Dyer: Spell will not last for Ethiopia’s Magic Man

Dyer: Spell will not last for Ethiopia’s Magic Man

By GWYNNE DYER, June 10, 2018

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has used his authoritarian power to end his country`s long hot and cold war with Eritrea. Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images

Nobody outside the ruling party knows much about Abiy Ahmed beyond his official party biography, but Ethiopia’s new prime minister looks a lot like Magic Man. Three years of mounting protests have suddenly stopped, the state of emergency has been lifted, and with a single dramatic announcement he has ended 20 years of hot and cold war with neighbouring Eritrea.

(lfpress)–He did that on Tuesday by declaring (as only the leader of a tough authoritarian regime can) that Ethiopia now accepts the 2002 ruling of an international border commission and will pull its troops out of Badme, the market town at the centre of the quarrel with Eritrea.

At least 80,000 soldiers and civilians were killed in the hot war (1998-2000), and several million soldiers wasted years of their lives on the border during the long cold war (which briefly went hot as recently as 2016). But Abiy has ended all that with a wave of his hand.

Abiy belongs to the Oromo ethnic group, the biggest in the country, but he is the first Oromo in Ethiopia’s history to lead the government.

The growing protests of the past three years were strongest in Oromia, because the people there felt marginalized politically, culturally and economically. Hundreds of people have been killed in the demonstrations, so the solutions of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was to put an Oromo in charge, but one who has spent his whole adult life serving the EPRDF.

Abiy is such a man. He joined the army straight out of school, worked his way up to colonel’s rank, then shifted to a senior position in the intelligence and security apparatus and finally moved into politics.

He has been given power to deal with some of the biggest grievances of the population because he is trusted not to let power slip away from the EPRDF. Maybe his appointment as prime minister will calm things down, but don’t mistake it for the start of a democratic transition.

Ethiopia is the only one of sub-Saharan Africa’s three economic giants that is not democratic. Unlike South Africa and Nigeria, it has a single ruling party.

The EPRDF is a permanent coalition of four parties representing the four biggest ethnic groups (Oromo, Amhara, Tigrinya and Somali), but all are part of a highly disciplined whole that has an almost Soviet ruling style. It is not encumbered by Communist or even socialist ideological obsessions, but elections are no more meaningful than the old Soviet ones were.

During the past decade, this hard-line approach has delivered an annual average of 10 per cent economic growth in Ethiopia, far higher than in South Africa or Nigeria. And while there is serious friction between the various Ethiopian ethnic groups that make up the EPRDF, it is not significantly worse than the ethnic rivalries that plague the politics of the two big democracies.

It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that some people wonder whether Ethiopia’s model is better for African countries. People do end up in jail or in exile for opposing the regime, or disappear, but not all that many, and the system is delivering the goods economically.

In the short run, authoritarian politics often produces better results than democracy. Orders are given and obeyed, and things get done. But during the long run, opposition builds up, and there is no democratic safety valve to let off the steam.

When the dam finally bursts, you can lose a lot.

The EPRDF will not last forever, because no system of that sort ever does, and when it goes it could be with an almighty crash. That may not happen for a long time, but Abiy is probably not Magic Man.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is $Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work).


  1. The Somalis are the third largest ethnic group, but are not a member of EPRDF contrary to the writers’ assertion, he
    may be mistaken for the Southerners as both names start with the letter ‘S’. Dr Abiye took several daring and positive steps but not addressed yet the biggest injustice and burning issue in Ogaden. Within 3 months of his premiership, he unilaterally appears to have decided to peacefully bring to an end the enmity between the two brotherly and historically tied nations of Ethiopia and Eritrea, which is a welcome development. That war between the two nations is said to have caused the loss of more than 80 thousands soldier lives and billions of hard needed finance. However, sadly, he has yet to respond to the DEEP HUMAN CRY FROM THE HEART OF THE OGADEN REGION. No less than 50 thousand innocent citizens of this region were massacred since 2006, more than hundred thousand were forced to flee their God-given land, and nearly a million people are today in concentration camps in Jarar, Fafan, Qorahay, Nogob and Shabelle regions, disguised as villagization program. In addition, nearly 40000 sq km of pasture land was forcibly evicted its pastoral occupants and their livestock for the gas drilling and oil prospects, which the Somali people see as a robbery of their natural resource as they have not been consulted and do not have a say. Even, the workers for this project are not recruited from the Somalis,- the righteous owners of the land and its resource leave alone owning a share of the billions of dollars income expected. This is completely wrong in every aspect of international law.
    Dr Abiyi is not a new person to the system and is well aware of the inhuman policies imposed on the Ogaden Somalis as he was part of the regime, though he could be excused for not been the decision maker before. Over the last 3 weeks alone many properties, in Jijiga and Qabridahar, belonging to relatives of individuals who came to Addis Abeba and aired their opposition to the mindless regime in Jijiga have been confiscated. This madness must stop! and Dr Abiye must inter into meaningful negotiations with the ONLF for a permanent peace in this region and allow the people to choose their leaders and representative in every level. The need for action cannot wait a single day. 8 million Ethiopian Somalis are represented in the Federal Parliament by 25 uneducated and selected by Abdi Mohamed Omer, who is sellected for the leadership of the region by Meles Zenawi and protected by Tigray generals say it all, Dr. A. Ahmed, and you are too well aware of.

  2. Colonel ABIY AHMED sent Ethiopian soldiers who took the cattle of Ethiopian citizens people residing in the “disputed area” near border of Eritrea and Ethiopia leaving elders , women and babies to starve while young Ethiopian people residents of the area are put in a mentally retarded developmentally challenged people’s detention centers , the soldiers put the young in detention centers because the Ethiopian soldiers are afraid the protests arising due to their illegal confiscation of people’s property who are citizens of Ethiopia, residents of the disputed area who are Ethiopian all their life with no ties to the Eritrean government are being robbed of their lands, their properties and their houses. The Ethiopian soldiers claim the cattle breeders in the area are all developmentally challenged(retarded) just so the soldiers can take away the rights as citizens of Ethiopia even though the people lived in Ethiopia for many many generations as Ethiopians now the soldiers are taking away our rights as Ethiopians. Currently Colonel Abiy Ahmed decision is allowing the soldiers to continue ordering the cattle breeders to not raise protests since according to the soldiers all cattle breeders of the area are mentally incapable to know which animal is theirs which entirely false. If anything it is the soldiers that are mentally challenged because they are robbing us forcing us to choose between death or migrating to Eritrea to join the Ethiopian freedom fighters that are in Eritrea.. This stealing of our cattle and giving our lands to foreign country area decision is done while the country is being governed by a state of emergency which gave the Ethiopian soldiers the full authority to steal our cattle . The Ethiopian soldiers are saying they are protecting the cattle from possible Eritrean bandits but in reality it is the Ethiopian soldiers that are slaughtering our cattle and selling the meat . When people tried to complain to the appropriate agencies they are being detained and tortured some cattle breeders of the area are even missing no one knows their whereabouts.Our lands is being grabbed by Eritrea.

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