By Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam
April 2, 2019
H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed
Office of the Prime Minister
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Dear Prime Minister Abiy:
I refer to my personal letter to you dated April 8, 2018.
In that lengthy letter, I congratulated you on your appointment as prime minister and gave you my full support.
At that time, I “knew” you from watching a few videos online.
But I had carefully studied those videos with a scrutinizing and dissecting forensic eye to answer one question: Are you a man who means what he says and says what he means? I concluded you were indeed so.
Today is exactly a year since you took office.
It is time for kudos, congratulations and a pat on the back for a job well done!
I congratulate you and those who have worked long and hard with you over the past year to make 2018 a historic year in Ethiopia.
There are so many to thank and congratulate, but there is not enough space or time to name them all.
I will mention just a few.
I thank and congratulate H.E. Oromia President Lemma Megerssa.
I thank and congratulate H.E. Gedu Andargachew, former Amhara region President.
I thank and congratulate H.E. Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen.
I thank and congratulate all of those people, especially the young people, in your office, in your administration, in the civil service, in the security and in the military who have been the backbone of the peaceful political transition over the past year.
I thank and congratulate the millions of ordinary citizens of Ethiopia who have shown you love, respect and appreciation over the past year.
Above all, I thank the young people (yes, I have a special place for Ethiopia’s young people in my heart and mind) of Ethiopia who paid the price in blood, sweat and tears to put you in office and for becoming the wind under your wings for the past year so you can soar over the boundless skies over Ethiopia. Ethiopia is free today because of the ultimate price paid by its young people.
PM Abiy, I had planned on writing a long discourse laying out the facts on your historic and monumental achievements over the past year to a candid world.
Alas! There is little I could tell the world for the world has spoken about your achievements with unheard-of and unprecedented acclaim and appreciation and rendered a verdict on your first year.
The Financial Times, a newspaper that has been in operation for over a century and half, beat me to the punch! The Times wrote, “Abiy Ahmed has overseen the swiftest political liberalisation in Ethiopia’s more than 2,000-year history.”
What more can I add?
But that’s not all.
The African Leadership Magazine declared you are the “2018 African Leader of the Year”.
The Italian Institute for International Political Studies wrote, “Abiy Ahmed is the Leader to Watch in 2019”. The Institute added “he is the bravest and most innovative leader in Africa today.”
The New York Times wrote, “Abiy Ahmed is most closely watched leader in Africa: a man who says he wants to change his country from the inside out — and fast.”
The Washington Post editorialized, “Abiy Ahmed pulls off an astonishing turnaround for Ethiopia”.
BBC wrote, “Abiy Ahmed has been doing the seemingly impossible ever since he unexpectedly became prime minister of Ethiopia in April.” BBC says, you have done the “equivalent of making the sun rise from the west.”
Herman Cohen, former U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, tweeted: “For the first time in my professional life, I am nominating someone for the Nobel Peace Prize: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. If he brings multiparty democracy to #Ethiopia, the entire Horn of Africa will be transformed for the better.”
According to the Nobel Prize Foundation, for the 2019 Nobel Prize there are 304 candidates out of which 219 are individuals and 85 are organizations.
A few weeks ago, Peace Research Institute Oslo, regarded as the world’s “oldest and most prominent peace research center” nominated you as the leading candidate for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
I could go on and on.
But there is nothing I can add to what has already been said except offer you a casual reminder.
People who have read that you have done the “equivalent of making the sun rise from the west” in Ethiopia now fully expect you to walk on water.
As I can add little to what those in the international community have said, I will take the easy way out.
I will simply thank you personally and on behalf of the millions of Ethiopians who support, respect, admire and love you for what you have done for Ethiopia, for the Horn of Africa and the entire region for the past year.
Thank you for being the Fire Chief organizing the fire brigade to save the burning House of Ethiopia and cutting the fuse on the Ethiopia powder keg.
Thank you for ending our 27-year long night of captivity in ethnic apartheid and taking us on long day’s journey into the light of peace, reconciliation and harmony.
Thank you for resurrecting ETHIOPIAWINET
Thank you for standing up for the principle “Ethiopiawinet is an addiction”, the only antidote to the mental slavery of ethnic apartheid.
Thank you for proving to us the Beast which ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist for 27 years had feet of clay. Today, the Beast is in hiding rolling out one plan after another calculated to wreak havoc and destruction in Ethiopia.
Thank you for upholding the rule of law and uncompromisingly rejecting collective punishment and by adamantly refusing to engage in mass arrests, mass incarcerations, mass persecution and massacres.
Thank you for elevating women from second class citizenship to the epicenter of power by appointing women to one-half of the nation’s ministerial positions and hundreds of sub-cabinet positions.
Thank you for standing your ground that the only path for our future is forgiveness, love and reconciliation.
Thank you for telling the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth about the inhuman crimes of the TPLF: “Jailing and torturing, which we did, are not constitutional. Does the constitution say anyone who was sentenced by a court can be tortured, put in a dark room? Torturing, putting people in dark rooms, is our act of terrorism.”
Thank you for sowing love and harvesting peace with our neighbors and brothers and sisters: “Forgiveness frees the consciousness. When we say we have reconciled, we mean we have chosen a path of forgiveness and love. When I spoke with [President] Isaias, I told him that there may not be enough hotels as Ethiopians visit Massawa and Asmara. He said he would leave his house for them and stay in balconies.”
Thank you for making us feel, Diaspora Ethiopians, proud to be Ethiopians. For 27 years, we were told Ethiopiawinet is a crime, a badge of blame and shame. We were forced to confess our tribal and ethnic affiliations. But no more!
Thank you for coming to America to show us your love. Did we not show you we love you more? We love ya!
Thank you for making a gift of a great idea to the Ethiopian Diaspora called the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund. We have taken the first baby steps in making Ethiopia a foreign aid free zone. Our motto in EDTF is, “Ethiopians helping Ethiopians, one dollar, one day at a time.”
Thank you for inviting me to return to my homeland after 48 years and live out my declaration, “I, PROUD ETHIOPIAN.”
Thank you for bringing back the lost rainbow to our rainbow nation.
Thank you for showing courage under fire, literally, telling the Forces of Darkness who raised their swords and grenades who told you are not strong enough to weather the storm and did everything they can to bring you down.
Thank you for telling the Forces of Darkness, “I am the storm” that will wash you into the dustbin of history.
Thank you for bringing change by changing the hearts and minds of Ethiopians.
Thank you for endless efforts to liberate our minds from the mental slavery of backward ethnic politics.
Thank you for showing us that it is only through the collective efforts of Ethiopians working together (Medemer) that they can build the New Ethiopia as the shining city upon a hill.
Thank you for teaching us power does not come from the barrel of the gun but the power of love.
Thank you for teaching us killing to remain in or to grab power is the politics of losers and preaching the only way we can solve our problems peacefully is through civilized dialogue, not through the chatter of AK-47s.
Thank you for proving Mandela’s maxim. “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Thank you for preaching Ethiopia will rise up as a nation only when the power of love overcomes the love of power of those in power and those hungry and thirsty for power.
Thank you for preaching we cannot make progress unless we learn and practice to forgive and reconcile.
Thank you for showing us a new way to do our politics, Medemer.
Thank you for saving the corrupt criminal leaders of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front. Without you, I shudder to think what could have happened to them. Those ignorant and arrogant fools have no idea you are their insurance policy from the bottled-up wrath of the people!
Most of all, PM Abiy THANK YOU for…
Busting wide open the political space that had been the playground of the masters of ethnic apartheid for the past 27 years.
Emptying the country’s prisons of political prisoners.
Travelling the Horn of Africa and the Middle East freeing unjustly imprisoned Ethiopian refugees.
Ending gross human rights violations in Ethiopia and bringing those criminals to the bar of justice.
Guaranteeing with unwavering certainty that in May 2020 Ethiopia will have an internationally-monitored free and fair election.
Allowing opposition leaders to return home from abroad and freely and peacefully participate in their country’s politics.
Granting amnesty to those unjustly declared to be “terrorists”.
Laying the groundwork for true multiparty democracy and offering to help opposition parties to organize and build coalitions for a robust multiparty democracy.
Restoring the people’s constitutional rights to free expression and allowing the media to function freely.
Allowing internet access without control or censorship.
Allowing the people to exercise their right to peaceful protest.
Bringing harmony and understanding among factions of the two religions in Ethiopia. You played a decisive role in bringing healing to the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church in the country and in the Diaspora. You played a decisive role in bringing healing to factions in the Islamic community.
Abandoning your predecessors’ long-standing practice of collective punishment for the crimes of a few.
Ending torture in Ethiopia’s prisons and exposing the secret prisons of the previous regime.
Removing criminals against humanity from the police, security and military forces.
Professionalizing the country’s defense and police forces to be in the service of the whole nation, not a single group.
Bringing a new era of peace with our neighbors.
Proving Mandela’s maxim: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” The partnership you and H.E. President Isaiyas Afeworki created has wrapped the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea in a single garment of social, economic and political destiny.
Playing a central role in bringing South Sudan’s power contenders to the peace table and sign an agreement to seek political and not military solutions to their country’s problems.
Being a messenger of peace in the Horn of Africa. For going to Somalia and telling the people their peace and stability is Ethiopia’s peace and stability.
Building a bridge of hope and cooperation with Egypt over the River Abay (Nile) and not a dam of strife and war.
Working to bring peace between Arab neighbors in the Middle East.
Showing Africans soft power is more powerful than brute power.
Working to make sure the Horn of Africa does not become the battleground in global and regional geopolitics by leading a peace initiative with the contending regional powers and others to peacefully engage in the Horn of Africa.
Establishing a commission to look into privatization of certain state-run institutions and liberalizing the economy with the aim of improving services through market competition.
Establishing commissions to study regional border disputes, reconciliation and peace and other urgent issued facing the country.
Setting in motion an open, accountable and transparent government in which ministers will be evaluated by parliamentary committees, government agencies and offices are required to publish information on their activities.
Cleaning up your party of the “dead wood” and bringing in young people to leadership positions.
Encouraging Ethiopia’s Cheetahs (young people) to believe in themselves and in the higher destiny of Ethiopia.
Inviting the older generation (Hippos) has a place in the construction of the New Ethiopia.
Teaching us all the values of unity, civility, humanity, Ethiopianity and Africanity are far more important than ethnicity.
BUT, BUT, please accept my apologies….
PM Abiy, while you and your leadership have performed extraordinarily over the past year, those of us who have been yapping for change, democracy, human rights, rule of law and good governance for years have little to show for ourselves.
Recently, you boldly stated, “Ethiopia has no heroes today”? I guess you are still wondering where Ethiopia’s heroes have gone?
But it is not only the heroes that have gone AWOL (absent without leave) in Ethiopia.
Her intellectuals, faith leaders, opposition leaders and journalists are also MIA (missing in action).
You are searching for Ethiopian heroes and I am searching for Ethiopia’s intellectuals, faith leaders, opposition leaders and journalists.
Could we be looking for the same people?
Maya Angelou said, “I think a hero is anyone really intent on making this [world] a better place for all people.”
That is my simple measure of heroism too.
Are Ethiopia’s intellectual heroes, faith leaders, opposition leaders and journalists making Ethiopia a better place for all Ethiopians?
I am afraid not, and so I offer you my humble apologies.
PM Abiy, you must be terribly disappointed over the failure of Ethiopian intellectuals in the peaceful revolution over the past year.
I certainly am.
I had expected they would be the tip of the spear in generating creative and innovative ideas to help transition Ethiopia from dictatorship to democracy.
Intellectuals are supposed to be the visionaries inspiring an awakening society.
They are supposed to guide the masses away from the common evil to the common good.
They are supposed to be the vanguard leading the way in the struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights.
I was confident when you began your service a year ago today that at least a segment of the Ethiopian intellectual community will offer fresh and creative economic and political ideas to transition Ethiopia into a constitutional multiparty democracy. I expected the experts to self-organize and offer technical advice and support to you and your administration.
Over the last year, there is little trace of these intellectuals showing up to do the heavy lifting in transitioning Ethiopia into multiparty democracy. It seems to me they have taken the quizzical attitude, “What’s in it for me!?”
But they have been MIA (missing in action) for a long time.
Back in June 2010, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Where have Ethiopia’s Intellectuals Gone?”
This was what I wrote at the time:
The purpose of this commentary is not to moralize about the “failure of Ethiopian intellectuals”, or to criticize them for things they have done, not done, undone or should have done. The purpose is to begin public discussion that will make it possible to find ways of making them a powerful force of peaceful change in Ethiopia.
Suffice it to say, in general, the Ethiopian intellectuals over the past year have been reduced to leering spectators, yawning bystanders and deer-in-headlight onlookers.
They are corralled in their own little online chat rooms chatter boxing or pseudonymously dishing out criticism and condemnation in their blogs.
It is a pity to see so many of them turning gossip mongers in search of the next juicy scuttlebutt and blathering babblers.
The problem of intellectual bankruptcy has been diagnosed by Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam in his 2015 Amharic book, “Adafne: Fear and Failure”.
Prof. Mesfin has explained how Adafne has made Ethiopia the land of chatterboxes and windbags.
There is an iconic slogan that has been used for decades to raise funds for the United Negro College Fund. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
It is an apt reminder to Ethiopia’s intellectuals.
Albert Einstein’s warned, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” I wonder whether Ethiopia continues to be beset by conflict and strife because intellectuals stand on the sidelines scratching their heads and twiddling their thumbs.
Profound apologies, PM Abiy!
Ethiopia’s faith leaders
PM Abiy, you must be terribly disappointed over the failure of Ethiopia’s faith leaders.
I certainly am.
When you reconciled Ethiopia’s faith leaders who had been at loggerheads for decades last summer, you observed that they should be teaching society peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Amazingly, they did not even learn the very lesson of reconciliation you practiced with them in healing interdenominational schisms.
Faith leaders have the power to teach and preach and change hearts and minds. They have the ears, hearts and minds of their followers.
But I see few of them teaching, preaching and most importantly practicing what they teach and preach.
I don’t see them practicing inclusion. Neither do I see them working in the community guiding people away from the path of hate, division and conflict to the highway of love, reconciliation and unity.
I don’t see many interfaith movements trying to anticipate and mitigate conflict. Nor do I seem them launching inclusive national dialogues to deal with problems of ethnic hatred and mistrust, displacement and bigotry.
I have been frustrated with Ethiopia’s faith leaders for a very long time.
In my July 2012 commentary “Unity in Divinity”, I urged the establishment of an interfaith council to work on broader issues of religious freedom in Ethiopia.
I argued that a threat to the religious liberty of Muslims is a threat to the religious freedom of Christians. I urged Ethiopian “Christian and Muslim religious leaders [to] play a critical role in preventing conflict and in building bridges of understanding, mutual respect and collaborative working relations…”
My plea has fallen on deaf ears.
Profound apologies, PM Abiy!
PM Abiy, you must be terribly disappointed over the disarray and sheer incompetence of the opposition.
I certainly am.
You are the only leader in African history, as far I have been able to research, who has made repeated overtures to help the opposition organize and effectively compete in a scheduled election.
You keep telling them to create coalitions instead of playing childish party games scattered into 107 different groups.
Your predecessors jailed, killed and tortured opposition leaders. But you embrace them and offer material and moral help to get them organized.
Truth be told, what you are doing for and with the opposition is so unprecedented in African history, I just don’t get!
The role of opposition leaders and parties is present alternatives to the ruling party, hold them accountable to public scrutiny, openly challenge their policies and produce more effective ideas and policies for the public’s consideration.
Is that what the Ethiopian opposition doing today?
I see them chasing their tails and running circles. Dealing with the fragmented opposition is like herding cats.
I hear the opposition talking loud and saying nothing.
I have been frustrated with Ethiopia’s opposition for many years.
This was what I wrote in September 2012, in my commentary entitled, “Ethiopia’s Opposition at the Dawn of Democracy?”:
I asked out loud (but never got answer), ‘Who is the Ethiopian ‘opposition’?’ I confessed my bewilderment then as I do now: ‘There is certainly not a monolithic opposition in the form of a well-organized party. There is no strong and functional coalition of political parties that could effectively challenge both the power and ideology of the ruling party. There is not an opposition in the form of an organized vanguard of intellectuals. There is not an opposition composed of an aggregation of civil society institutions including unions and religious institutions, rights advocates and dissident groups. There is not an opposition in the form of popular mass based political or social movements. There is not…’
The situation is far worse today.
But I don’t entirely blame them. For decades, leaders and members of the opposition have been jailed, persecuted and prosecuted for merely trying to organize.
But it is a new day.
I hope opposition parties will up their game for the 2020 election.
Profound apologies, PM Abiy!
PM Abiy, you must be terribly disappointed over the lack of professionalism and ethics and the viral spread of lies, fake news and disinformation on the traditional and social media and other online outlets.
I certainly am.
In 2015, Ethiopia was 4th on the top ten list of Most Censored Countries in the world list if the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Since you took office a year ago today, things have changed completely.
According to CPJ, your administration has “released imprisoned journalists and lifted bans on numerous websites. For the first time since 2004, no journalists were in jail for their work in Ethiopia.”
This is an historic achievement.
But the question is: Has the press lived up to its professional and ethical standards?
The media is a vital pillar of any democracy.
There can be no democracy without a vibrant and robust press. American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson wrote,
The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
I wholeheartedly agree with Jefferson.
The media plays critical roles in society by informing, educating and enlightening society.
They play a central role in identifying problems and in the search for solutions. They hold government accountable by serving as watchdogs.
Is that what Ethiopia’s media are doing today?
Sadly, I see and hear a lot of yellow journalism (based on sensationalism and gross exaggeration).
I see and hear wanna be journalists spreading lies, fake news and disinformation seeking a few cents by tricking people to click on their YouTube channels.
I don’t blame the traditional media entirely. They have endured decades of suppression, persecution and prosecution.
But it is a new day today.
Ethiopia’s media must up its game as the 2020 elections draw near.
In the coming year, I hope your administration will do its best to help the press attain greater professionalism and live by universal codes of journalism.
Profound apologies, PM Abiy.
Where do we go (or do not go) from here?
The past year has had its highs and lows.
You have been lionized by millions and demonized by few.
Your patience, fortitude, courage and forbearance have been tested.
The ancient philosopher Seneca said, “Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men.”
So it is.
I have been heralding Ethiopia’s irreversible march from dictatorship to democracy for years.
In April 2011, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Ethiopia: The Bridge on the Road(map) to Democracy”. I suggested,
We can conceive of the transition from dictatorship to democracy as a metaphorical journey on the road to progress, freedom and human enlightenment (democracy) or a regression to tyranny, subjugation and bondage (dictatorship). Societies and nations move along this road in either direction. Dictatorships can be transformed into democracies and vice versa. But the transition takes place on a bridge that connects the road from dictatorship to democracy. It is on this bridge that the destinies of nations and societies, great and small, are made and unmade. If the transition on the bridge is orderly, purposeful and skillfully managed, then democracy could become a reality. If it is chaotic, contentious and combative, there will be no crossing the bridge, only pedaling backwards to dictatorship. My concern is what could happen on the bridge linking dictatorship to democracy in Ethiopia when that time comes to pass.
In June 2012, I wrote a commentary entitled “Ethiopia: On the Road to Constitutional Democracy”. I argued with supporting historical evidence that “Most societies that have sought to make a transition from tyranny and dictatorship to democracy have faced challenging and complex roadblocks.”
Focusing on the practical lessons of the “Arab Spring”, I proposed a constitutional pre-dialogue and offered some suggestions:
The search for a democratic constitution and the goal of a constitutional democracy in Ethiopia will be a circuitous, arduous and challenging task. But it can be done… To overcome conflict and effect a peaceful transition, competing factions must work together, which requires the development of consensus on core values. Public civic education on a new constitution must be provided in the transitional period. Ethiopian political parties, organizations, leaders, scholars, human rights advocates and others should undertake a systematic program of public education and mobilization for democratization and transition to a genuine constitutional democracy. To have a successful transition from dictatorship to constitutional democracy, Ethiopians need to practice the arts of civil discourse and negotiations….
The prize waiting at the end of the rainbow
PM Abiy, after the rain, thunder, hail and lightening have passed, a magnificent rainbow will rise over the rainbow nation of Ethiopia.
After the dust settles on the Forces of Darkness, the sun will shine brightly over Ethiopia.
So, what is it going to be like in 2019?
In 2019, PM Abiy, “We are Growing.” Ethiopia is rising. Ethiopia is rising! Higher and Higher…”
Just keep on doing what you are doing… The dogs will always keep barking, but the camel keeps on walking.
Just keep on being
A man of kindness now
A man so big and strong in mind
Be a man so humble now
A man of man, now let it shine…
Hear the children, hear the children
They are talking to you
Hear the wind blow, hear the wind blow
It is blowing for you…
Above all else, PM Abiy, listen to Ethiopia’s young people. They are the future of Ethiopia!
CONGRATULATIONS, PM ABIY ON AN OUTSTANDING YEAR AS ETHIOPIA BELOVED LEADER!
Alemayehu (Al) Mariam