At Tana Forum 2018, where Dr Abiy Ahmed offered the keynote address, and beyond, expectations on Abiy’s shoulders are high.

By Nanjala Nyabola (Al Jazeera) |

“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 (Tana Forum 2018), 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 organizations 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 regions. 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. Both Amhara where the forum is held and Oromia where Dr Ahmed is from have seen intense political upheaval that analysts argue may have broken Ethiopia altogether. It began with an ambitious plan to relocate poor residents of Oromia to facilitate the expansion of the capital Addis Ababa. As there would be no compensation for those displaced, a cycle of protests and state oppression began in Oromia, culminating in the alleged massacre of over 500 people at the Ireecha or Oromo [Thanksgiving] celebrations in 2016. Similar protests in the Amhara and Somali region soon began as a cry for greater political representation for groups, triggering unprecedented changes in the country’s leadership. Final numbers are unclear, but the Addis Standard alleges that hundreds have died and at least one million Ethiopians have been displaced in the chaos.

Continue reading this story at Al Jazeera
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