The Nobel Peace Prize winner who promises to change Ethiopia
Three “passions” have inevitably shaped the personality of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was honored with the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize “for his efforts to achieve peace and international co-operation, and in particular for his resolute initiative to neighboring Eritrea ”: his love for education, his desire to be a leader and his ambition to resolve the crisis with Eritrea.
Ethiopia and Eritrea, longtime enemies involved in the 1998-2000 border war, restored their relations in July 2018 after years of hostility.
He was born on August 15, 1976, just two years after the overthrow of the monarchy and the assumption of power by the military regime of Derg.
Married and father of four children – three daughters and recently an adopted baby boy – the youngest leader of Africa is considered by many to be the liberator of his home from ethnic violence and political insecurity.
He took over as prime minister in April 2018 – following the unexpected resignation of Prime Minister Heilemariyam Dessalegn which led to the country declaring a state of emergency – with a rich agenda of radical reforms. Since then, he has released thousands of political prisoners, reintroduced hundreds of “censored” websites, ended the conflict with Eritrea, signed a historic “Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship”, lifted the state of emergency, and promoted investor-owned sectors. including the State carrier.
He is the first Ethiopian prime minister to come from the Oromos, the country’s most populous tribe, which accounts for more than one-third of the country’s 100 million people. “Bring down the walls, build bridges” is his message to the ethnic groups of his people.
He does not hesitate to embrace politicians publicly, take selfies with his supporters and smile on live television like a pop-star.
He was sleeping on the floor
His father is a Muslim Oromos, his mother a Christian and he speaks Oromo’s language, Amharic, Tigrinya as well as English.
He was born in the western city of Besasha and was “sleeping on the floor” in a house without electricity and water supply.
“I used to bring water from the river,” he said in a recent interview, adding that he had not seen an electric field and an asphalted road until the second grade of high school.
However, he quickly climbed the power structures created by the ruling coalition, the Revolutionary People’s Democratic Front (EPRDF), since he took over from the military junta in 1991.
Charmed by technology, he joined the army as a wireless operator from his teens. He became Lieutenant Colonel before joining the government, initially as a security official -and later the founder of the country’s cyber-spy agency, the Information and Security Network Service.
He then became a Member of Parliament and later served as Minister of Science and Technology before leaving the central government to serve, from his post of Vice President, his home region of Oromia.
Abiy received his first degree in computer engineering in 2001 from Addis Ababa’s Microlink Information Technology College. In 2011, he pursued a master’s degree from London’s Greenwich University in collaboration with Addis Ababa’s International Leadership Institute and in 2013 received a second master’s degree in business administration from the Leadstar College of Management and Leadership of the Ethiopian capital in collaboration with Ashland University in 2013. In 2017 he completed his Ph.D. degree from the Department of Peace and Security Studies at the University of Addis Ababa.
The speed at which changes in Ethiopia have taken place has been so great since Abiy took over as prime minister, that a lot of people have the feeling that this is a different country, as many in the country point out. This is because the reforms he introduced were until recently, unimaginable.
Abiy has sought to shape the events in the ‘Horn of Africa’ but has drawn criticism from some who say he is trying to do many things at once. In addition to its rapprochement with Eritrea, he has played a central role in mediating the resolution of the political crisis in Sudan, while also attempting to revive the precarious peace deal in South Sudan.
“Abiy has made significant strides in his foreign policy, but there has been over-optimism from abroad that he can transform the Horn of Africa,” says James Barnett, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute specializing in East Africa. “The Horn is volatile. I am skeptical that a leader can undo decades of competition and suspicion. “
Analysts point out that his reforms are at the same time too numerous and too fast for the old political guard, but too few and too out of place for the angry youth of the country, whose political demonstrations have brought him to power.
Whether all these initiatives will succeed is an open question, but his allies believe his personal ambitions will lead him to success.
A few months after Abiy came to power, an attempt was made to assassinate him.
A man attacked with a grenade during a political rally in his favor, killing a man and injuring at least 83 others. The perpetrator, dressed as a police officer, came very close to the rally where Abiy would speak. He then threw the grenade under the podium, causing an explosion.
Last June, four senior Ethiopian officials were killed during a failed attempt by a general to seize power in the state of Amhara in the northwestern part of the country.
The coup was planned by General Asamniu Chige, the head of the state’s security services.
Abiy is well aware of the danger he faces, and from time to time publicly refers to the attempts made against his life. For the time being, as he stated in an interview with Sheger FM station, he is still in control. “There have been many attempts so far, but death did not want to visit me after all. “