The Question Is Not whether There Is Change, but how to Empower the New Prime Minister

By Prof. Messay Kebede

Simply put, the question besieging the mind of every Ethiopian is whether meaningful changes are about to occur in Ethiopia following the dramatic election of Dr. Abiy Ahmed as Ethiopia’s Prime Minister. Under normal circumstances, the officially announced and often debated political agenda of the candidate to the position of prime minister determines the expectations of people. In the case of Ethiopia, however, a candidate committed to a reformist agenda––forcefully confirmed in his inaugural speech––was elected to premiership by a ruling party coalition that recently “approved” the imposition of a state of emergency. The state of emergency gives absolute power to the military apparatus with the express purpose of safeguarding the status quo by suppressing the ongoing popular demand for change. Hence the legitimate question of knowing whether the new Prime Minister can initiate serious reforms under a government and a ruling party coalition so openly opposed to change.

Both Dr. Abiy and Lemma Megersa, the two prominent leaders of the reformist wing within the OPDEO, have publicly and repeatedly stated their reformist vision and have raised high expectations among a great majority of Ethiopian peoples. A key element of their vision is the restoration of the purpose of government that was long lost to the leaders of the TPLF, namely, that government is supposed to serve equally all the peoples of a country, not one particular ethnic group at the expense of other ethnic groups. One applauds their vision, but also one wonders how they competed for the position of prime minster while knowing perfectly the immense obstacles that the TPLF would inevitably oppose to the implementation of their vision. After all, the TPLF is the major and deciding force within the coalition. I am all the more perplexed by their decision to contend for the position as they run the danger of losing their reformist reputation each time the TPLF will block, as it surely will, any serious proposal for change. Look what happens when, like the outgoing Prime Minister, you have only the title but not the power.

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Be that as it may, there is no denying that the election of Abiy represents a great opportunity for peaceful change in Ethiopia. What is more, it offers the most chance of cementing the growing solidarity between the Amhara and Oromo, which solidarity is the best guarantee for the continued unity of the country. In light of the importance of the event, let us then make sure that we raise the right question. Accordingly, instead of asking whether Abiy can be successful while operating in a situation defined by the hegemony of the TPLF, let us try to determine under what conditions he can effectively prevail. The answer to the first question is a given: it is a flat no. Either Abiy will end up by being co-opted, like the departing Prime Minister, or he will be marginalized and powerless until he is blamed for all the failures and finally removed in disgrace subsequent to the loss of support, even among his own constituents.

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Only when the question is changed in the suggested way can we break the trap laid by the TPLF. Indeed, what else is the aim of allowing the election of a reformist leader by a regime opposed to reform but to discredit said leader? True, because of the popular unrest, especially in Oromia, the TPLF was forced to make some concessions. The election of Abiy is clearly an attempt to appease the protests in Oromia by picking as Prime Minister a promising leader from that region. But since the TPLF has no intention of allowing serious reforms, the election of an Oromo Prime Minister puts Oromo protesters in the difficult position of going against a government led by one of their own. This difficulty is the pause that the TPLF needs to buy time to strengthen its weakened position. Moreover, the continuation of protests in Amhara region runs the risk of being viewed as antithetical to an Oromo Prime Minister, with the consequence that it will undermine the solidarity of the two peoples. There is nothing that the TPLF needs more to perpetuate its hegemonic rule over Ethiopia than a confrontation between the Oromo and the Amhara.

It springs to mind that the change of the question amounts to one thing, to wit, empowering Abiy. And there is only one way to bring about this result: the continuation, better still, the strengthening of the popular protests in all the regions of Ethiopia, including Oromia. Only thus can Abiy have the leverage that he needs to impose changes on a regime dominated by the reluctance of the TPLF, the most urgent change being the lifting of the state of emergency. The continuation of the popular uprisings will convince the TPLF that the only way to retain some form of power and, most importantly, to preserve some of the acquired interests, is by allowing Abiy to implement the demands of the people. Short of accepting this condition, the TPLF places itself in a situation of zero-sum game, obvious as it is that the unanswered demands will lead, sooner than later, to its downfall with the likely outcome of the beginning of a civil war.

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In other words, the selfish interest of the TPLF advises it not to stand in the way of reform under pain of losing everything by giving people no other choice than violent uprisings. However, if the protests come to an end because of promised reforms, not only no real change will occur, but also the TPLF will secure the necessary time to refurbish itself. Unless people strike while the iron is hot, getting rid of the TPLF will come at a much higher human and material cost, whose end-game could well be civil war and secessions.


  1. Prof Mesay. You are pessimistic old time philosopher. I took one course of yours. Nowhere at your old potential.

  2. It is a pity that Ethiopia has no visionary politician since the death of King Haileselassie. If the TPLF security and military is obstacle to PM Abiye, there is an easy solution. Even most accomplished people like Prof Mesay think told is a mountain that cannot be pushed. They think told is smarter than anybody else. This is foolish thinking.

    With ANDM and OPDO parliamentarians representing two-thirds of the majority, they can pass a law to invite UN peace keeping force to be stationed in the capital, Addis Ababa. So it is in the best interest of TPLF to behave good to keep their security and wealth under reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.

  3. Implicitly Dr. Abey is for TPLF/EPRDF but for Ethiopians and Ethiopia!!
    Dr. Abey as an individual portrayed competence in three aspects:
    – intellectual brilliance
    – human integrity
    – passion and admiration in Ethiopian identity and in the gracious Ethiopia
    TPLF/EPRDF specifically TPLF elites are criminals. This gang has committed:
    – Genocide against many ethnic groups
    – Humiliated Ethiopia
    – Looting the nation
    – Displacing, killing, imprisoning/torturing and impoverishing individuals and groups.
    Based on the competences of Dr. Abey, no human can believe that Dr. Abey would deny the crimes of TPLF gangs and their affiliates . Dr. Abey’s conscience may not allow him to overlook the outrages and humiliations of Ethiopians/Ethiopia due to TPLF and its supporters.
    Further, considering his competence, Dr Abey is not pnly part of the solution for Ethiopia but he is leader of the way to solution. Surely, TPLF gangs will eventually face justice and we will be great again!
    Dr. Abey underlined this: “there is no peace without justice!” This very truth shall oblige him towards just courses, one of which is denouncing TPLF gangs.

  4. but you have mentioned above that protest in oromia will look bad for the Oromo people to protest against their own leader from oromia. how can the the protest can be strengthen w/o having breaking that rule you set up on the first paragraph. The bottom line is that the people of Ethiopia have no choice but to make sure the new leader must implement the changes he has void he would when he was a leader of the oromia region. if he does not do that, people have to demand that from him or ask him to step down with the next six month, period.

  5. Good analysis. Change is impossible under TPLF/EPRDF. Its Nazi-apartheid type of system can not be reformed. Abiy will end up as powerless as HM Desalegn or worse.
    Abiy is not Oromo’s prime minister but that of TPLF. The Oromo can not be appeased by mannequines of TPLF, so the popular uprising will continue. Unless he confronts head on the immense problems in the country, especially in Oromia where the regime’s military wages war against the people, Abiy won’t have time, time the TPLF needs to consolidate.
    For lasting peace and economic development, there is no alternative to the dismantling of this fascist system.

  6. My prayers are in force pleading for peace and level heads triumph over stubbornness, narrow mindedness pinned down by accommodation of other constructive ideas, harmony over racism, and respect for others over impudence. If he musters the courage to stand up to despots and autocrats, he is guaranteed with the support of the overwhelm majority of the people. They will stand with him. They will form a ring of fire around him. But if he chooses the usual route to walk back(over) on what was promised by his predecessor and what was demanded by the protesters that took to the streets throughout the two largest regions including the southern part of the country he will be held responsible for the senseless destructive chaos that will follow. It is a life or death for the country and the people. The people will be exposed and primed to go in any direction. They will fall victim to scoundrels of every kind. Smart alecks will be able to run amok and carve out personal fiefdoms pitching the ‘vassals’ of their ‘plantations against the citizens in the hoods around them. Al-Shabaab, The Wahhabis, Lord’s Resistance Army Ethiopian style and every evil imaginable will now have taken roots and the carnage will take place unhinged in every corner of the country. Those of you who think this is funny just turn around and look at yourself in the mirror. Stifle yourself for just a moment from hurling insults and threats at others. That is if you are truly from the country and people still in our hearts. Others, I have nothing to say about you since your objective is very clear from the outset. That is to muddy the waterhole so we cannot conduct civil discourse. Because you can’t help it that if our people sort out the nagging issues and found a system where no one is above the law, the sky will be the limit for what they can achieve economically. All of you operatives realize very well that a strong and democratic Ethiopia will be your menace/demise just by its existence. It is paramount to all of us who hail from the old country to pause and watch the moves this young PM will make in the next few weeks. Not me but the people there seem to have given him just a few weeks to prove himself. SOE that is being utilized by members of the army and security forces to settle scores must be pulled back expeditiously. Dialogue with Qeerro groups both in Oromia and Amhara regions should begin immediately and must be done with full transparency. Opposition groups both inside and outside the country must be invited to the round table and should be given roles in the affairs of the country. Political prisoners must be released ASAP. Those armed groups should make a commitment to renounce violence as the main form of struggle. I have said this before and I am going to say it again knowing I will be pelted with insults. Peace talks must begin with the Eritrean government with no need of a foreign mediator. It is a shame that these two countries are still on a war footing even though there is so much they share culturally and historically. Both countries are laden with such immense resourceful citizens that heaven will be the limit for what they can achieve together in peace. I hope both of them will drop citing this ‘precondition’ nonsense. Enough with senseless killings and arrests! Enough! Enough! Enough!!!!!

  7. First thing first guys!
    Let us first assure security of our evolving leaders (to me our hopes). I am afraid that TPLF and its shield may attack them!

    Kerroo, Fano and the rest of Ethiopian youth, please focus on protecting Dr. Abey, Mr. Lema and the other evolving leaders (our hopes) who are trying to line with the Ethiopian public.

    The youth and all other true Ethiopians need to wrap up satanic Entities such as less human creatures the TPLF gangs and its affiliates such as Ali Abdi.
    Make no excuse to such satanic creatures. Make also no mistake: TPLF and its affiliates will try to attack our hopes.

    The security and military is yet that of TPLF. Our hopes should not be left to these gangs who massacred Ethiopians and Ethiopia for more than 30 years.
    Our evolving leaders (hopes) should be protected like that of our eyes because we cannot see Ethiopia through TPLF but our hopes will let us see our Ethiopia and our great identities.
    Let us all protect these great minds (the evolving leaders) from any attack by TPLF AND ITS AFFILIATES.


    Kerro, fano and the other Ethiopian youth, shield & hover around our hopes!

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