of trade, and the reunification of friends and family after the first commercial flight from Ethiopia crossed into Eritrean airspace this century last week.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (L) and Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki (R) attend the re-opening of the Eritrean embassy in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in a brief ceremony 16 July 2018. The leaders declared their 'state of war' over one week ago and Isaias spent the weekend in Ethiopia. Eritrea reopened its embassy in Ethiopia 16 July in further evidence of a rapid thaw between two countries that a week ago ended two decades of military stalemate over a border war in which tens of thousands died.
New embassy. New beginnings. New keys.
Image: EPA-EFE/Stringer

Abiy also presided over the first meeting in two years between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his bitter rival, Riek Machar, in an effort to end the five-year civil war that has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions.

epa06825544 South Sudanese President Salva Kiir (2-R) and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (2-L) holds each other's hand as they walk together prior to their meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 20 June 2018. Kiir and his rival and the rebel leader Riek Machar are in Ethiopia to hold talks at the invitation of Ahmed in an effort to end their five-year civil war that killed tens of thousands and displaced millions.
With South Sudanese President Salva Kiir (second from right).
Image: EPA-EFE/Stringer

With his youthful popularity, Abiy has also become a sort of consigliere of cool, appearing at a concert with Eritrean strongman Isaias Afwerki, and scheduling a dinner date with the famous humanoid robot, Sophia, some of whose software was developed in Ethiopia. He has also appeared at rallies wearing a t-shirt with a Nelson Mandela fist-clinched photo above a slogan that read, “No one is free until the last one is free.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed waves to supporters as he attends a rally in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia June 23, 2018.
Attending a rally in Addis Ababa.
Image: Reuters/Stringer

While many challenges await Abiy after this honeymoon period is over, the reformist politician is proving to be the bearer of good news for now, not only Ethiopia but the region and Africa at large. This week, he will take this message of hope and unity to the diaspora in the United States, where many, including marathoner Feyisa Lilesa, remain hopeful about the change of guard in their home nation.