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, 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.