Let’s change a bit the ethnic discourse and ask who from Dr. Abye Ahmed or the late Meles Zenawi is considered a liberal or a progressive?
For now, let’s define a ‘Liberal’ (in common speech) as a capitalist, who recognizes the flaws of capitalism and is dedicated to remedying them though taxation; and a ‘Progressive’ would be one who supports change and expect the state to enforce it; a progressive will gladly strip the individual of liberty in the name of progress.
There may not be consensus on these terms, but that’s okay. These days I don’t mind arguing over such concepts. At least you can change your stance from being a liberal to being a progressive, or vice versa. Obviously ethnic identity is not as fluid as changing one’s political view.
I know I’m painting a very complex issue with one brush, but I believe this annectodal comparison may enlighten us a bit on where we came from and where we’re heading as a nation.
• On Nationalism
Dr. Abye – Just like President Trump, he puts Ethiopia First. We have seen him travelling from one corner of the country to the other, pleading for unity of the country.
Ato Meles – Was all about Tigray. He used fear of the Oromos and Amharas coming together to fire up his vision of Tigray nationalism.
• On political prisoners
Ato Meles – Hardly had any problem throwing his opponents to jail.
Dr. Abye – Is all for releasing ‘political prisoners’ wherever they are, including those accused of committing bigger crimes.
• On the economy
Dr. Abye – Likes more competition, new ideas, new entrepreneurs (hopefully rejects new privileges for the ruling elite and its apparatchiks and apologists); plans to sell prized public assets, like Ethiopian Airlines, Ethio Telecom, Railway etc. Banking and insurance will be next. Less public money for condominiums, light train or electricity.
Ato Meles – Maintained government as a powerful agent for improving the life of citizens’, at times used coercion to accomplish big things, i.e. investing in infrastructure, expanding housing, favoring price regulations etc.
• On corruption
Dr. Abye – Says zero tolerance, but sees no problem in releasing jailed corrupt officials.
Ato Meles – Said zero tolerance, but picked and chose which corrupt official go to jail.
• On political parties
Ato Meles – Favored a close-knit group of individuals pulled from the Tigray insurgent movement to safeguard the revolutionary ideology of TPLF. For Meles, electoral defeat was never on the cards.
Dr. Abye – Seems to adopt a radical vision which opens doors to all parties to play their part in the political process, with no threshold.
• On foreign affairs
Ato Meles – Was astute, disciplined and, overall, reasonably successful in addressing the nation’s immediate security challenges.
Dr. Abye – Friendly with Egypt and neighboring countries. He will not oppose the US vote in the UN.
• On personalities
Dr. Abye –The more people see him, the more they like him.
Ato Meles – Has certain iciness, he is more private and conceited.
Clearly, the Meles vision has lost the consent of the governed. Instead the charismatic and sociable Dr. Abye is in full roar. His basic problem is that he does not operate according to his party’s established practices. For the first time, the process of reforming, or rather transforming the party will not be dictated by an all-powerful figure of TPLF, but by Dr. Abye and his team.
The road ahead is not going to be a walk in the park. Dr. Abye faces empty government coffers, bureaucratic red tape, declining growth and purchasing power, and a fractured, but still powerful opposition within his EPRDF. He (Dr. Abye) is an honest and good man. He has miraculously pulled the country back from the abyss, but his immense popularity can dissipate if he fails to advance essential economic and social reforms. Politics are shaped by expectation, and many Ethiopians are expecting more from Dr. Abye. Can he make Ethiopia great again as he hinted in his opening remarks after victory?