Reflections on Tana Forum 2018 and Ethiopia’s New PM Abiy Ahmed

Dr. Abiy Ahmed delivering the keynote address at the Tana High Level Forum on Peace and Security in Africa, an annual event held in the resort city of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia [Tana Forum/Twitter]

Aljazeera

“This new guy – he’s a good guy. Very good brain. Now everything in Ethiopia is going to be OK”.

My taxi driver Daniel offers up this unprompted insight as we zip through the streets of Addis Ababa, letting me in on the sentiment around the unprecedented year Ethiopia had.

The “new guy” is Dr Abiy Ahmed, the recently selected chair of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPDRF), the coalition that has been ruling Africa’s second-most populous country for 27 years. At 42 years old, Dr Ahmed is not just the youngest Ethiopian prime minster ever, but also the first from the Oromo community, the largest ethnic group in the country. For Daniel and others who offered their unprompted opinions, Dr Ahmed not only offers respite from nearly two years of political and social upheaval that threatened to undo Ethiopia altogether, but the hope of a more inclusive and democratic Ethiopia.

Earlier in the week, Dr Ahmed offered the keynote address at the Tana High Level Forum on Peace and Security in Africa, an annual event held in the resort city of Bahir Dar, the State Capital of the Amhara region. Similar to the Davos World Economic Forum, the event brings together current and former political and academic leaders on the continent for an informal dialogue on enhancing peace and security on the continent. At the margins of the summit, hundreds of bilateral meetings between regional politicians, Addis Ababa’s vast diplomatic corps and numerous international organisations make this one of the more significant networking events at the continent.

Bahir Dar was a stopover for Dr Ahmed in the midst of a whirlwind tour of Ethiopia, uneasily calm after years of intensifying unrest that implicated three of the country’s largest regions – Amhara, Oromia and the Somali region. The prime minister arrived at the forum after visiting Gondar, a historical town known for its 15th and 16th century churches and distinct orthodox Christian crosses that was the epicentre of many protests in the previous two years. By the time Ahmed arrived in Bahir Dar, internet access in the town had only just been restored after a nearly two year shut down.

The air in Bahir Dar was electric with anticipation of Ahmed’s arrival, with everyone waiting to hear what he has to say. “He’s very young,” said one driver, “but he’s very clever. He is [a] doctor, you know?”

At the summit and beyond, expectations on Ahmed’s shoulders are high…

In contrast to earlier speeches in parliament and at various stops on his tour, at the summit Dr Ahmed’s speech did not touch on Ethiopia’s political flux, but the symbolism of his visit is unmissable for Ethiopian watchers.

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Ethiopia Beats Ghana as Fastest-Growing Africa Economy for IMF (Bloomberg)
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In Ambo, Ethiopia PM Asks for Patience as He Seeks Change (AFP)
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US House Approves Ethiopia Resolution H. Res. 128 Amid Objection on Timing
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