By Assegid Habtewold
In my latest commentary (https://www.facebook.com/NewBreedLeadersOfAfrica/posts/876809422523559), I shared the second leadership attribute of Dr. Abiy, one of the New Breed Leaders of Africa. I pointed out that since he had done his homework and developed his personal growth very well that he outgrew his past leadership positions and outlived the challenges he had been facing. This is my hope that this same quality is one of the virtues that could empower him to lead the country’s transformation successfully.
However, before I cover his third leadership attribute on New Breed Leaders of Africa Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/NewBreedLeadersOfAfrica/), I’d like to emphasize that the personal development of the top leader alone is not enough to undertake a lasting and sustainable change at this critical moment in the history of our country. Yes, he has a clear vision many including those outside of his party bought in easily. Nonetheless, translating his vision into realities and making a smooth transition to democracy is impossible without having cabinet members, leaders of the various institutions, and departments of his new administration who have well developed personal growth like him. Don’t forget, a nation cannot go any farther than its collective leadership.
That is why it’s very critical for the new PM to assemble cabinet members who share his vision, and those who have also the ability and character to carry out his new mandate. He should appoint those who have done their homework and already worked on their personal growth. Of course, having capable leaders in your team who are constantly able to lead their organizations and teams successfully requires a continuous effort. The PM office should create an office that focuses on empowering the new administration’s leaders’ personal, professional, and leadership development. This is a worthy investment with a high return on investment, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. This office should be comprised of knowledge management professionals, content designers, facilitators, coaches, and mentors both within and outside of the country including experienced foreign experts in the fields of personal, professional, and leadership development.
Some of you may question and wonder: Why do we need foreigners? Well, simple. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We should learn from other countries’ experience. However, we need to customize it to fit our objective conditions on the ground and according to our historical and socio-cultural contexts.
Let’s remember. Ethiopia is a geopolitically positioned strategic country with lots of responsibilities for the stability and prosperity of the region and continent, and beyond. Thus, the new PM has a historic responsibility and a golden opportunity to shape the destiny of the country, and in turn, the Horn and Africa. Nonetheless, this cannot happen unless he has able leaders around him. The question is: Will his party allow him to have the freedom to pick the cabinet members of his choice? Or, at least, can he be given the lion’s share in selecting key cabinet members? We will see.
From the quick research I’ve conducted, PM Abiy has the right attitude; the ability to envision, articulate and communicate his vision, and the capability to execute it; and the character to lead the transition. His vision, which he articulated in his inaugural speech, was inclusive and very powerful. His overall intention, which he has been expressing in recent tours intended to bring together diverse stakeholders, is commendable, to say the least.
Please note that I’m well aware that some stakeholders have already expressed their unhappiness about some of his chosen words, and his priorities so far. By the way, I’m not surprised at all. The stakes are high, and the PM himself has been setting the expectations of all stakeholders high in his speeches and discussions thus far. That being said; however, this is my hope that we Ethiopians employ one of our virtues- patience, to give the new PM a fair chance to prove himself.
Common! He hasn’t even formed his cabinet yet. He is just communicating his vision, strategies, and approaches, most of which are commendable compared to where we have been as a society for the last many decades. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t air your grievances and doubts but delay your conclusion a little bit. Don’t just yet be dismissive. Doing so, at this early point, doesn’t serve anyone well.
I’m not a politician, and don’t have any hidden motive. I ask your patience as someone who cares about our country. I’m sharing my expertise as a leadership expert and workshop facilitator for some government agencies, major corporations, and community organizations for over a decade. I‘ve studied change management cases around the world. A transition isn’t easy, as it seems from afar. There are many factors, players, and phases that the new leader needs to navigate through before he gets a chance to translate his dreams into realities that we all are hoping to see. We’re just at the very first stage of the change process and he is doing his part in this initial phase by communicating his vision and strategies. We too, we should play our roles at this stage proactively.
Please remain optimistic for a while and, of course, while finding ways to negotiate for the consideration of your views, the prioritization of your needs, and the inclusion of your change proposals in the change agendas of the new leader. To be effective in your efforts, please get organized in groups with people who share your goals. Some have already begun doing so and have taken some proactive steps. I applaud the latter. You too, use this critical moment and juncture in our generation to put a dent in the future of your beloved country. Don’t just be an onlooker, and critic alone. Do something while it matters and now! As the saying goes, if not now when; if not you, who?
That being said, PM Abiy cannot turn his dreams- what so ever glorious his vision may appear to him and his supporters- into realities. He cannot turn the liabilities of his party into assets. He cannot also turn the ashes covering this lovely country for so long into beauty without having well-abled leaders from top to bottom in his new administration! Achieving these demands a strong team, not just one or a couple of well-developed leaders at the top. In short, unless the new PM brings in new breed leaders like himself at all levels, it is an uphill battle to fulfill his obligations to lead over 90 million diverse people with different interests and priorities into their Canaan land.
Well, transforming Ethiopia shouldn’t be left to the new administration alone. Other stakeholders such as citizens (inside the country and abroad); opposition parties; the media; civic organizations; community organizations; and regional, continental and global strategic partners and friends of Ethiopia should also play their share in this regard.
However, the reform cannot succeed by having leaders in the new administration who have well developed organizational and leadership capabilities alone. So far, PM Abiy called upon oppositions, civic and community organizations, and the media to play their fair share and engage proactively and meaningfully in creating a vibrant political playing field. He is challenging, especially the oppositions to come out and be equal players with the ruling party. Though his open arms and willingness to welcome and put ‘the alternative parties’ (as he calls them) in a positive light should be appreciated and oppositions should accept his challenge, it should be clear that the opposition parties and the free press need empowerment to develop their organizational and leadership capacity so that they could be able to play their roles.
Though oppositions, civic and community organizations, and the media should be proactive and do their own homework to build their capacity, PM Abiy should also go further than demonstrating his goodwill to work hand in glove with them. He should put in place some laws (revoke others), institutions, and also set aside funding that should be dedicated to developing their capacity. Otherwise, these key stakeholders that are vital to the transformation of Ethiopia into democracy, stability, unity, and prosperity cannot easily and quickly step up to the plate considering where they have been in the past few decades.
At this point, I can see that there may be some complications when a PM of the ruling party showing a vested interest to empower oppositions. I’m also uncertain whether the latter accepts such an offer. If that is the case, what about the PM allowing other stakeholders inside and/or outside of the country to support oppositions and the media to develop their organizational and leadership capacity? This is a win-win. All parties need more helping hands on this…
Many home-based civic, organizational, and leadership institutions should team up to empower both the new administration’s leaders, leaders of the oppositions, civic, community and media organizations. Friends of Ethiopia such as regional, continental, and international institutions that have already been involved in providing development assistance to the nation should be invited to play their share too.
As an Ethiopian-American, I also call upon the US, whose Congress just endorsed HR128, to play a proactive and hands-on role through the appropriate US development agencies in developing the organizational and leadership capacity of key stakeholders including leaders of the new administration, oppositions, media, and civic and community organizations. These key stakeholders need empowerment to implement HR128 resolutions. In order to widen the political space and build democratic institutions, Ethiopia needs to develop its organizational and leadership capability. This is a win-win to both countries. A stable, prosperous, peaceful, healthy, and strong Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa is a win-win to our country and other regional, continental, and international stakeholders who have a strategic interest in the region.
Civic and community organizations in the diaspora and experts in the fields should also contribute their share toward empowering the organizational and leadership capacity of the country.
I’m emphasizing the significance of developing the organizational and leadership capacity of the new administration and other stakeholders because one visionary, charismatic, and well able leader alone cannot lead a lasting and sustainable change in a country like Ethiopia with deep-rooted and complex problems coupled with diverse interest groups. Bringing lasting peace, stability, democracy, good governance, and a vibrant socio-economic and political environment requires going beyond having the goodwill to bring change, the desire to initiate reform, and exuding optimism toward the future. There are necessary soft skills our leaders desperately need to turn their good intentions into realities, their zeal into tangible fruits.
By the way, the business community and citizens too need the same attention since they are key stakeholders in this transitional state the country is in. The young generation stepped up and demanded change and did what they had to including sacrificing their lives with little organizational and leadership empowerment from the grown-ups. If the government is serious about engaging the new generation and making them active players in transforming Ethiopia, it must invest in their capacity to engage by developing their civic, organizational, and leadership skills.
Likewise, regardless of corruption and many other stumbling blocks, the business community tried its best and contributed a lion’s share in the economic development of the nation so far. As the PM himself mentioned during his recent discussion with the community, both public servants and business leaders need to work on their envisioning and execution abilities including developing their project management capability. He also called for discipline, ethics, and character from both sides. However, these things cannot just happen without an upfront investment.
Let me conclude this article by emphasizing the importance of acknowledging the rare opportunity our country just got following the inaugural of Dr. Abiy as the new PM. The latter’s acceptance speech inspired, I’d say, the whole nation except a few. Unfortunately, this new enthusiasm seems to decline in certain sections of our society. Many people on social media began expressing their disagreements with some of the contents of the new PM’s recent speeches. Some started questioning his motives, impartiality, and ability to translate his optimism into realities.
As far as I’m concerned, personally, it’s too early to reach any hasty conclusion. This is the time to try all we can and give our best to equip the key players to undertake their organizational and leadership responsibilities effectively and successfully. They need help. Punitive criticism at this early stage serves little toward our future though essential to air our concerns right away. We have ample time in the future to evaluate and judge the performance of the new administration. Now is the time to roll our sleeves up and do our part first. It’s not yet time to get distracted.
Last but not least, leaders back home- both in the new administration, opposition parties, civic and community organizations and in the media, need to learn from other successful nations, which led fruitful transformations like the one we’re hoping to undertake. Our leaders need to be up-to-the-minutes concerning the latest theories, principles, models, and tools available in the world; especially from countries whose objective conditions and socio-cultural contexts are similar or close to ours.
Zeal alone isn’t enough! Good intentions by itself are inadequate! Vision without execution remains a fantasy! Implementing the change agendas and reforms the new PM promised requires well-prepared, equipped, and empowered executioners at all levels and multiple fronts.
We shouldn’t squander this uncommon chance. The whole world is watching. Can we repeat history? We defeated aggression. Can we defeat poverty, conflict, poor governance, and diseases, the new enemy of Ethiopia, by coming together to achieve our shared goals for the sake of the common good? Could we be able to make the next generations proud? Would they look back to learn that we were capable enough to address our internal differences through dialogue and negotiations without resorting to violence and bloodshed?
Are we willing to be leaders again in Africa in the 21st C as we were during the colonization era? We should make our forefathers proud by resuming our leadership role by taking a leading role to lead the continent out of her shame- chronic poverty, corruption, poor governance, diseases, and so on.
However, we cannot assume leadership again without first putting our house in order. It’s unlikely we could be able to say ‘we’re back’ again while we are unable to settle our differences through dialogue and team up together to address our common challenges. How can we claim leadership without demonstrating that we have the ability to march forward toward a shared destiny as a nation while having some disagreements on the way? If you ask me, at the moment (I’m hopeful going forward), we don’t have the moral ground to be the seat of African Union, let alone to lead our brothers and sisters in Africa as our forefathers and mothers did.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that we didn’t elect him. He may not be your first choice and preference as a national leader. You may have some disagreement with his ideologies, worldviews, and policies. However, here we are. We have now a smart, inclusive, and well-versed leader who expressed his willingness to lead us all into our Canaan. Why cannot we tap into this opportunity?
Let’s give him a little bit time. Most importantly, let’s support him where we can and on issues we agree so that he may have enough leverage to force his own party (those who are fighting to maintain the status quo) makes genuine reforms. Those of us who have the means, expertise, influence, and connections, let’s play our fair share in empowering leaders of the new administration, oppositions, civic and community organizations, the media, and businesses to help them navigate this important season in our history and finally make sure the transition goes smoothly. This call is for all concerned Ethiopians back home, here in the Diaspora, and friends of Ethiopia whose desire is to see a democratic, prosperous, and stable Ethiopia, the Horn, and the continent of Africa.
Dr. Assegid Habtewold is an organizational and leadership expert and author, and the founder of PRO Leadership Global (www.proleadership.org). Assegid can be reached at