Dyer: Ethiopia’s new saviour

Nobody outside the ruling party really knows much about Abiy Ahmed beyond his official Party biography, but Ethiopia’s new prime minister looks a lot like Magic Man at the moment. 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.

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 with Eritrea (1998-2000), and several million soldiers wasted years of their lives on the border during the long cold war that followed (which briefly went hot again as recently as 2016). But Abiy Ahmed has ended all that with a wave of his hand.

So something has clearly changed in Ethiopia, and Abiy Ahmed himself is a new phenomenon. He belongs to the Oromo ethnic group, the biggest in the country, but he is the first Oromo in all of 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 and the situation was getting out of hand, so the ruling party’s solution was to put an Oromo in charge — but one 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 of what is, after all, a police state, and finally moved into politics.

He has been given power to deal with some of the biggest grievances of the population precisely 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 that dominates everything.

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

Over 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 clearly 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 have been wondering aloud whether Ethiopia’s model is better for African countries. People do end up in jail or in exile for opposing the regime, or simply disappear, but not all that many, and the system is delivering the goods economically. Maybe it’s worth a try.

Maybe, but don’t count on it. In the short run, authoritarian politics often produces better results than democracy. Orders are given and obeyed, and things get done. But over the long run the 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.

Consider the quarter-century of lost growth in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. 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 quite a long time, but Abiy Ahmed is probably not Magic Man.

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

Just Posted

Updated: Red Deer welcomes 2019 Canada Winter Games Team Alberta

About 250 Alberta athletes are participating in the Games

Syrian immigrants feel welcomed

Winter Social held at Festival Hall to promote multiculturalism

Small group rallies with pro-immigration message

Group wanted to counter misinformation on United Nations migration agreement

Trump says ‘things are going very well’ with North Korea

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Saturday that “things are going very… Continue reading

NDP won’t stop until Trans Mountain is built, says minister

Deron Bilous speaks at Red Deer chamber luncheon

VIDEO: Students in MAGA hats mock Native American at Indigenous Peoples March

Diocese in Kentucky says it is investigating the matter, caught on video by onlookers

CONSUMER REPORT: What to buy each month in 2019 to save money

Resolve to buy all of the things you want and need, but pay less money for them

Anxiety in Alaska as endless aftershocks rattle residents

Seismologists expect the temblors to continue for months, although the frequency has lessened

Women’s March returns across the U.S. amid shutdown and controversy

The original march in 2017, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, drew hundreds of thousands of people

Kriechmayr edges Swiss favourite Feuz to win WCup downhill

WENGEN, Switzerland — It takes a special run to beat Switzerland’s best… Continue reading

WestJet plane heading to Victoria slides off Edmonton runway, no injuries

EDMONTON — A WestJet plane has slid off an icy taxiway at… Continue reading

Sam Bennett scores twice, Flames beat Red Wings 6-4

Flames 6, Red Wings 4 CALGARY — Sam Bennett scored twice including… Continue reading

Rare ‘super blood wolf moon’ takes to the skies this Sunday

Celestial event happens only three times this century

Most Read